Taking Care of Your Red Wriggler Worms June 01, 2016 12:16

Red Wrigglers

For those of us who don't have the luxury of a yard suitable for a functional outdoor composting system (maybe we only have access to a balcony, or maybe we have a shared yard with limited access), vermiculture is an efficient way to compost most kitchen scraps quickly, and build up excellent, nutrient-rich compost we can apply to the garden.

When worms eat kitchen scraps they poop out porous, nutrient-rich castings, attractive to many beneficial micro-organisms. These bacteria and fungi not only aid in the decomposition of your food scraps, but many of them also make great garden allies. Bacteria and plants have been in relationship since plants came into existence. Many bacteria are necessary for the survival of plants as they are able to fix nitrogen for plants to absorb. Other micro-organisms like certain fungi help defend plants from harmful root-dwelling nematodes by booby trapping them into their mycelial networks, and then eating them.

Vermiculture compost is an excellent way to cultivate these micro-pals and introduce them into your gardens. Contrary to popular belief, worm bins are easy maintain, and when properly maintained, they don't stink or attract many fruit flies.

Here's the basics:

Housing: You can make a bin out of a big blue tupperware container by drilling many air holes in the lid, and a few at the bottom to let out the worm tea. Of course you would want to sit the container on a tray to catch the tea so you don't have a huge mess on the floors. If you're looking for a ready-to-go system, you can buy vermihuts like this one

For either of these systems, starting with about 1/2 lb of red wrigglers is recommended. They will reproduce and fill your bin in no time.

Temperature: Room temperature (15-25°C) is ideal. Though slower moving, worms will be fine in colder temperatures (5-10°C) but will likely freeze and die if left outside in the winter. Warmer temperatures will increase the rate of food rot, which smells more and can attract more buggy scavengers like flies. During the summer, it’s good to be prudent with bin maintenance if you want your bin to remain free of fruit flies.

Food: Worms will eat a lot, and quite quickly. They will pretty much eat any veggies or grain except things that are highly acidic. I have even heard of worms eating disposable bamboo chopsticks (though it did take a few months).

 

Feed Worms

Don’t Feed Worms

Veggies & Leafy Greens

Citrus (lemon, orange peels, grapefruit)

Banana, apple, mango skin, avocado skin, etc

Onions and Garlic (skins are okay)

Grains & Coffee Grounds in moderation

Meat + Bones + Dairy

Fungus & Spent Sawdust Spawn

Too much Tomato

Eggshells

Tons of Big Avocado or Mango Seeds

 

Other Considerations:

Grit: Worms don’t like to just hang out in their poop and food all the time. They need a bit of grit too. I find consistently adding eggshells does the trick, but you can also add rock dust.

PH Levels: Red wrigglers have very sensitive and absorbent skin. High acidity will actually hurt them, so if you notice your worms trying to escape their bins, that is a big indication the acidity levels are too high. A very easy and quick fix is to add limestone to your bin, which will also give your bin some grit.

Light: As you’ve probably seen, worms are susceptible to drying out in the sun. For this reason, as soon as they are exposed to light, they will dig down and bury themselves deep into the bin. This is practical for harvesting castings, as they will often poop on the surface.

Bedding: Bins should be moist, and dark. A good way to maintain this is and to keep fruit flies away from composting food, is to wet newspaper or yellow pages under the tap, then shred them in lengths to be placed on the surface of the bin after each feeding until food is no longer exposed. Damp straw also works well, but breaks down much slower.

 

The Steps:

1. Break up food scraps into human-bite sized pieces (can be bigger or smaller, but helps speed up the process)

Food Scraps!

2. Cover completely with a layer of damp newspaper or yellow pages, torn into strips

Shredded damp paper on top

3. Come back in a week and harvest an ice cream bucket full of black gold!

Worm Castings

4. Make Compost Tea

5. Repeat

 

Pests & Worm Bin Ecosystems:

It’s perfectly normal to have more visible life in your worm bins than just red wrigglers. In keeping a wormbin, you are essentially creating a habitat that is it’s own ecosystem. Where there is food, there is life, and where there is life, there are relationships. Here are some that you might find in your bin which will also tell you about the environment you are encouraging.

Potworms: Tiny white worms that feed on bacteria and fungi that eat microbes that exist in a lower pH. This means if your bin is overrun with them, your bin is too acidic. If you see a few potworms in your bin, don't panic. It is totally fine to have them around.

Mites: Little reddish brown spider-like insects. They like moisture, and water-rich food wastes like cucumbers and melons. Mites make up a lot of the soil-life population and are fine to have in your bins. If they are dominating your bins, try adding dry bedding, or some more holes in your worm bin.

Springtails: Tiny white hexapods about 1-2mm in size. They are called springtails because they are spring-like in structure and when disturbed, will actually jump about 4inches high! They are decomposers and eat plants, pollen, grains, fungi, and pathogenic fungi. As soil life is concerned, springtails are typically seen as beneficial, especially since they tend to spread around mycorrhizal spores.

Slugs: Only 3 species of slugs eat worms, so if you see a baby slug in your worm bin, it’s probably ok. However, slugs like to eat garden plants, so don’t let them in your gardens.

Woodlice: Like warm, moist environments, and won’t bother your worms. They are also decomposers.

Centipede: Predators, they will sink their fangs into your worms at night, and eat them! Luckily, they don’t usually live together in big populations, so they probably are fine to leave in there if you can't catch them.

Red Mites: Predators that feed on worms, they are bright red and like vampires, they will suck red wrigglers dry. If you have mites, and they are grouped up in some avocado skin, they are probably fine. If they are surrounding your worm friends, you may have to torch them. They are not very common to find.

Fruit Flies: Bound to be attracted to your bins, especially in warm temperatures. They will feed and lay eggs in food scraps. Harmless, but annoying. One way to keep them out is to wash the skins of your food first. Often flies will lay their eggs in the pores of food so when eggs hatch, the larvae will have immediate access to food. Making sure bedding is always covering food (which also covers smell that attract flies), and the bin is at room temperature should be good enough measures to keep fruit flies from getting in.

 

by Kelsey Cham Corbett
June 1, 2016