Hello again guys. In this post we will continue the topic of vermicomposting further. We will discuss about Breeds of composting worms.
There are several species of composting earthworms used for vermicomposting. Please understand not all earthworms are useful for composting. There are species of earthworms that burrows deep in soil. They ingest moist soil and gather nutrients from it. Composting worms on the other hand don’t go below 12 inch deep into the substrate. Their primary food source is rotting organic matters on the surface or subsurface level. In India, you will most probably find one of the two most popular composting worms. Eisenia Fetida commonly known as Red Wigglers or Eudrilus Eugeniae commonly called as African night crawler. As far as I know these two are the only species farmed in India, also these are the only species I have first hand experience with. So for this topic I will limit myself to these two species of composting earthworms only.
Wigglers vs. Crawlers
Eisenia Fetida or Red wigglers are the most popular composting earthworms around the world. So you will definitely find them locally in your area. African Night crawlers in the other hand are reasonably hard to find. Most commercial vermicompost producers will have African Night Crawlers but unfortunately I found that they are not so interested in selling worms to small gardener like us. But before we start foraging the city, let’s understand what are we dealing with here. How are these breeds different from each other and how much maintenance each of them need.
If you have kids or been around kids, you must know that basically there are two types of kids. There are those considered the golden kids. They obey their parents religiously. They don’t wander around. They finish their homework in time. They eat their vegetables and if you couldn’t get the gift they wanted for their birthday, they will understand. Some kids on the other hand will give you a migraine that no Aspirin can help. They are fast like Ninjas, don’t understand the concept of homework, they will feed your vegetables to you and God forbid if you forget their gift on their birthdays, they will tear you apart. However somehow these kids win all the trophies. Somehow only these kids grow up as leaders in their field. Now if you understand what I’m talking about here, then you already know what to expect from the two composting worm species. Red wigglers are like those golden kids. They tolerate wide range of temperature, produce decent amount of biomass and most important they will stay in their bins unless it’s life threatening. African Night crawlers are, however, like the Ninja kids. It doesn’t matter how much you do to keep them comfortable, it’s seldom enough. In earthworm world, they are considered escape artists. Too much moisture is your wormbin, they will leave. PH is out of balance, they will leave. Temperature in the bin varies slightly, they will leave.
It took me at least couple of years to create an optimum condition for them. But no matter how difficult it is to manage them, once an acceptable balance is achieved, they are the best bio-mass producer you can have. African Night crawlers are at least 5 times the size of their Eisenia counterpart. So naturally they eat more. They reproduce more often and the casting they produce is larger in size and easy to harvest. Also I noticed for some reason they like to leave their casting on the surface layer of wormbin. Even if you don’t want to harvest the entire bin at any given time, you can easily scrape off enough castings from the top to satisfy any immediate need. When you harvest casting from the bin and apply it in your container, there is a good chance that it will have some juvenile worms and eggs of the worms. I found if there is enough organic material in your soil, they tend to make a colony on their own in the container itself. Very soon you will find a rich layer of casting on top of your container soil, creating a nice looking nutrient rich mulch of a kind. And with African Night Crawlers, the volume of this layer is substantial. This kind of In-Situ composting with earthworms (Pictures below) will ensure the quality of your soil improves year after year. I can just go on and on about merits of this breed, but the truth is, I can still imagine situations when, it won’t make sense at all to choose them over Eisenia Fetida. Here are some of those situations.
- The lowest temperature in your region falls below 15º C in winter. Unless you have a place for them where you can manage a stable temperature close to 25º C, it’s not worth the trouble. Eisenia will serve you much better in those circumstances.
- You don’t have a sheltered location and rain directly falls on your wormbin. Even if your wormbin is covered and there is no rain is going inside the bin, I found that the sound of raindrops on the cover, makes them think it’s the migration time and they try to escape from the bin. I even got a similar response with a find water jet on the cover. Eisenia is more manageable in that situation. Unless the bin condition is absolutely fatal, they (Eisenia Fetida) don’t really consider moving out.
- Your worm bin is really small. African Night Crawlers grow very fast, reproduce very fast and Unlike Red wigglers, they don’t like to be too much crowded. So if you have a compact wormbin, they you should consider Eisenia over Eudrilus.
- Large worms freaks you out. Well honestly Eudrilus looks more intimidating than Eisenia with their large size and clearly visible body structure. For a person not too fond of the idea of worms, It might be a better idea to keep the Crawlers out of sight.
Here are some more great articles, where you can get some in depth knowledge about composting worms.
In next post I will write about types of worm bins you can use to keep composting earthworms and about some other common materials you might need.