Find answers to questions on worms and vermi-composting

After many years of worm composting and teaching worm composting workshops, we’ve compiled this list of frequently asked questions. These questions were asked by adults, kids, teenagers, people interested in worm composting and people who had already started worm composting.

What is Worm Composting?

Worm composting is the recycling of “organic matter”, usually waste products from private households, industry or animals with the help of compost worms. These worms can eat half their body weight a day in captivity and can convert organic waste into nutrient rich worm castings.

Worm composting (known as well as Vermiculture, Vermicomposting or Worm farming) usually takes place in worm bins, which are designed to suit the needs of the compost worms.

The end product should be thought of as a natural fertiliser rather than a compost.

How to use worm fertiliser

Put a half cup in each planting hole prior to planting, mix 20% by volume into soil mix or use 1/4" - 1/2" as a top dressing on established plants. You can also make a worm casting tea from them to use as a foliar feed.

What do worms eat?

Worms actually feed on the microbes, bacteria and fungus that grow on your organic waste as it decomposes.

How long do worms live?

Studies have shown that composting worms can live 4-10 years kept in a worm bin or a laboratory. Out in nature, worms typically live only 1 or 2 years because of predators, temperature changes and other potential dangers.

Do worms have teeth?

Composting worms do not have teeth. Without teeth, worms cannot take a bite out of food. They need to wait until the food begins to rot or break down so that it is soft and wet enough for them to suck off with their very small mouths. Instead of chewing their food with teeth, they grind their food in very small gizzards.

What is a gizzard?

The gizzard (birds have them too) is a small sack early in the digestive tract (which for a worm runs the entire length of their body) that contains very small bits of grit or sand. The food passes through the gizzard and gets ground up by the grit.

Are there male and female worms?

No. Worms are hermaphrodites. Which means all worms have both male and female reproductive organs.

Can worms mate with themselves?

No, a single worm can’t reproduce by itself. Even though worms have male and female reproductive organs, they need another partner in order to reproduce.

How do worms breed?

Red worms are hermaphrodites, which means they are both male and female (although it does take two to tango). They produce eggs or capsules from the saddleback which you will see on the 13th segment on their bodies. The egg looks like a tomato pip and starts off a yellowy-green colour and as they age they go a brownish-red. Each one will have between 5 and 15 tiny worms inside, and these take about 10 days or so to hatch out.

Will I end up with too many worms in my wormery?

The worms will breed to match your food supply. They regulate their numbers and size to match the conditions. As the adults eat the waste and move upwards the eggs hatch out so to make best use of your wormery you need to add waste really regularly.

How much can red wiggler worms eat?

Red wigglers are voracious eaters. Depending on the conditions in the worm bin, they can eat between 1/4 and 1/2 of their weight every day. So, if you have 500g of worms (roughly 1000 worms), you can expect them to eat 125g to 250g each day under ideal conditions.

How long does it take composting worms to make usable castings?

It will take around 6 months before you are able to harvest vermi-castings for the first time. After that, you will be able to harvest a small amount every month or so depending on the size of your worm compost bin and your worm herd. Want vermi-castings faster? Start with more composting worms!

Where do you get composting worms?

We supply composting worms living in the environment established in our own wormeries.

How many worms should I start with?

I recommend starting a home worm bin with 1 pound of composting red worms. The worms will multiply (remember one of their 3 jobs is to make babies). So, the amount of red worms you start with really depends on how productive you want your homemade worm bin to be right away and how much you are willing to spend.

Does a worm bin smell?

Rotting food scraps? Worm poo? Doesn’t it smell? The answer is: worm bins should never stink. A bad smell is an indicator that something has gone wrong and needs to be fixed.

Does a worm composting bin attract other bugs?

In our worm bins we’ve found: woodlice, ants, centipedes, millipedes, earwigs, pot worms (very small white worms), slugs, and more. These other bugs won’t hurt your worms and are usually a sign of a healthy worm bin. If your outdoor worm bin is not maintained properly, it can attract pests that you don’t want like ants and flies. Correcting the maintenance issue and/or moving the worm bin inside usually corrects the issue.

Does a worm bin attract rats?

Nobody wants rats hanging around their house. A well maintained worm bin will never attract rats. Rats and other rodents are attracted to exposed rotting food. The best way to keep rats away is to always bury your food scraps well under the bedding. Not putting dairy or meat products in you worm bin will also reduce the likelihood of rats.

Can I keep composting worms outside?

Yes, a worm composting bin can be kept outside. Just be sure to have a plan for controlling temperature so your worms don’t freeze or overheat. Worms like the same temperatures as we do. They are happiest between 60 and 80 degrees F. If it gets too cold or too hot your worms will die.

Why do they have to be in moist bedding?

All worms breathe through their skin. A worm’s skin must be moist to be able to breathe. If a worm’s skin dries out, it will die. You may have seen this when an earthworm gets stuck trying to cross a pavement in the summer. They end up dried up, shriveled, and dead.

What should I use as worm bin bedding?

We find that the worms like cardboard or shredded paper.

What is the correct moisture level for a worm bin?

Worm composting bins should never be dry and should never have standing water in them. Ideally, the worm bedding should be at about 80% moisture. The bedding should definitely feel moist but when you squeeze it, no water should drip out. Also, when you squeeze it you should not hear crackling of dry paper or dry leaves. When your worm bin bedding is at the correct moisture level, it should remind you of laundry right when you take it from the washing machine. The clothes are thoroughly saturated with water but not dripping at all.

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