Are these worms like the earthworms we find in garden?No, local earthworms burrow deep down into the ground and eat different materials. Both the red wigglers, African night crawlers, and European nightcrawlers live in the top 10 inches of the soil. They feast on the micro organisms that decay plants and some animal wastes.
Are these worms called by different names?Most definitely! Depending on which part of the country your in, these worms are known by various names that is why it is best to refer to them by their scientific name. Here are some of them below:
Red wigglers (Eisenia fetida): Red Worms, Tiger Worm, Manure Worm, Stink Worm, Fish Worm, Trout Worm, Striped Worm, & Bandlings
European Nightcrawlers (Eisenia hortensis): Belgian Worm, Super Red, Carolina Crawler, Blue Worm, ENCs, and Euros.
How many worms are in a pound?The answer is it depends... this number can vary depending on the type of worm, how mature they are, if they have been given fatteners, or even if they are dehydrated. On average, the worm count for 1 pound of worms is 800-1000 red wigglers, 300-400 ENCs, and about 300-350 ANCs.
What is the real scientific name of Red Wiggler? Is it Eisenia fetida or Eisenia foetida?These worms are known by Eisenia fetida. The confusion comes from a change to the worms scientific name. It used to be Eisenia Foetida but then was modified to its current name (dropped the "o"). You will find people refer to them as both name.
What is vermicomposting?Vermicomposting is using earthworms and microbes to breakdown plant and animal waste. The worms speed up this naturally occuring process and the end result is worm castings (worm manure).
What is vermiculture?Vermiculture is the act of cultivating worms. The raising and production of worms usually for the use as bait or for composting.
What are worm castings?Worm castings are the result of the worm digesting the food. Yes, it is worm poop! It looks and smells just like dark potting soil. It is very good for plants, thus gardeners use it as a natural fertilizer. Studies have even shown it adds to the disease resistance of plants.
Can I use compost worms in traditional compost pile?"Traditional" or thermophilic compost piles use heat to speedup the breakdown of materials. Although the heat helps certain microbes flourish, it will kill off the earthworms. So please shy away from putting worms in your pile. But by using worms to compost, you can breakdown the materials much faster than by using heat. There are two solutions to get around the heat issue. First, you can keep a thermophilic pile to pre-compost your wastes prior to putting them in the worm bin. This give the microbes have a chance to start growing before being put in the worm's container. Also, any heat can be dispersed in this pile and remove the threat of your worm bin heating up. The other option is to introduce the greens sparingly to your worm-occupied compost pile. This will limit the heat they must endure. If you spread items like grass clippings in a thin layer on top, then the heat will not have a chance to build up.
How many lbs of worms do I need?This is a common question that depends on how rapidly you want results. For optimum composting efficiency, it is best to have 1.5-2 lbs per square foot of bin surface area. In order to calculate surface area, multiple the width by length. You can see that the cost of stocking your bin can go up quickly. The other option I recommend is the cheaper route which requires more patience. You start with 1 or 2 lbs in a small to medium-sized bin. The startup cost is much cheaper and it gives you time to learn proper care and expected results. As you learn the ropes, the worms will be reproducing to fill your bin. Each red wiggler will lay about 1 cocoon per week (sometimes more) and there will be 1-4 worms hatching from it (after 1 month). And after another month passes, those newly hatched worms will be mature and start to lay cocoons too. So if you start with 1 lb in each bed after 2 months the population will double (assuming perfect conditions). And as each month passes you will get more and more. Eventually you will reach a "worm critical mass". This is the maximum population for the food and area provided. At this point, they will lay fewer cocoons and pretty much stay at the same population. So in the end you can be patient and save money and let them grow on their own (but have slower compost production)... Or you can spend more money and get more instantaneous composting results. It is up to you. If it was me, I would be patient. ;)
Can I keep compost worms in NC climate?In general, red wigglers or Eisenia fetida are the best species for the Raleigh, NC climate. The African and European night crawlers have a more limited temperature range and do not do so well when the cold winter temps hit here. The danger for the red wigglers is not so much the winters, but the hot summers. It is very important to keep your bins in the shade. Good spots include in basements, crawlspaces, or under decks. These areas remain cooler in the summer time. You want the bedding the worms reside in to remain below 94F. Otherwise, they may start to die-off. I have many bins outdoors and I just let them sit. People up north often times put straw or leaves over the bins in the fall to insulate them. Some go as far as plugging a aquarium heater into a gallon jug filled with water. This provides enough warmth to keep worms happy and alive in winter. But I find it is not necessary here. The key is how much material the worms have to live in. In my bins, they are sunken into the ground with lots of bedding inside. This allows them to survive the winter since the thermal mass of the earth in combination with the insulation of the bedding materials. The worms will burrow deeper into the bedding to stay worm. They can survive down to about 34-39F. You could always pile up leaves or straw on top of them to insulate them if you want. But in the very worst case scenario your adult worms may perish, the cocoons they have laid are still in the soil and will hatch once the warmer temperaturs arrive. One note: If worms are kept outside during the winter, they will slow down a bit. As the temps drop, their metabolism slows down and they consume less food and reproduction slows.
Is there such thing as worm overpopulation in a bin?Worms will self-regulate their population. As they reach a higher density for the space or food provided, they will slow down reproduction. They will reach a stable state. If you want them to continue to breed, split the bin contents into a two bins and they will keep increasing the worm population.
Will worms do okay shipping?About shipping, the worms will be fine! We package the worms with enough moist bedding & food to allow them to survive for several weeks. They have a pretty wide range of temperatures they can stand (38-94F). Outside of these ranges, they begin to die. But the main concern is heat. Sometimes in summer we will not ship them because of temps in 90s or higher...this definitely can kill them off. The cold is less of a factor during shipping.
When will my worms ship and arrive?All orders need to be placed by Saturday at noon in order to be shipped the following Monday or Tuesday. For example, if your order came in on Tuesday, April 11th. This means it would be shipped on following Monday or Tuesday (4/17 or 4/18th). The reasons we harvest and ship only once a week is so not to disturb the beds by constant harvesting for orders. This leads to lower reproduction rates and unhappy worms.
What to do when first receive worms?First, unpackage them and empty to contents into your worm bin. Let the worms find their way into your bedding. The worms will be a little discombobulated from the transfer of living quarters, plus the vibrations from transport...etc. So the first week or so they will not eat or breed as much as normal. They just need time to get used to their new surroundings. So feed them sparingly. Place a small amount of food on surface of bedding and watch it. When it starts to disappear, just put some more in. Mix it with some bedding to prevent it from clumping up (otherwise it can smell and get nasty). Also, worms do not like light in the white spectrum. They shy away from it. So the first couple of nights, leave an overhead light on. This prevents any would-be "explorers" from leaving the bin (since they are in a new environment). After the first few nights, this will no longer required. If you want to observe worms "at work", you can put red tint over any openings big enough to see through (windows in side or top). Then kids can see the worms without the white light disturbing them.
I've been reading about adding the worms to the bin and there seems to be mixed opinions on when to add the worms- either right away or waiting 1-2 weeks for the system in the bin to rot. What do you think??I would introduce the worms immediately. It will not hurt them. Some people recommend allowing the bin to sit for 1-2 week(s) so that the beneficial microbes start to grow on everything. This means the worms can begin to eat as soon as they arrive. To me it doesn't matter much. The worms will eat it when the materials are ready. They aren't going to starve. They are not like a cat or dog that you have to feed each day. You can go on vacation for a week or two and not worry about food! Either way, the worms are given to you in a mixture of food and bedding so they have items to eat with them. It also has plenty of microbes in it already. The worms may ignore your food scraps for the first few days due to the other food being present and them being in a new environment/being discombobulated.
How do you know when the bin/compost is too dry or too wet? I have some moist layers or newspaper on top of the compost and spray it once in a while when it seems to be drying up, but is this enough?You can dig around in the bin to see how moist it is. Usually, it is the top surface that is going to dry out first. The lower levels tend to stay pretty moist. Also, adding food to the top will release water into the bin as it wilts and breaks down. But what you are doing is correct, add water to the top of the bin to keep the newspaper and soil moist. When in doubt, dig around and pretty soon you will get a feel for how much moisture is correct. The worms do best at 80% moisture content in the soil. This is pretty wet, but they can survive in dryer conditions too though. For beginners I recommend they try to stay at a little dryer end until they get a feel for the soil conditions. This prevents you from water-logging them and causing a nasty mess. A good way to judge the moisture content is to squeeze the bedding. It should feel like a wet sponge, but not drip more than 1-2 drops of water out.
How do you harvest castings?To harvest the castings, you can spread the bin contents out on a tarp or piece of plastic (under a bright light). You can use sunlight if it is not too hot or bright out. The light makes the worms burrow down from surface. Give them time to go down, then rake back the top layer (wormless layer). This will uncover some of the worms again. Allow the light to scare them back deeper down and repeat the cycle of raking and waiting. This is easiest way without special equipment. Otherwise, you can make a worm sifter from 1/4 or 1/8 hardware wire nailed to a wooden frame. Then dump some of bin contents into it and shake it. The smaller pieces (castings) will drop through and worms and bigger pieces will stay on top. And then you could make your own turning sifter (there are designs or photos online) to separate worms and castings.
How do you keep the worms cool in this hot summer?In the summer as long as they are in the shade they should be fine. The water in the bin will evaporate and cool them off too. The more materials you have in the bin (bedding, compost, etc) the more it will insulate them from temperature spikes. They are fine until bedding temperature goes above 94 F. If you leave them in shade most of time the bins will not experience any issues. You can also put in a cheap thermometer into the soil to monitor bin conditions. One thing to remember is to bury the thermometer. You want to monitor bedding temp, not air temperatures. You can also place worm bins under deck, in crawl spaces, or garages if temps are getting too high.
Can I use worms in raised beds?You can add worms directly to raised beds and they should be fine. You will need to place the worm food (food wastes, lawn clippings, etc) on top of the raised beds though. Many people keep the worms in the beds because plants do even better when the worms are actively cultivating the soil. They will be dropping castings and aerating the soil as they go. If you live in more rural areas, you could even add horse manure from local horse stables. Rinse it off to remove any horse urine (salt in it is bad for worms). Just apply it to top of beds. The worms will love it and it will nourish your plants (plus it is free!). Use chemical fertilizers and lime on the beds sparingly. It can killoff helpful microbes the worms are building up and even kill the worms if too much is applied. When lime is needed, use agricultural lime so it won't burn the worms which come in contact with it.
Where do my worms come from?The worms generally come from our own bins in North Carolina. But when I run low, I have two partners who supplement my shipments.
How can I keep my worms alive until I can use them again?Worms need three main things: Water, oxygen, and food. Water will keep your worms from drying out. Store them in damp peat moss, shredded newspaper, or shredded cardboard (70-80% water content). Provide oxygen by allowing air to circulate in the container. Worms breathe through their skin, but to do this, their skin must remain moist. The third requirement is food. Worms can last some time without food (a couple of weeks). But to keep them happy and healthy, put a pinch of decaying fruit or vegetables (no citrus). Not too much or the food will turn rancid and stink.
Importan Note: Both the red worms and European nightcrawlers SHOULD NOT be refrigerated. It will most likely kill them. Just keep them moist and at room temperature and they will be happy. Their preferred temperature range is from 65-85F (but can survive from 40-95F).
Do I need to refrigerate the worms?No! Putting the worms in the fridge will likely kill them. These types of worms thrive at normal room temperature. This is why we selected them for bait in North Carolina. They last longer both in the warm air and water than Canadian Nightcrawlers. Also, they are easier to maintain. Temperature range they prefer from 60-85F.
What type of worm should I buy? The red worms or nightcrawlers?Red worms are smaller than nightcrawlers. They are extremely active and provide a lot of movement on the hook. They are very tempting to fish. Anglers use them for various type of fish (trout, perch, bass, crappie, bluegill, etc). Due to smaller size, they require a smaller hook.
European nightcrawlers (or Euros) are larger than red worms, but smaller than Canadian nightcrawlers. Due to increased size, they can be used with bigger hooks for catfish, bass, etc. These guys are for anglers who prefer a larger worm with slightly less activity than the red worms. Also, they can survive brackish water conditions better than most other worms. They can last over 30 minutes in the cold waters too (British Columbia). See photos on purchase page to get perspective on size.