Eisenia foetida is the scientific name of the worm species used for composting. They are commonly called red wigglers, brandlings or manure worms, and can be bought by the pound. For each pound (half a kilo) of kitchen scraps a day, you will need one pound of red wigglers. One pound is also the recommended amount of red wigglers to start composting with the Worm Factory 360 Composting Worm Bin.
The red wigglers are very prolific and adapt well to new conditions. Since they are hermaphrodites – they have both male and female sex organs – they all have the ability to lay small yellowish-grey sacs and to fertilize them. On average, each of these grain-like sacs is about the size of an apple seed, and will hatch 3 worms. These young offspring will reach sexual maturity and begin to reproduce after approximately six weeks. As a result, within a few months, you will have double the number of worms.
Most importantly for your compost venture, red wigglers are gluttonous eaters. Indeed, each red wiggler eats its bodyweight in food per day (half from your scraps and half from the litter)! Hence, they are perfect for vermicomposting, whether it is at home, in a classroom or at the office.
When it comes to breaking down the organic matter of your compost bin, the red wigglers do not do the job alone. In fact, bacteria and other microorganisms will settle in your compost bin and help create a true ecosystem. To ensure its full potential, you need to take good care of this ecosystem.
While common earthworms prefer to feed in deeper soil layers, red wigglers generally remain near the surface, which makes the Worm Factory 360 Composting Worm Bin a perfect habitat for them. No matter which bin you use, when and what you feed them is important.
There are different approaches when it comes to getting your red wigglers to acclimatize to their new habitat. Some will suggest to put your worms in the litter and to give them a few days to get used to the conditions of their new habitat before giving them their first feeding, while others suggest to mix some kitchen scraps in the litter prior to introducing your red wigglers to the bin. Both yield to a very similar outcome.
Generally speaking, feeding the worms one to three days a week is optimal if you want a productive odor-free and disease-free compost. If you feed them too much at a time, worms do not have time to do their job and odors and fruit flies may settle in. The scraps waiting to be composted can be stored in an air-tight container where microorganisms will start forming. This is what red wigglers binge on and the scraps will be even yummier for your little critters.
The table scraps must be buried under the litter and rotation should be performed so that they are not always buried in the same place. You can use a marker, such as a small stick that you will move with every feeding to ensure you design a proper rotation schedule. Always keep in mind the ratio of one pound of table scraps a day per pound of red wigglers. It will also be easier and faster for your red wigglers to decompose your organic matter if you chop the scraps into smaller pieces prior to adding them to the vermicompost bin. A varied diet will ensure a balanced ecosystem and quality vermicompost.
Some household scraps may contain pathogens and are not suitable for a compost. Ammonia in urine from small pets is toxic to the worms and will cause odors. No matter or by-product from them (or their litter box) could be included in your compost.
Citrus fruits also tend to acidify vermicompost, which could potentially harm your red wigglers over time. As a result, it is recommended to regularly add powdered eggshells which partially neutralize the acidity of the compost. They also provide the required calcium for the reproduction of the worms. Overall, it is recommended that citrus fruit peelings and coffee grounds not equal to more than one fifth of the food given to the worms.
Following is what your worms like and dislike.
- Coffee grounds (filter included) and tea bags
- Plant waste
- Scraps of fruits and vegetables (peel, core, etc.)
- Eggshells (cleaned, finely chopped or crushed)
- Cooked rice, pasta or beans (all cooked without salt or fat) could also be added with very close monitoring to ensure they are processed quickly.
- Dairy products
- Meat and fish
- Oils and fats
- Sauces, seasonings and vinegar
- Salt (including the salt from a water softener)
- Waste of human or animal origin
- Onions or garlic
To maintain the pH balance of your vermicompost, it is best to provide your worms with a healthy, balanced diet, by avoiding the list of products that will cause problems, and by limiting citrus fruits, coffee grounds and potato peels. The latter tend to decompose slowly and could generate decay.
Location, Location, Location
The location and the temperature of your compost bin are key elements to your success. Worms do not like direct sunlight. Hence, the bin should not be placed in a sunny outdoor location. Even less with a clear container that would make the direct sunlight go through.
Since worms prefer a temperature between 62F (17C) and 72F (22C) , perfect locations could be under the sink, in the garage or in the bathroom. During the warmer weather, you may keep your compost bin in a shaded area outside, such as a balcony. Your bin can not stay outside during the colder winter weather unless you build a small shelter for it and you use insulation material. If the temperature of the bin is colder than 62F (17C), the red wigglers will likely reduce their food consumption, and you will need to monitor them and adjust their feeding schedule and amount accordingly.