|Worms and Red Worms -|
|Eisenia Foetida - This variety is the best redworm for home composting. They produce a large amount of compost in their natural habitats of leaves, manure, compost piles and in many other decaying organic materials.|
|Lumbricus Rebellus - This variety will adapt to the worm
box environment, but they are really a soil earthworm. Their natural
habitat is in soils which contain a lot of organic matter.|
Redworms are on the market under many different common names. Some people call them <93>red wigglers,<94> or <93>manure worms.<94> Fishing suppliers may call them <93>red hybrid,<94> <93>dung worm,<94> or <93>striped worm.<94> All these names are for the same kind of redworms. If you order from commercial breeders, your best choice is Eisenia Foetida. This variety is used by many for worm composting projects.
|Other Worms: -|
|Worms NOT to use:|
|Lumbricus terrestris - This is the night crawler. This variety is the most studied of all earthworms and most sold to farmers and gardeners. They are very important for soil improvements and are widely raised for that purpose. They like to tunnel in the soil, sometimes 3 feet deep. They come to the surface foraging for organic matter, which they take into their furrows. They mix sub-soil with their food and deposit their castings on the surface. Their burrows aid in soil aeration and allow for better water penetration. Night crawlers have a very important role in our ecosystem but don't adapt to the shallow worm box environment.|
|Garden worms - There are more earthworm varieties that might show up in somebody's garden. To identify worms you have to count the segments, study their sexual organs and their behavior. It's best to stay with redworms for your worm box.|
|Redworms need controlled temperature, controlled moisture content, controlled aeration and proper pH.|
|Temperature: - Redworms tolerate a wide range of temperatures, however, the ideal temperature is between 55 ? 77 degrees F. Bedding
with a temperature above 84 degrees F. is harmful, sometimes fatal, to
redworm populations. The temperature should be measured inside the box, because the temperature in the moist bedding is usually lower than the
Redworms should be protected from freezing temperatures. Temperatures below 50 degrees F. slow down worm activity.
|Moisture Content: - Redworms need a moist environment. Worms breathe through their skin. Skin must be moist in order to breathe.|
|Aeration: - Redworms need oxygen to live. They produce carbon dioxide. Air circulation is a must in and around a worm box.|
|pH level: - Redworms do best if the pH is around 7.0, however, they can tolerate levels from 4.2 to 8.0 or higher. Lime (calcium
carbonate) may be mixed with the bedding material to correct acidity or
to maintain a more favorable pH. Pulverized egg shells also correct
acidity. (Warning! Use only limestone and never hydrated lime. The
wrong kind of lime will kill the worms!)|
|The Sex Life of a Redworm |
- Hermaphroditic: -
Redworms have both sexes, but mating is still necessary. If the worm has a swollen band, called the clitellum, at about one third between head and tail, this means that the worm is sexually mature. Redworms mate in their bedding at different levels, sometimes even on the surface. They may mate at any time of the year. They are attracted to each other (maybe for their beautiful body face, or other irresistible qualities.) They find each other and lie with their heads in opposite direction, bodies closely joined. They produce a secretion and secrete this through their clitella, a mucus that forms a band around each of them. Sperm from each worm move down a groove into receiving pouches of the other worm. The sperm enters in a storage sac. Some time after the worms have separated, the clitellum secretes another substance called albumin. This material forms a cocoon in which the eggs are fertilized and baby worms hatch.
Redworm cocoons are round shaped and small. They change color during their development, first white, becoming yellow, later brown. When new worms are ready to emerge, the cocoons are turning red. It takes at least three weeks for the worms to develop in the cocoon. Temperature and other conditions are factors in the development of the hatchlings. Although a cocoon might hold as many as 20 eggs, usually only 3 or 4 worms will emerge. The young hatchlings are whitish with a pink tinge showing their blood vessels.
|Population Control - Conditions that determine Redworm population: - |
If worms have to compete for food, the population will go down. If there is a lot of food available for a time, then worms multiply at a high rate and more young worms then compete with their parents. Then this greater population produces more castings. To solve the problem you can feed them more food, but you might also need a larger box for the greater numbers of worms. It's important to note that castings are toxic to their own species, so it is advisable to harvest the castings regularly.
|Adding worms to bedding - |
When bedding is ready for the worms place the worms on top. They will disappear in a short time in the bedding. They don't like light. By keeping some bright light close by the box the worms will disappear faster in the bedding. If some stay on the surface after some time, assume that they are unhealthy or maybe dead, and remove them.
|Food - |
Most kitchen waste or table scraps, any vegetables, grapefruits, orange rinds, apple peels, lettuce and cabbage, celery ends, spoiled food from the refrigerator, coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells are all suitable worm meals. (Remember, no meat or dairy products belong in a worm bin.)
Don't use meat or milk products in the worm bin. Mice and rats could be attracted to the odors!
Also, non-biodegradable materials don't belong in a worm box.
Cat litter should not be used, either. The odor of cat urine is intolerable to worms, plus the ammonia in the urine could kill the worms! Cats can carry the disease Taxoplasma gondii. This can transfer to humans. For example, a pregnant woman could inhale some of the protozoan and pass the disease on to her fetus, causing birth defects.
|Burying kitchen waste - |
One way to manage a worm box is to pick a different spot to bury kitchen waste in the box. A 2'x2' box has approximately nine locations where you can bury wastes. That gives you nine feedings before you have to repeat the cycle.
|Worms - Frequently Asked Questions|
|Can worms see? - No, worms don't have eyes. However, they must have some kind of light sensor. They are very sensitive to bright light. They will try to hide as soon as exposed. It's odd that anglers use a flashlight to catch night crawlers, since they retract in their burrows if you shine lights on them. Worms are less sensitive to red light. You can observe worms with red light. Placing a red cellophane between the light source and the worm box allows you to watch the worms.|
|Where is the mouth of the worm? - The worm's mouth is in the first anterior segment. There is a small protruding lip just over the mouth, called prostomium. When the worm is foraging, this lip is stretching out. The prostomium is for sensing food.|
|Do worms have teeth? - Worms have no teeth for chewing food. They grind food in their gizzard by muscle action|
|How do worms grind food? - Worms can only take small particles in their small mouths. Microorganisms soften the food before worms will eat it. Worms have a muscular gizzard. Small parts of food mixed with some grinding material such as sand, topsoil or limestone is ingested. The contractions from the muscles in the gizzard compress those particles against each other, mix it with fluid, and grind it to smaller pieces.|
|What happens to food once it leaves the gizzard? - |
The ground up food is mixed with enzymes in the worm's intestine. This mixture breaks down the food, molecules pass through the intestine wall into the bloodstream for use where needed. Undigested material, including sand soil, bacterial and plant residues passes out of the worm as a worm casting.
|If a worm is cut in two, will it grow back? - It depends on where the cut took place. If a worm is cut at the posterior end, sometimes a new tail will grow back on. Sometimes a second tail will appear next to a damaged tail. However, the posterior half of the worm can't grow a new anterior (head.)|
|Do worms die in the box? - It's hard to find dead worms in a worm box, but they do die in the box. Dead worm bodies decompose very quickly, because their bodies are between 75%-90% water. If you find many dead worms you should find out the cause. High heat (above 84 degrees) is fatal to them. Too much salt or acidic food waste can kill them. It's best to change the bedding with fresh materials to solve the problem. Sometimes, partially replacing bedding may solve the problem.|
|How long do worms live? - Often, worms live and die in the same year. They are exposed to hazards, dryness, too hot or too cold weather. Eisenia foetida can live for as long as four years.|
|Do worms need air? - Worms need oxygen to live. The oxygen diffuses across the moist tissue of their skin, from the region of greater concentration of oxygen (air) to that of lower concentration (inside the worm.) Carbon dioxide produced by the bodily processes of the worm also diffuses through skin. Moving from higher concentration to lesser concentration, carbon dioxide moves from the inside of the worm's body out into the surrounding bedding. A constant supply of fresh air throughout the bedding helps this desirable exchange take place.|