As with so many topics, there is a ton of information on the Internet about vermicomposting and vermiculture. The challenge is separating the good information from the bad. There are many, many people simply repeating information they found elsewhere without testing it or verifying its truthfulness.
Here are a number of resources which we feel have been developed by people who truly understand what it takes to be successful with vermicomposting.
Book: Recycle With Earthworms: The Red Wiggler Connection
Our current favorite book on the topic. Not as cute as “Worms Eat My Garbage” by Mary Appelhof, but seems to be more informative and written by people with more experience in larger-scale vermicomposting (in addition to small-scale home bins). Having said that though, the current ‘Worms Eat My Garbage” is a 35th anniversary edition and so should be even better than before.
Vermicomposting Horse Manure
Discusses large-scale use of vermicomposting with Eisenia fetida to process horse manure. Published by the Colorado State University Extension
Got other good resources? Please post below, or tell us via our Contact Page. Thanks!
I was just out checking out my compost worm bins and turned up a few compost worm eggs. What you see as red wiggler eggs are actually cocoons or egg cases that contain roughly 5-12 actual eggs.
When red wiggler egg cocoons are first laid they’re a rather pale yellow color which really stands out against the dark compost. As they mature, they change to more of a reddish-brown that’s a bit more difficult to spot.
If you’re seeing red wiggler eggs in your worm bin — congratulations! You’re providing a good enough environment for your compost worms that they’re able to breed. Speaking from experience, it’s pretty exciting when you first see eggs/cocoons in your worm bin. At that point, you’re well on your way to increasing your worm herd. 🙂
It’s sometimes possible to buy red wiggler compost worm eggs directly online, but it’s much more common to buy live compost worms. If you find red wiggler cocoons in with your worms when you buy them, great! That just means you’ve gotten a lot of potential baby worms to grow up in your worm bin.
Most people who keep red wiggler compost worms do so for the nutrient-rich worm castings or vermicompost (worm poop) that is the end result of worm composting. We recently harvested one of our smaller worm bins, and took photos of the worm castings before using them in our garden.
Vermicompost is extremely fine-grained and almost silky feeling in your hands. This is because worm compost is made up of individual worm castings (pieces of worm poop), each of which is a bit bigger than a grain of sand. It’s amazing to look at a bucket full of red wiggler worm castings and realize that nearly every single piece has passed through a worm at least once! You certainly don’t recognize the original food scraps — with the occasional exception of pieces of eggshell, hard seeds, etc. that the red wiggler worms can’t digest.
Many gardeners consider worm castings to be the “black gold” of compost because of this fine texture, and also the fact that vermicompost may have more nutrients than traditional or “hot” compost. A definite advantage is that each casting is surrounded by a thin mucous layer, which essentially makes them like tiny time-release nutrient capsules!
The worm castings pictured have been “cured” using the process described in the excellent book
Recycle With Earthworms: The Red Wiggler Connection (by Shelley Grossman and Toby Weitzel). “Curing” vermicompost means letting it sit in a bucket for a couple of weeks after harvest, allowing any worms you missed while harvesting or newly-emerged babies to finish off any food which remains. The result is lighter, fluffier, and more completely broken down than “raw” worm castings. You definitely don’t need to cure your compost, but it’s a nice extra step if you have the time. People who saw our vermicompost at a Farmers Market last summer were amazed by the texture (we were, too!)
How to use your newly-created vermicompost? Worm castings are excellent as an extra nutrient boost added to gardens, for indoor plants, or anywhere else you’re growing. We used several gallons of worm castings as part of our seed starting mix this spring. We often see melon, cucumber, and even peach pits sprouting in our worm bins. I’ve heard (and believe) that worm castings may contain beneficial microbes which help prevent fungus from killing off newly-emerged seedlings.
Another use of worm castings to make “compost tea” or “worm tea”, a liquid mixture of worm castings and water that can be poured on your plants as fertilizer. Whether you choose to use it dry or as worm tea, your plants will thank you!
Ready to get started with vermicomposting, but still have some questions about how to keep red wiggler worms?
There are tons of guides online about how to compost with worms. Just do a Google search, and you’ll be overwhelmed with pages of instructions for keeping worms. The quality of these instructions varies greatly, and you’ll often find conflicting advice. (Example: Is it okay to add meat and dairy to a worm bin or not? Our answer: Yes, but only small amounts at a time.)
If you’ve done your research on red wiggler compost worms but still have questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section below. We’ve been composting with red wiggler worms for over 5 years, and are happy to share our knowledge. No need to learn it all by trial and error!
We’ll try to answer your questions as they come in, and use your questions as inspiration as we add pages to our site on how to compost with worms. Ask away!
Even though I knew better, we had a compost worm escape this weekend. Red wiggler compost worms generally stay in the bedding as long as things are going well. You don’t even need a lid on the bin. But… when compost worms are first put into new bedding — and especially if it’s nice and humid (like after a rain) — they’ll sometimes go on the prowl in a serious way. Here some are making their way out of the bin:
I visited my outdoor bins to find the redworms wandering every which way. I even caught a couple about 2 feet up a tree! They were on their way down by the time I snapped a photo, but still… Worms in trees?
Like I said, compost worms generally only wander off when they’re first placed in new bedding, or if conditions in the bin get bad (overfeeding, etc.) A partial solution to make them stay put while they’re first adjusting is to keep a light over the bins. Like most worms, Eisenia fetida avoid light when they can. I rigged up a makeshift dusk-to-dawn light over the bin, and the problem was mostly solved.
So… serious lesson (re-)learned here. When you first set up a bin, it’s a very good idea to keep a light over it for a few days. Once the compost worms have settled into to their work of vermicomposting, they generally stay put. But if the bedding is new and the night is moist, they might go for a wander…
Incidentally, here is a good place to look for bins