- written by King'ori M. Samuel -
Red Wigglers ( Eisenia species) is also known as the “red wiggler”, “red wriggler”, “red worm”, “tiger worm”, "manure worm" or “ brandling worm”. The scientific name for the red wigglers is Eisenia fetida. These worms are used in breaking down organic molecules in compost and decaying matter. The worm poop or castings are used as a soil enhancer and fertilizer in the garden, on the lawn, or on houseplants. The red wigglers are surface feeders with the ability to consume more than their weight in decayed matter each day so household and agricultural waste are ideal food for the red wrigglers who turn it into worm castings – natures perfect food. Red wigglers do not migrate and thus can be kept in captivity, in a habitat, where air, moisture and food are provided.
Red wigglers are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female sexual organs. Each worm can produce up to 2-3 cocoons or capsules per week which hatch every 3-4 weeks producing tiny white baby worms called threads. The baby worms that survive will mature to reproductive age in 1-2 months. Under healthy optimal conditions, there can be a rapid increase in population available to eat more garbage. This extremely tough and adaptable worm is indigenous to most parts of the world and can be found on most Canadian farms wherever piles of manure have been left to age for more than a few months.
E. fetida is certainly the most often used worm for composting purposes in Northern climates. It can handle a wide temperature range (between 0 and 35C) and can actually survive for some time almost completely encased in frozen organic material (as long as it can continue to take in nourishment). Its cocoons (eggs) have been shown to remain viable after having been frozen for several weeks. In addition, it can take a lot of handling and rough treatment. Perhaps most importantly, like most if not all litter-dwelling worms, red wiggler worm has the capacity for very rapid reproduction. Optimal conditions would include a more alkaline bedding and feedstock environment, and a temperature for promoting reproduction between 22C and 25C. This is an evolutionary necessity for a creature whose natural environment is extremely changeable and hazardous and whose natural supplies of food are of the “boom or bust” variety. All of these characteristics make E. fetida the natural choice for those who wish to do their vermicomposting outdoors, year-round, in climates with harsh winter conditions. However, other worms such as the Eisenia Hortensis, also known as the European Nightcrawler are also quite suitable for vermicomposting indoors.
The Process of Vermicomposting Using Red Wrigglers
Red wigglers require five fundamental things to thrive and vermicompost
Adequate aeration – Red wigglers require oxygen as basic need. In countries that experience winter, the red wigglers survive on the oxygen available in the water that is trapped. The worms perform best when the aeration is good and they aerate the material they are living in by their movements through the system.
Optimal temperature – Temperatures within habitat of the red wigglers must be regulated for both the vermicomposting and vermiculture processes. Nevertheless, they can be reared out-door and in Canada, can thrive in the more temperate regions. For vermicomposting purposes, it is recommended to keep the temperatures between 10`C (minimum) and 15`C (preferably). For vermiculture production operations, temperatures should be above 15`C (minimum) and 20`C (preferably). However, the red wigglers distribute themselves according to the temperature differentials.
Food – Generally, the red wigglers feed on half of their body weight. However, they are heavy feeders and can consume more than their body in a day. They feed mostly on manure with a string preference to cow manure. However, they can feed on anything organic.
Moisture – Red wigglers breathe through their skin and thus, the bedding used must be able to hold sufficient moisture to create an optimal environment for the worms. The optimal moisture content range is 70-90%. Studies done by Dominguez & Edwards, 1997 and Georg, 2004, suggest that the red wiggler’s weight increases with moisture content.
Bedding – the habitat should be hospitable and relatively stable. The habitat should have high absorbency and be able to absorb and retain moisture. Again, good bedding materials should have good bulking potential: a material that is neither too dense nor too tightly packed. Another critical quality of the bedding material is low protein/nitrogen content (high carbon: nitrogen ratio). The breakdown process by the red wigglers should be a slow process and thus requires a low protein and/or nitrogen content.
The table below shows common bedding materials:
Role of Red Wigglers on the environment and waste disposal
Red wigglers vermiculture and vermicomposting technology is taking up to shape the global organic farming to bring food security to the people, ecological benefits to the farms as well as economic gains to the farmers.
With the red wigglers vermiculture, there will be immense reduction in energy use as well as significant reduction in the amount of greenhouse gases from the farms by the farmers themselves. Huge amount of energy is used and greenhouse gases emitted at the agrochemical production factories apart from toxic and hazardous wastes that is generated. Through this technology, farm energy requirements can be reduced by 40% (Edwards, Arancon & Sherman, 2010)
Economically, with the reduced use of agrochemicals and with more use of locally produced vermicompost, the cost of production of food will significantly reduce giving the farmers better gross margins. Again, the organic foods market is fast growing globally and farmers practicing the organic farming systems through the vermiculture technology stand to gain immense economic prosperity.
Vermiculture technology is as well helping in safe waste management. Red wigglers provides cheaper solutions for:
Management of industrial biological wastes through biodegradation and decomposition and converting them to nutritive compost. This converts trash to treasure. The Greek Philosopher, Aristotle termed the worms as the ‘intestines of the earth’
Restoring and improving the soil fertility and boosting of food productivity through the use of vermicompost.
The Future of Red Wigglers Vermiculture and Vermicomposting
Red wigglers vermicomposting technology is rapidly gaining popularity. In Canada, as it is the case globally, this technology brings about a lot of opportunities.
Farmers can engage in the production of vermicompost and/or red wigglers worms for commercial purposes. The market for these products varies from region to region and is fairly limited in Canada. In Canada, the main market is in the areas of vermicomposting for both small-scale and large- scale farmers. Compost worms sell from $10 to around $40 a pound.
Another opportunity to exploit with red wigglers is the use of it to manage on-farm organic wastes. The composting is just safe, fast and environmental friendly. This will help in converting the waste on the farms to wealth in form of vermicompost. An aspiring farmer could decide to take up this opportunity and incorporate waste management with a bias in production of vermicompost and/or worms for on-farm use. This will make sense a lot as it will reduce the use of agrochemicals as well as increased productivity as demonstrated through the experiments and findings done.
The production of vermicompost by red wigglers for the purposes of brewing compost tea is another opportunity that farmers can utilize in the near future.
Mobius 8 Organics has a selection of composting worms, castings and our cold brewed and aerated garden teas. In most of our products we use vegetable based organic matter as our feedstock for the worms. Egg shells may be found in our Slug & Snail Blend or our Worm Casting Tea. We only use animal manures for our custom order lines and in our Worm Casting and Bat Guano Garden Tea line.
Some worm farmers feed their worms cow or horse manures. If the manures are not composted correctly there is a risk of harmful pathogens such as e.Coli transferred to your soil and plants and putting your loved ones at risk.
Mobius 8 Organics uses organic plant matter as our feedstock, there is no risk of e.Coli in our worm castings and no concern for anti-biotics or other veterinary pharmaceuticals being transferred to your soils and in to our drinking water.