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Increase compost worm population. Help needed!

 
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So i bought half a pound of compost worms a month ago so that i could remove our food waste. I had originally planned to increase the worm population to a level that could eat all the food waste produced each day by my family, but  i think they aren't reproducing at a high enough rate to finish all our food scraps.
So this is why im asking if there are any methods to increase worm reproduction, please help me spot if i have made some mistakes in my taking care of the compost worms with my observation below.

1. Bedding is mostly coco-coir and a little cardboard scraps
2. Bin is about 12 L in capacity but im only utilising about half the space, but its very spacious for teh worms as of now, no crowding whatsoever
3. Drainage holes were drilled aty teh bottom of the bin but there is no worm tea coming out as i try to keep waterlogging down
4. Bedding moisture level is usually like a "wrung-out sponge"
5. I feed mainly tea leaves and vegetable scraps, no citrus peels are added and sometimes i add crushed egg shells
6. I feed every time when the previous feed is mostly eaten up with only some residue left
7. I feed by burying it halfway through to the bin, and i always turn the bedding every feed
8, the worms seem to mostly congregate at the bottom of the bin, about 25% are near the surface


so are there any things im doing wrong or can do better to increase worm reproduction? Or is it too early to tell whether or not the population is increasing at a heathy rate? Since i struggled to find any worms that had citellums, perhaps a sign of immaturity or different species?

Thanks
 
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Hello Richard,

My suggestion would be stop turning the bedding, it stresses the worms out. The other suggestion is let the medium hold a little more moisture. If its like a rang out sponge, it might be to dry, since the medium when squeezed should yeild at least a few drops still. The worms being down at the bottom is an indictation they may like more moisture in their medium. The other suggestion to increase reproduction, is give them better quality feed. If you increase their protien content, by supplementing their food with high protien plant based foods, like blue green alge or duck weed, that should help. One other thing, make sure the bedding is a pH of 7. Always adjust your bedding to 7 pH days befor adding your worms. Since most bedding is slightly acidic, garden lime works to neutralize the pH, and it provides some healthy minerals in the bedding.




 
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Regarding J's suggestion on high protein plant matter, I read a study a while back where in Europe they were working on a technique for vermicomposting scotch broom to create a high nitrogen compost (I attached the pdf because I thought it was an interesting read.)  One of the results of their trials was a very rapid increase in the number of worms they had.  If I remember right, I think their population more than quadrupled in about 45 days.  I tried my own half-assed version of their experiment using very low-tech stuff (an old burn barrel full of scotch broom, around 300  worms tossed in, and adding a watering can full of water once a week to keep moisture levels up.)  My results weren't nearly as high quality as theirs, but when I spread the stuff out 2 months later I saw literally hundreds of baby worms, along with hundreds of adults and a lot of juveniles.  I would guess that the rapid reproduction part of the experiment applied to my attempt as well.  I started a second barrel, using some of the worms from the last barrel, and with a bit of tweaking it looks like things are going good in there.  I don't know for sure, but I'd guess any leguminous plant matter might cause rapid worm reproduction in a similar fashion in vermicomposting.  Fresh alfalfa, clover or vetch likely has similar protein levels.
Filename: vermicomposting-scotch-broom.pdf
File size: 467 Kbytes
 
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12 liters does sound rather small to me.

Worms will self-regulate their population once it reaches capacity. I would transfer them to a 60 liter container, or remove half the population to a separate container.

Also, I’m not suggesting that it’s a good thing to stress your worms, but I saw a video in which the worm farmer was surprised by the number of cocoons he found in a flood and drain aquaponic setup. Perhaps the worms in the system felt that they wouldn’t survive and shed their cocoons to prepare the next generation in case they died out.
 
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My limited experience with composting worms was that the material often needs to decay a bit before they can get their "teeth" into it. I'm not sure you will ever be able to get to the point where they can consume everything in a day.

Black Soldier Fly larvae on the other hand can devour food very rapidly. They might be an option for you, depending on climate.
 
pollinator
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If we agree that the hatching cycle is 1 month and the growth cycle (newborn to adult) is 1 month then it is way too early to tell if you are doing things perfect or completely wrong.
My guess is you are in-between but closer to perfect - the worms grade on a curve.  They most likely have spent the last month trying to figure out what happened.
I was in a big pile of horse manure with my buddies and now I'm in a tote full of paper, cardboard, banana peels and tea leaves.
So you probably lost at least a week maybe more of reproduction.
I have been doing this as a side business for 10 years and don't sweat the small stuff.
Internet experts make a lot of rules.  Worms don't care.

Some things I suggest:
Relax.  The worms will get there.  But not in a month.  Check in 4 to 6.
Cardboard and crushed egg shells are supposed to help increase reproduction.
My worms love it wet.  I wet my bins down with aerated worm tea (high microbe/fungi population) when I start them and to kick start them later if they have dried out.
Squash/melon family members are always a hit.  Cantaloupe is my favorite but all are large and worm-ready,'
Sloshy food means quicker/more consumption.  That leads to more reproduction.
I take some out and put in a smaller container.  Both as a backup plan and to speed up reproduction.  It's a worm singles bar.
Spend as little time/money as possible trying to get food to rot.  It will happen.  And it will be good.

Good luck, have fun.
 
pollinator
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I want to add: Best aphrodisiac for worms is coffee grounds. They love to eat that stuff and, yeah, then themselves too.
 
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Short answer, environment.

For way to much information on vermiculture:  Click Me.
 
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Richard Wei wrote:So i bought half a pound of compost worms a month ago so that i could remove our food waste. I had originally planned to increase the worm population to a level that could eat all the food waste produced each day by my family, but  i think they aren't reproducing at a high enough rate to finish all our food scraps.
So this is why im asking if there are any methods to increase worm reproduction, please help me spot if i have made some mistakes in my taking care of the compost worms with my observation below.

1. Bedding is mostly coco-coir and a little cardboard scraps
2. Bin is about 12 L in capacity but im only utilising about half the space, but its very spacious for teh worms as of now, no crowding whatsoever
3. Drainage holes were drilled aty teh bottom of the bin but there is no worm tea coming out as i try to keep waterlogging down
4. Bedding moisture level is usually like a "wrung-out sponge"
5. I feed mainly tea leaves and vegetable scraps, no citrus peels are added and sometimes i add crushed egg shells
6. I feed every time when the previous feed is mostly eaten up with only some residue left
7. I feed by burying it halfway through to the bin, and i always turn the bedding every feed
8, the worms seem to mostly congregate at the bottom of the bin, about 25% are near the surface

so are there any things im doing wrong or can do better to increase worm reproduction? Or is it too early to tell whether or not the population is increasing at a heathy rate? Since i struggled to find any worms that had citellums, perhaps a sign of immaturity or different species?

Thanks


I would not expect worms to start reproducing for at least 40 days from your start up date, they first have to acclimate both to the temperature and the new surroundings as well as the new food sources.

1.)  It has been my experience that coir isn't the greatest worm bedding material, I use torn up news paper and cardboard.
2.)  If you are only using half the space and the worms aren't crowded then the size is fine.
3.)  If you aren't getting "worm juice" that is an indication that a) you aren't feeding them high moisture foods and/ or b) your growing medium isn't moist enough.
4.)  Refer to answer number 3, many people keep their worms in a too dry environment, notice that worms only come to the surface in rain storms when the ground it saturated, meaning the water content of the soil is to high for them to survive, so they abandon ship and come up to not drown.
5.)  As has been mentioned, coffee grounds are a great worm food as well.
6.)  I think you are feeding on a pretty good schedule but I like to have at least one piece (usually a melon rind in my case) that they haven't gotten started on yet when I add food stuffs.
7.)  I would think about not going so deep with the new food, and stop turning the bedding, you will prevent the worms from getting all happy in their home, when they are in a constant state of disruption,      they won't breed.
8.)  Worms tend to want dark, damp for living and hanging out spaces, that's why you are finding them deep in the bin.

In my experience the more I neglect my worm bins, the better the worms like me and reproduce but don't think that your going to witness the results of a wild sex orgy, they lay egg cases and those take a month to hatch.
The more you disturb your worms the less egg cases you will find.

I really like Keith O's answers too, most people new to worm composting both over think it and they are overly "protective" of their new worm bins.
Worms like their solitude and they take a while to adapt to changes in their living environment.

Redhawk
 
Richard Wei
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Thanks everyone for the tips, so here is an update after i changed up some of my habits:

Changes:

1. More watering, very moist bedding now
2. More/different bedding, I now incorporated some cardboard into the existing coco coir bedding,as well as layering a thick cardboard layer on the surface
3. Feeding on surface, i now feed the food to the worms by placing on top of the bedding, below the cardboard layer
4. Blending food

Results:
1. There seems to be more earthworms that come up to the surface and feed
2. Im seeing more little wriggling white worms amongst the food, i assume they are baby earthworms
3. Im also spotting different critters in my bin now, some mini red ball-like mites, as well as some gnats
4. the bottom of the bin is quite soggy


so mostly positive changes, but im worried about both the critters and moisture level of the bin. Are the critters i've mentioned harmful to the worms or plants? Also, how do i make sure the bin doesn't go anaerobic since i found out the holes i drilled at the bottom of the bin was too small.

Thanks for everyone's tips, it's worked wonders and basically revitalised my bin, Thanks again for being so kind to a novice like me!
 
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Throw a big watermelon rind on the top, with the moist side facing down. My worms love it more than anything else. I think because the he rind is full of water, it’s soft and easy to eat through, and it decays fast enough. They love being in it.

My population didn’t grow much during the winter. Now spring has St tatted and I see their numbers growing again with the warmer weather.

My favourite material to cover the worm farm surface is an old cotton shirt. It stays moist for ages so I don’t need to think of watering often at all, it keeps the surface protected, and the worms gradually eat through it.
 
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a compost pile that is working will get quite hot, not sure worms can stand the peak temperatures, once material is composted then the worms can make it home.
I remember one winter a giant compost pile actually caught fire it had newspaper, cardboard, chicken waste, cow waste \


and some type of seeds that had been pressed for oil.
 
pollinator
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Jonathan Baldwerm wrote:Regarding J's suggestion on high protein plant matter, I read a study a while back where in Europe they were working on a technique for vermicomposting scotch broom to create a high nitrogen compost (I attached the pdf because I thought it was an interesting read.)  One of the results of their trials was a very rapid increase in the number of worms they had.  If I remember right, I think their population more than quadrupled in about 45 days.  I tried my own half-assed version of their experiment using very low-tech stuff (an old burn barrel full of scotch broom, around 300  worms tossed in, and adding a watering can full of water once a week to keep moisture levels up.)  My results weren't nearly as high quality as theirs, but when I spread the stuff out 2 months later I saw literally hundreds of baby worms, along with hundreds of adults and a lot of juveniles.  I would guess that the rapid reproduction part of the experiment applied to my attempt as well.  I started a second barrel, using some of the worms from the last barrel, and with a bit of tweaking it looks like things are going good in there.  I don't know for sure, but I'd guess any leguminous plant matter might cause rapid worm reproduction in a similar fashion in vermicomposting.  Fresh alfalfa, clover or vetch likely has similar protein levels.




Thank you for posting that PDF.

I have been feeding worms high protein fodder crops to boost their production,  it is good to know that others have been doing this as well.

Here in Florida they go crazy for banana in any form I find the most little worms at the roots of  banana, and I have been growing comfrey to feed them as well.

That combined with bamboo leaves seem to be a great way to grow the worms.
 
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i think you should keep increasing the amounts of paper and cardboard. you can shred the papers and keep stuffing lots of this into your compostables. or mix shredded paper with your compost as you add it.

also, maybe this up scaling the size a bit, but it's good to have layers in it, keep  making different layers, and the worms will migrate around to your freshy stuff eventually.

adding lots of cardboard, keeping that moist, and layering- that should help.
 
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I've had compost worms for about 6 years. I now have 6 bins of them.

I noticed that when I first buy some, they seem to take forever to get established - I'm not sure why but I've bought a number of times and that was my impression.

If you can get rabbit poop, they go CRAZY! I know that they actually eat the bacteria not the food. So maybe the bacteria wasn't increasing fast enough for them with my
kitchen scraps. My daughter has 2 pet bunnies and the hay/pee/poop from the litter box got these guys going crazy.

Also a few more notes on your worms:
* Too much food scraps seem to make the area too sour - also attracts nats. So dont' overfeed
* they do not like egg shells, citrus, onion/garlic, meat, dairy.

They do love watermellon !!! Face down - they go crazy.
 
Mart Hale
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Sheri Menelli wrote:I've had compost worms for about 6 years. I now have 6 bins of them.

I noticed that when I first buy some, they seem to take forever to get established - I'm not sure why but I've bought a number of times and that was my impression.

If you can get rabbit poop, they go CRAZY! I know that they actually eat the bacteria not the food. So maybe the bacteria wasn't increasing fast enough for them with my
kitchen scraps. My daughter has 2 pet bunnies and the hay/pee/poop from the litter box got these guys going crazy.

Also a few more notes on your worms:
* Too much food scraps seem to make the area too sour - also attracts nats. So dont' overfeed
* they do not like egg shells, citrus, onion/garlic, meat, dairy.

They do love watermellon !!! Face down - they go crazy.



They eat the food as well.    Consider that worms eat both the soil and the bacteria they just don't eat the bacteria they ingest all they can get.       I believe the saying that they eat just the bacteria is a myth.
 
Tim Kivi
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I’ve read that it’s good to add finely crushed eggshells to worm farms because the worms use the grit to grind at the food scraps.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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The worm digestive tract is a lot like a horses, and just because an organism takes in lots of things into it's mouth doesn't mean that it is all digested (check elephant, horse, donkey, cow, well any of the herbivores for that matter, they all have masses of undigested food in their dung).
A worm takes in what ever its food happens to be on, so if there are bacteria on soil particles, or left over human food bits, the worm has to take those in so it can strip off what it uses for food, the left overs come out just like for any animal. That could lead to where the misconception that they actually eat more than what they do eat. Quite a few studies were done a long time ago which determined what the earth worms use for food, (each species of worm uses different bacteria as food sources, depending on the level in the ground they prefer to live in).

Redhawk
 
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Richard Wei,
Greetings, This is my way of helping the cycle for the worms, compost tea

5 gallon bucket  2 parts soil maybe with a few leaves from tea bags or last falls drop, 3 parts water,
add 1-2 tablespoons of blackstrap molasses and an bubbler with air hose like used for aquariums.
let it bubble for about 5 hours or so a day in light sun partial shade for about 3-5 days, if it starts to stink it's probably ripe. This is to feed the healthy bacteria of the soil
and this is how I make a compost tea,

Next  a few leftover eggshells that have been washed grind up eggshells until like fine cornmeal mix with a cup or so of leftover coffee grounds
cast the coffee ground/eggshell mixture over your worm bed, and pour/sprinkle a cup or two of the liquid compost tea over the worm bed.

the rest of the liquid compost tea can be poured about the garden and lawn,
the muddy bit in the bottom of the bucket can be poured out next to the compost pile to dry out some, before turning it in with the compost pile.
I have done this about once every 3 years. I usually average about 12 to 30 worms a shovel full of dirt in my compost pile due to feeding tha bacteria that break down the food for the worms. they predigest the worm food then the worms predigest the scraps for the plants to eat. and so on and so on.

further....
just after a good rain,  or if you have access to a garden hose you may wish to wet down the lawn in the afternoon, step out in the evening with a flashlight that has been paired with a red lens. you may hear the worms as the move out from the soil to mate on the wet soil. If you are careful and swift, you may be able to catch some of the ones you see by the "collar" and gently wiggle them out from their holes. have a worm bucket ( I use a plastic coffee can) to place them in and as you get a few, carry them to your worm bin  and gently pour them in the areas you want them to be. the will usually stay in the area of the food.

the compost tea helps to feed the mycellium bacteria that feed on the vege scraps, which speeds  that the rate at which the veges break down, predigests it for the worms, worm will eat and have a healthier gut flora the egg shells that also feed the bacteria help add grit for the worms aiding in the digestion for the worms too.

on one end of your compost pile in a small area, place about a 3-4 inch thick layer of wood mulch/wood chips the bacteria will feed there and the worms will gather there for the moisture retention and cooler temps.

My plants flourish with this most times even through the harsh winters here in Kansas.
Hope your Easter was a great one.
Bless you and your worms with good health.
Larry
 
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Hi Larry! How do you feel about using the vermicompost from a worm bin to create the compost tea to add back to the same bin? What sucks is I brewed 25 gallons yesterday but used it all, some of it wastefully.

My worm bin is almost a year old and has been underwhelming. I harvested castings once and got a few gallons but I just am not seeing the populations that it seems everyone else is seeing. I feed them kitchen scraps and coffee grounds and whenever the compost pail is full and I go to feed it seems they haven't come close to eating their last batch, or even the two previous. The bedding is about 85% shredded paper and 15% oak leaves.

From reading this thread I think I'll keep the bin a little wetter, although I am getting "worm juice" out the drain holes. I will also look to incorporate more proteins.
 
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If you are still looking for answers on how to get earthworms to breed I would like to suggest Thomas J. Barrett's book "Harnessing the Earthworm".  I tried his method of propagating worms even more effective than what he suggests.  Approximately 500 worms produced about 700 cocoons in a month.  With each cocoon yielding two worms each I more than double the population in a very short time although the worms have to mature before you have effectively double their biomass (total weight).  Good luck.
 
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Hi Dan, you should probably stop adding Oak leaves to your worm bin as they are highly acidic or so they say.
Larry, the worms you catch from the lawn that come up at night are Night Crawlers and they won't be happu in a worm bin. They are burrowing worms and composting worms are surface dwellers.
Richard might be all confused by now.
If egg shells are fine enough (i.e. powdered), worms will gulp the particals with the food. If not, egg shell particles are still good for the worm bin for neutralizing acidic condition. There's no such thing as too much egg shells since it will just sit their ass egg shells if there's no acid to bind. It will not change the bedding to basic.
 
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I started with my first worm bin in May of 2019.  It took for ever to be able to harvest worm castings. (8 or 9 months)  My worms didn't die, they didn't seem to increase in population. I was quite disappointed.  I wasn't sure if I was doing something wrong, or the hype on the internet was misleading.  In end of February beginning of March of 2020 I pulled out 50 worms of different sizes and put them in a very small bucket (maybe 2 gallon size?)  The bedding was made up of shredded cardboard, compost, and some 2 year old wood chips.  I kept it moist and just put a box on top.  The plan was to give the worms to my friend, so I wasn't worried about it not being big enough, or about no holes in the bottom, being too damp, ect. ect.  Covid hit and instead of having the worms in there temp home for a day or two they were in there for a couple of months.  At that point my friend decided not to take the worms.  I bought and set up a second bin.  What I discovered were tons of worms!  I was amazed how many there were.  Some of the answer may be close proximity.  But I noticed the bin was kind of wet in at least 1/2 to 3/4 from the bottom.  I started to rethink and do more research.  What I decided was I was keeping my bedding to dry.  I think the damp sponge is off.  You don't want the worms swimming, but now that I keep my bin more wet, there are a lot more worms and I can harvest the worm castings about ever 3 months.  
For the most part I think you are doing most everything right.  I would take the advise given and not dig around in the bin any more then you have to.  Try a little more water.  I see on the internet people feed there worms every day, but I don't know how they don't have smelly slimy bins.  I feed mine once a week.  That seem to be when they start getting low on food scraps.  I think adding food scraps is relative and just something you have to experiment with until you figure what works for you.  I haven't tried high protein, sound interesting, maybe something to try.  I have read about rice, and in the info I got with my worms from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm said worms love corn meal.  They don't get this stuff often, but I figure a varied diet is good for the worms and probably beneficial to the castings.  I'm going to attach a video I watched that drove home I wasn't using enough water in my bin.  Good luck.
 
PS If you have to many food scraps for warm, you could always get a couple of chickens.  They eat almost anything and give you egg.  Just a thought.
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