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Do worms have favourite foods?  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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A question occurred to me in reading over a few posts: do worms have favourite foods?

While I am also interested in what dead organic matter they prefer (or what dead organic matter hosts the most of the bacteria and/or fungi they eat), what I think I was really wondering is, are there plants whose exudates worms prefer? Are there specific plants that, because of what their root systems pump into the soil, act like a homing beacon for worms?

I also realise that the answer will likely vary depending on the type of worm, but for the purpose of this question, I am wondering primarily about red wigglers (Eisenia fetida), but information about all worms is appreciated.

-CK
 
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Worms almost exclusively eat animals/bacteria and not plants or fungi.
They also have "sensitive gill like skin' and don't like orange peel probably due to oil in it and lowering of the pH.
They like dead matter plant matter that is made up of simple sugar, then starch, then hemi-cellulose, cellulose and lignin are more fungal base and not their fav.
Addsome koji/amakaze to your area to help speed up the breakdown of more complex plant matrix to feed the bacteria.  
 
pollinator
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coffee grounds, comfrey
 
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Eisenia fetida are curious because they will shy away from anything that is acidic but devour anything that isn't acidic, they don't seem to have "favorite foods" as much as they have "I am not touching that foods".
Hot items like peppers don't seem to be an "avoid this" food stuff as I've had them eat bell peppers, habaneros and other stuff like radishes.
Mine will leave along any citrus fruit peeling or flesh including kumquat. The love things like lettuces, banana peels, potato peel, egg shells, pretty much anything that I know they will avoid like a hot poker

Redhawk
 
Chris Kott
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Well perhaps a different tack, then: are there any plants that seem to always have the highest worm populations in and around their root zones? Are there any plants that foster soil conditions that provide optimum habitat?

I was really hoping that there was some sort of root exudate that called either the worms or their favourite prey. My thinking was that, since soil life does most of the work of soil building, if we plant it, they would come.

Imagine a beacon plant you could seed around your compost pile and garden beds that would call soil life from all around to do the in-soil work for you.

I know that it is likely to happen simply by carefully cultivating soil conditions favourable to worms and then feeding them, but I was wondering if there was such a "keystone" plant.

-CK
 
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My worms love pumpkins, squash, and melons more than anything else I've put in their bin. I understand that they actually eat the decomposing bacteria, not the materials themselves, and I've noticed these things break down very rapidly so maybe there's a connection.
 
Todd Parr
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Chris Kott wrote:Well perhaps a different tack, then: are there any plants that seem to always have the highest worm populations in and around their root zones? Are there any plants that foster soil conditions that provide optimum habitat?

I was really hoping that there was some sort of root exudate that called either the worms or their favourite prey. My thinking was that, since soil life does most of the work of soil building, if we plant it, they would come.

Imagine a beacon plant you could seed around your compost pile and garden beds that would call soil life from all around to do the in-soil work for you.

I know that it is likely to happen simply by carefully cultivating soil conditions favourable to worms and then feeding them, but I was wondering if there was such a "keystone" plant.

-CK



The two I have that best meet that criteria are comfrey and tillage radish. 
 
S Bengi
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If you planted some root crop like daikon radish, then let it winter kill, once the dead carb filled storage root  starts to rot aka explosion of worm food bacteria, the worms would come.
 
Chris Kott
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So thus far, we have daikon and tillage plants with comparable profiles like mangelwurtzel, and comfrey, mulched with coffee grounds. And a compost bin filled with pumpkins, squash and melons.

That looks great so far. What would we add if we were trying to build a worm support guild?

S Bengi, what are koji/amakaze?

-CK
 
S Bengi
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DOM wrote:Koji
fresh young kojiFresh rice koji fermented for 72 hours at 35°C [95°F] at 95% humidity.

Koji [koh-jee] is an abbreviation of kabi-tacki meaning Bloom of Mold. Koji is an important culture food-product of Japan and like much of Japanese culture, koji was introduced from China about 200 A.D. Other varieties of culture food-products rely on koji for preparation. These include the production of Miso, Soy sauce, Amazakè and Sake. Koji is mainly used as a starter-process for producing the latter culture food-products, through the action of enzymes, generously provided in abundance in koji. Variations of koji prepared with mixed strains of specific molds, yeasts or Lactic acid bacteria [LAB] are specially prepared and incorporated in Japan. For optimisation, a tailored koji with specific enzyme activity is used in accordance with the product prepared. Enzymes mainly convert starch into simple fermentable sugars, so that during secondary fermentation [if required], sugars become available for yeasts e.g., for preparing specific varieties of miso or sake. In addition, for miso production, proteins are broken down into peptides [amino acids] by the action of proteolytic enzymes hydrolyze the protein [see below for a list of enzymes of koji].


Aspergillus oryzae
A pure culture of Aspergillus oryzae specie of mold produces olive-green coloured spores. The spores are harvested for Koji-Kin [or koji-tanae-- seed of Koji] as an inoculant, or for seeding of the mold on a substrate.



Koji is prepared from steamed short grain white rice, barley or soybeans. Cooked ingredients are cooled to 35°C [95°F] and inoculated with koji tanae. Koji tanae is an inoculant prepared with mold spores of Aspergillus oryzae or A. sojae species. Koji tanae may be prepared to contain yeast and Lactic acid bacteria. The warm substrate is incubated for 3 to 4 days at about 42°C [107°F] at 90% to 95% humidity. The inoculated rice or other preferred media or substrate is stirred regularly during incubation.. This encourages the proliferation of mold growth distributed evenly throughout the entire rice substrate, while inhibiting the formation of rice clumps and prevent over heating. A white mycelium of new mold growth should fully cover each rice grain. Koji is harvested prior sporulation of the mold, to ensure peak enzyme activity and good aroma.

Koji Enzymes

The fermentation of rice with Aspergillus oryzae for Koji produces many different catalysts or enzymes that are present in koji. It's these enzymes that breakdown starch, protein and fats including the removal of certain elements such as esters of the food ingredient that the koji is added to, and stored at an optimal warm temperature so that the enzymes can best do their work.

Enzymes found in Koji
Alpha-amylase A starch to simple sugar converter, such as dextrins, maltose, maltotriose. Alpha-amylase is also found in human saliva. Interestingly it is also used in the treatment of inflammatory conditions and edema of soft tissues associated with traumatic injury.

Proteolytic enzymes Breakdown or hydrolyses protein into amino acids or peptides.

Protease's Any enzyme that breaks down protein [proteolytic enzyme]. 3 types are known in koji, one is active at acid pH, one at alkaline pH and one at neutral pH.

Other more elaborate enzymes found in koji--

Peptidases Any enzyme that conducts proteolysis, that is, begins protein catabolism by hydrolysis of the peptide bonds that link amino acids together in the chain made up of more than a single amino acid [polypeptide].

Sulfatases Remove sulphate from a variety of substrates by breaking down various sulphate esters.

Nucleases Capable of cleaving the phosphodiester bonds between the nucleotide subunits of nucleic acids. Is also used in genetic engineering as a tool to cut and paste DNA, as a means of splicing DNA and at the required site each time.

Phosphatases An enzyme that removes a phosphate group from its substrate by breaking down phosphoric acid monoesters into a phosphate ion and a molecule with a free hydroxyl group.

[Trans] glycosidases A class of alpha and beta proteins. See

Amidase An enzyme that breaks down monocarboxylic amides, thus freeing ammonia. Also called acylamidase or Acylase.

Ribonucleo-depolymerasee

Mononucleotide phosphatase

Adenyl-deaminases

Purine nucleosidases.

It is these enzymes that breakdown starch, protein and fats including olygosaccharides and other compounds found in the food ingredient that koji is added to and which is stored at an optimum warm temperature so that the enzymes can do their job. These are what makes koji what it is and why it is used to create a variety of different culture food-products including alcoholic liquors [as per the following four products].

Further Reading
Shurtleff W, Akiko A. [1976] The Book of Miso. Autumn Press, Kanagawa-ken, Japan
Allan KS, Sidney JC. [1978] Soybeans: Chemistry and Technology Vol.1 Proteins ISBN 0-87055-111-6 [v.1]

Amazakè is a sweet, cultured glutinous rice product, containing virtually no alcohol. Amazakè is also similar to a product produced in the first of a few stages for Sake production. Amazakè is a sweet delicacy widely enjoyed throughout Japan. Sweetness is produced naturally through fermentation of cooked glutinous rice with koji. The fermentation process converts the starch of rice into simple sugars. Amazakè has a hint of an aroma which reminds me of digestive juices, complimented by an overtone of sweet, pleasant nutty flavour.

To prepare Amazakè, koji is mixed with cooked, cooled glutinous rice, and incubated between 10 to 24 hours at 38° to 40°C. The fermentation is complete when the mixture has a sweet fragrance, and each rice grain loses its sticky property. The grains should be very soft when squeezed between the fingers [pre-digested]. Amazakè can contain a converted sugar content by as much as 30%.

Due to the high digestibility through enzyme activity of Amazakè, I place it among the Queen of baby-weaning food. It makes an excellent first solid-food for toddlers. My daughter Angelica who was born with Shwachman-Diamond Syndrome [pancreatic enzyme insufficiency as part of the genetic disordered syndrome], use to immensely crave for Amazakè. It was her first solid food, which I cultured from whole, black glutinous rice, because of unavailability of traditional sweet brown rice [whole grain brown glutinous rice] here in Australia. It helped my late daughter to gain weight at a crucial time in her short life.

Amazakè can also be used as a natural sweetener, substituting 3 Tbs per each Tbs of honey. Amazakè is eaten as a thick hot drink in Japan. I just love Amazakè. I encourage anyone who has not tried Amazakè, to give it a go.

 
Bryant RedHawk
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Chris Kott wrote:Well perhaps a different tack, then: are there any plants that seem to always have the highest worm populations in and around their root zones? Are there any plants that foster soil conditions that provide optimum habitat?

I was really hoping that there was some sort of root exudate that called either the worms or their favourite prey. My thinking was that, since soil life does most of the work of soil building, if we plant it, they would come.

Imagine a beacon plant you could seed around your compost pile and garden beds that would call soil life from all around to do the in-soil work for you.

I know that it is likely to happen simply by carefully cultivating soil conditions favourable to worms and then feeding them, but I was wondering if there was such a "keystone" plant.

-CK



So far my research shows that it is the micro organisms that are effected by plant exudates not the "higher" organisms like earth worms, however, earthworms do react to the bloom of bacteria and fungi activity caused by the plant exudates.
As bacteria population increases activity the organisms that feed on bacteria come running for the food fest, similar to how sharks and other predator fishes react to a giant bait ball forming.
amoeba, springtails, nematodes and other members of the microscopic world all  feed on bacteria and fungi feed on bacteria, springtails, nematodes and amoeba.

Beacon plants would be those that are more inclined to constantly emit their exudates because of their high levels of nutrient needs so all heavy feeders would fit that description.

There is not really a way to cultivate soil specifically for worms, that would be an out of balance system, and we already have one of those called "modern Agriculture", why add another bad idea for the planet?

Redhawk
 
Chris Kott
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Well I wasn't thinking about taking it that far, Redhawk. Just a guild to plant around the compost pile, or in spaces you want to draw worms and other soil macrobiota.

You do raise a good cautionary note. No, I don't want to create another imbalanced system. A temporary in-soil bioreactor that fosters soil life, though...

-CK
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Chris, I love that idea, temporary in-soil bioreactor, awesomeness is upon you kola.

Comfrey, is probably one of the best plants to draw earthworms. I use donkey manure heaps that I then use that as the bottom of a new compost heap. When I add moisture the number of worms seems to increase within just a few hours.

I recently made a terrible mistake that drove a lot of my worms to an adjoining area, I dumped out a 55 gal. barrel of burn ash and didn't get through it (removing any unburned  materials) and it rained, the worms moved away to not get caustic on their bodies.
Fortunately I fixed the problem just by watering that area, two days after the watering, the gunk had leached enough that the worms came back. I did some careful digging and found I had not created a worm grave yard, big whew there.

Redhawk
 
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It's very anthropomorphic but from observations of worm bins I've had I agree with the coffee grounds comment someone made.

Coffee grounds are a perfect size for ingestion. It would be interesting to know if the worms are affected by caffeine. They seem very active when they have grounds.

Also have had large very happy looking. populations in open compost piles fed a mix of tree leaves (mostly maples) and grass clippings.

 
Bryant RedHawk
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I have one area that all that has been done to it is the application of spent coffee grounds, once every three months for the past two years, the ground is now nice a crumbly from all the microorganisms and one cubic foot yields 100 earth worms. (makes it easy to get the wife's favorite fishing bait).

Three weeks ago I did a test of one of the manure compost heaps and I got a count of 95 earth worms per cubic foot of under the heap soil. That soil is now very black and smells like rich soil is supposed to smell, very earthy and fresh odor. The bacteria count worked out to 5000 per cubic millimeter. A good density of bacteria.
 
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I have noticed here that worms prefer the leaves of native trees ( european oak , lime , cherry ,walnut  ) over non natives (maple ,cherry laurel, marsh oak )

David
 
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I found I could attract red worms to a place - even the middle of a huge gravel driveway - using the guinea pig litter.  Meaning guinea pig poo, urine, hay, leftovers, etc. 

I discovered this accidentally while cleaning my guinea pig cage.  I had let it build way up, and there were no worms in it to start, but there were maggots at that point.  (I kept them in the garage, so it wasn't as gross as it sounds.)  The litter was VERY wet, full of urine.

I dumped the litter in a really sad spot of gravel that I was hoping to be able to put plants in someday.  Some grass would sprout there, but that was it.

A month or so later, I went to add more, and when I poked at the previous pile I saw it was filled with redworms.  Lots of them. There was gravel or concrete for about 30 feet in every direction.  Pretty remarkable.

After that I put the guinea pig cage litter (with urine) wherever I wanted to increase worms.  Worked quite well; that was in Oregon.
 
Nick Kitchener
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Nick Kitchener wrote:My worms love pumpkins, squash, and melons more than anything else I've put in their bin. I understand that they actually eat the decomposing bacteria, not the materials themselves, and I've noticed these things break down very rapidly so maybe there's a connection.



Oh I forgot. .. Pears. My worms just can't get enough of pears.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Nick Kitchener wrote:My worms love pumpkins, squash, and melons more than anything else I've put in their bin. I understand that they actually eat the decomposing bacteria, not the materials themselves, and I've noticed these things break down very rapidly so maybe there's a connection.



hau Nick, Earthworms eat bacteria and other organisms like slime mold exclusively but the composting worms (Red Wigglers to fishermen) will actually eat vegetation and fruits not just the bacteria, although they also do eat the microorganisms.

Redhawk
 
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