What Kind of Worms Should I Compost With?

Ed Wike
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Composting Worms Are In a Different Class

There are two basic types of worm composting … redworms and vermicomposting. Redworms are a different species than the "composting worms" picked up in the garden. And composting worms are far more sophisticated than the worms you'll find in any garden.

For starters, the composting worms are a different species. Redworms have quite a lot in common with your garden variety nightcrawler. As a matter of fact, if you've got a worm bin, the prevailing opinion among composting gurus is that you should start with redworms from your local garden center. So, you don't need any special accreditation to begin composting with redworms.

The composting worms are a different matter, though. As mentioned, they are more discerning about their living conditions. And they are quite a bit more complex creatures when it comes to the micro-organisms on their skin.

These differences are a direct result of the tools in their toolkit. They have special parts of their skin that help them eat tough organic matter like woodchips and manure. And their digestive process is radically different. They break down your kitchen scraps quickly … within one to three days. And their cecum has the ability to retain and recycle your kitchen scraps back to you.

Anecic

Anecic earthworms are ideal for composting. That's because they have a long, segmented body that's ringed with small, hook-like hairs that allow them to move through soil with ease. Their mobility helps them gather food and carry it back to the worms' underground burrows, where it's consumed and excreted.

The main thing that makes anecic earthworms ideal compost worms is their ability to digest leaf litter and vegetable waste. These worms have a diet of nutrients that's high in carbon-based material, so they devour fallen leaves, branches, vegetable scraps, and lawn clippings with ease. As the worms approach the final segment of their anecic earthworm body, they consume the waste, break it down, and excrete it. Less waste is then transported back to the soil, resulting in a compost system that's faster and more efficient than traditional vermicomposting.

Endogeic

Vs. Ectogeic Earthworms: What's the Difference?

If you compost then you know composting systems come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. So too do the composting worms you use to help break down the organic waste in compost piles.

The most common composting worms that live in piles of compost are endogeic earthworms. As the name implies endogeic earthworms live in compost piles, or decomposing plant material.

Biology of Endogeic vs Ectogeic Composting Worms

(also called "soil worms")

Ectogeic earthworms live in the soil just beneath the surface and are an important component of natural cycling of nutrients and organic matter in terrestrial ecosystems.

Most of the native earthworms found in compost piles are usually endogeic composting worms. The two most common species found in compost piles are Eisenia fetida and Lumbricus rubellus.

Whether endogeic or ectogeic worms live in the compost pile depends on the composting environment. Compost is an ideal living environment for composting earthworms.

The conditions that earthworms require in order to survive and thrive are moisture, food and shelter. These conditions are readily available in compost piles, hence the reason most composting earthworms live in compost piles.

Epigeic

Epigeic composting worms are often also called "red worms" or Eisenia fetida, and were once called "drain worms". They are thin, white, and 1 to 2 inches long. Their color and life expectancy can vary based on how they are fed.

Depending on the type of worms you purchase, they can be a valuable addition.

They do a fantastic job of eating through organic waste. They can get through an inch of food scraps a week. They can also self-regulate and limit their population.

Gardeners or homeowners who have large backyard compost bins can order a bin full of adult worms to avoid high shipping charges. Once you have them, nourish them with food scraps and they will produce baby worms for your bin. It will be best for your worms and your compost if your food scraps are not smelly or rotting.

If you want to keep the numbers of redworms growing, you will need to feed them food scraps over a longer period of time. After a few hours, the food reaches temperatures that kill worms, so you will need to turn the compost pile so your worms are not killed by their own waste.

You will also reduce the pH of your compost pile if you try to feed the worms over a long period of time.

For best results, go with a reputable dealer that you can trust. Ask for a sample and stick with it.

Which Species of Worms Are Good for Vermicomposting?

People use a number of different types of worms for vermicomposting and many different types of composting bins.

It might surprise you to learn that not all worms are created equal. Some species of worms are better than others at digesting waste and leaving your compost pile smelling good, even when there is a lot of moisture.

Many compost enthusiasts are fond of worm species that belong to the families Lumbricidae or Eisenia. These are both great choices, but a few of the lesser known varieties might be better suited to your composting needs. Here’s a look at a few of the worm species you can use in your composting venture. These aren’t the only ones that one can use, but they can be highly beneficial to composters who want good results.

Eisenia Foetida

These worms generate heat, process vermicompost faster, and have a voracious appetite. They also stay alive for up to four months in a compost heap, and as an added bonus, they add lime to your compost pile. They are also among the few worms that can survive in acidic soil. They are easy to spot by the brown or bronze color that their bodies take after a period of vermicomposting.

Red Wiggler

These are not your average composting worms. Like their song, you'll know they are a-comin'. You'll hear the music of the red wiggler, before you see his red color. He's the most vociferous compost worm.

Because of its specific diet, this worm also has a more limited temperate range. It's ideal temperature range is between 55 – 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

As the name suggests, red wigglers are red, always, and everywhere. They also look like a caterpillar or torso.

You'll find their size is fairly small and 2/3 to 3/4 inch long.

While the European Night Crawler is the ideal composting worm, it has a much wider temperature range of 40. – 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Eisenia Foetida, also known as "Composting Worm," is another excellent composting worm. You can tell them from other worms because of their dark, purplish-brown color. They are 3/4 – 1 inch long. They also have a much wider temperature range of 40 – 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

These worms have slightly less body fat than the European Night Crawler and the Red Wiggler.

The most exciting thing about the composting earthworm is how fast it moves. It is also the one that can survive the widest temperature range. They survive in a temperature range of 32 – 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

European Nightcrawler

The European nightcrawler is known for being a great compost worm for your compost bin. The reason for this is that nightcrawlers are very strong, hardy creatures. Because they are so hearty, they can handle a lot of stress. Another reason that the European nightcrawler is ideal for composting is because it is cold tolerant. This is important because the worm can withstand the cold temperatures that naturally break down material so that your compost is ready when it’s time to use it.

Because the nightcrawler is cold tolerant, you don’t have to go out of your way to heat your composting bin. Because worms require oxygen to survive, the nightcrawler needs to be able to pull oxygen from the soil it’s placed in. The best thing to do to ensure that they can get some air is to have the right amount of red wriggler worms in the bin. This will ensure a balance so that your nightcrawlers won’t suffocate.

Another reason to love nightcrawlers is that they can handle waste that is too big to be broken down by other worms. The nightcrawler can easily eat waste crayfish, which is a benefit if you have a composting pond or aquarium.

Indian or Malaysian Blue

The Indian blue worm (Perionyx Excavatus) is also called the Malaysian Blue Worm. It is similar to the Red Wiggler (Eisenia fetida) in regard to their composting abilities. These worms thrive in a wide temperature range, are active throughout the year, eat a variety of foods, and reproduce rapidly. They produce compost faster than any other worm species, and can produce two to three times as much in one year as the Red Wiggler.

When compared with other worm species, the Indian blue and the Malaysian blue is the largest, and a mature bed of worms takes a form of a solid mass. These worms are most effective when the temperature isn’t too low or too high and the bed remains moist. However, they tolerate several weeks of dearth, which is their only drawback. They don’t thrive in conditions of wetness for long periods of time.

African Nightcrawler

The African nightcrawler is the most commonly used worm around. They are dark brown or black and will grow up to 8" long. Their size means that more of them will fit in a compost bin, making them a more economical option. They are also fast breeders so you won't be waiting long to get more worms if you do reach the end of your worm bin.

What do Nightcrawler Worms Eat?

As with all the different composting worms, African Nightcrawlers will eat their way through your food scraps. They will thrive on anything that you can put into a compost bin. You need to have enough waste to regularly replace the material and enough worms to keep them fed.

What do African Nightcrawlers look like?

Nightcrawlers are fairly large so you don't need many of them. They are between 2" and 8" long. This means that each worm will eat a lot of food particles. It is not uncommon to have between one and four worms per pound of garbage to be eaten. If you have fewer worms you risk having a scenario where you are not providing them with enough to eat.

If you start with too many worms, you are going to run into a problem where they are reproducing out of control. One female worm can produce hundreds of offspring, which mean that you can quickly end up with thousands of worms.

My Recommendation: Red Wigglers

Here is the list of the worms you can use on your compost:

Nightcrawlers, Red Worms, Spring Nightcrawlers, Small Red Worms, Earthworms, African Nightcrawlers, Bay Area Worms, Australian Appleleaf Worms, European Nightcrawlers, Malaysian Nightcrawlers, and Red Wigglers are the most commonly collected composting worms. If you are looking for an easy way to obtain compost worms it is best to purchase them. Most people purchase their compost worms online, but some may be able to find them at their local pet store.