This species features a vibrant color with yellow banding and is closely related to the more uniformly-pigmented arena Andrei. A study suggests that the two can produce hybrid offspring, a phenomenon which should otherwise be considered impossible between most worm species.
Fun fact: The “fetid” part of the binomial name refers to what some say is a foul-smelling secretion the red wiggler uses to fend off predators. The anatomy of a red wiggler resembles that of other common earthworms; a long-segmented body begins at the pointed head and terminates at a slightly-flatted tail.
A fleshy band called a flagellum features prominently on the body of the red wiggler at roughly 1/3rd of the length of the worm. The digestive tract is simple, starting at the mouth where the worm begins to consume its food before passing it on to the pharynx.
Calciferous glands in the stomach also serve to neutralize acidic foods passing through the worm's digestive tract. The intestine forms the longest part of the worm and is where the majority of digestion takes place via enzymatic processes.
The castings eventually pass through the anus at the end of the worm as capsules coated with a biologically-rich mucus. Red wigglers, like all earthworms, are hermaphroditic, simultaneously possessing both male and female sex organs, both of which are used in the reproduction process.
Two worms of the same species will intertwine around each other's criteria, secreting sperm through their skin, eventually producing a cocoon. If you're curious how quickly red wigglers can reproduce, check out the Urban Worm Calculator.
Red wigglers are a resilient composting worm, tolerant of a wider range of temperature than other species. For instance, its larger cousin, the European Nightcrawler prefers cooler temperatures in the high-60 °F range.
The red wiggler can tolerate both the low and high ends of these ranges, reproducing and processing organic waste well between 55 °F-90 °F. Its cocoons are famously hardy as well, able to withstand prolonged freezing temperatures, staying viable in a suspended state until they are able to hatch in warmer weather.
But red wigglers are nobody's idea of cheap, and the skyrocketing demand for all things garden-related due to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 boosted prices of all composting worms. For most commercial worm bins, 1lb is sufficient, but 2 lbs will get you off to a faster start with your waste processing.
You never know what problems or delays you may encounter with your worm bin, so it's helpful to get it set up first to ensure you get off to a good start. This reduces weight, but more importantly, the risk of microbial activity raising the temperatures to deadly levels while the worms are in transit.
Monday's shipments from my Georgia-based preferred supplier often reach California customers on Wednesday. So make sure that your postman is directed to leave your shipment in a shaded, protected environment if you won't be home to receive your worms.
But if you're ordering from PetS mart, PERCO, Walmart, or another large company that is not directly related to the vermicomposting world, be careful! To save on shipping cost, you may want to see if there are any nearby “Mom and Pop” stores through a Google search.
With the appropriate temperature, moisture, pH, and food sources as discussed below, you should achieve higher densities, perhaps 2-3 lbs per square foot or so. This prevents a mucky, muddy vermicompost that will be simply difficult to harvest at best, and a stinky, anaerobic mess at worst.
If needed, ground eggshells and agricultural lime can be used to offset the generally more acidic fruit and vegetable waste. The European Nightcrawler, the larger cousin of the red wiggler, is just as voracious and also makes for a good bait worm.
The African Nightcrawler is a very large composting worm and makes a beautiful, granular cast. The Indian Blue is voracious, but also prefers a warmer climate, and it also exhibits a tendency to escape the bin.
I like to call it the Ford Taurus of vermicomposting worms ; you won't brag to your hardcore composting buddies that you own them, but they will serve you well. We add them by the bucket to our garden beds in the spring, and we use them to make compost tea rather than buy commercially available worm casting products.
Given the right conditions red wiggler composting worms can double their population in just 90 days. So a small initial investment in 1,000 red wigglers can lead to a pretty sizeable population of worms in no time at all.
But for most of us who raise red wigglers including me this rate of population growth can’t be sustained for very long. These include insufficient food supply, overcrowding, too little or too much moisture, inadequate air flow, too much light.
Red wigglers can eat about 50% of their body weight in food every day. But if you want your population to grow you’ll want to provide them with food equivalent to 50% of their body weight or more per day.
But what if you have six pounds of composting worms or 8 or 12, and you want to keep the population growing and producing more castings for your garden. And that’s when we turn to using free resources in the community to supplement a red wigglers' food supply.
Also, more recently we started collecting spent brewery grains from a local microbrewery. By adding these free resources we now have more than enough food to keep our red wiggler population growing.
Our household and property don’t produce nearly that much food scraps and shredded paper or leaves per week. So the additional free resources we collect make all the difference.
Bananas, pumpkin skins, eggshells, avocados, coffee grounds and leaves, I weigh out 3.5 pounds of food scraps, coffee grounds and leaves and add them to the bin.
Other than some leaves and coffee grounds you can see that the worms have done a pretty good job of eating most of the food from their last feeding. If on the other hand I found that a lot of food was accumulating I know that I was overdoing it and would reduce the feedings.
Over the course of the week I’ll make sure that each bin receives a similar feeding. I’ll run out of space to house the worms, or it will just take too much time.
Something I alluded to in the previous section was the fact that letting your waste material sit for a period of time is better than adding it right away. If you throw in a bunch of fresh carrot peelings the worms won’t be able to start processing the material until sufficient microbial colonization has taken place.
I really like using newspaper to line the inside of my watertight bin which helps to hold excess moisture under control. Worms seem to absolutely love rotting leaves, so definitely don’t be so quick to kick those bags to the curb in the fall.
Aside from activating the important microbial community, this also allows for moisture to make its way throughout the bin materials. For anyone interested in simply trying out vermicomposting (or if you want to save some money), I would recommend heading to your local hardware store and grabbing yourself a standard Rubbermaid tub (with lid) or something similar.
All that being said, there is nothing wrong with a single worm bin in the size range of a typical ‘blue box’ recycling container. This size of bin should be large enough to provide both buffering capacity and waste-processing potential for a typical household (especially if you use an overflow bucket and/or an outdoor composting heap as well).
If you are using a typical Rubbermaid type of bin it's not a bad idea to drill some holes in the lid and along the sides prior to adding your bedding/ worms etc. The Canadian Nightcrawler is a soil -dwelling worm that is very popular for fishing due to its large size and the relative ease with which it can be collected (especially at night, during or after a heavy summer rain shower).