Can Red Wigglers Live In The Garden

David Lawrence
• Friday, 30 October, 2020
• 7 min read

Red worms are excellent at breaking down decaying organic materials, creating a nutrient-rich substance for your garden. Placed directly into a garden with nothing for them to eat, red worms will likely die or move to other areas where they can find food and an environment more suitable for their needs.

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They thrive in shallow environments such as plastic bins, fitted with worm bedding, a little soil and the same types of matter you would use in a standard compost bin: yard clippings and plant-based kitchen scraps. If you see worms atop the lawn or garden surface at night, it's these earthworms or nightcrawlers feeding upon decaying matter.

Create a trench near the garden plants 6 to 8 inches deep -- it can be any length or width. Shred a bunch of corrugated cardboard or newspaper to create a moisture-absorbing layer for the trench, then add some partially decomposed plant matter from the yard.

Add some kitchen vegetable scraps, red worms and a layer of cardboard or yard matter atop that. The worms will enjoy their new environment and recycle the decaying matter into nutrients for your garden plants.

A simpler version involves placing decaying plant scraps around the garden, then adding worms, but this may be unattractive. Add crumbled strips of newspaper and corrugated cardboard as worm bedding, a small bit of soil to help the worms' digestion and then scraps from yard plants and plant-based kitchen scraps.

This also means that they need a consistent and constant supply of food to satisfy their ravenous hunger. Soil dominated by beneficial bacteria and fungi naturally support healthy plants, hold moisture and help to prevent disease.

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So understanding how worms live in the soil, the temperatures they can manager are between 40-80F, and they need to be moist to ensure they can breathe through their skin. Therefore, you must manage worms inside a controlled environment where you can feed them as needed, like your dining room.

Different worms do this with varying efficiency, so let’s see if the earthworm and red wiggler can work together. The common earthworm is the chunky little garden buddy that all green thumbs know good and well.

After a rainstorm or maybe a generous watering of your garden, you’ll notice these little buggers surfacing from seemingly nowhere. In fact, earthworm populations have been shown to increase plant growth and health in independent studies (source).

In addition to aerating the soil, their tunnels also create routes through which water can percolate through the substrate, aiding in proper hydration of all of your garden fruits, veggies, and ornamentals. The benefits of red worms (Luxurious rubella) for gardens are, admittedly, nearly identical to those of earthworms (nightcrawlers).

These worms are much slenderer than the nightcrawler, are redder in hue, and are generally smaller in overall body size. However, even though the benefits will be largely the same when compared to the nightcrawler, red worms are better equipped to work and live in your compost bin or pile more than they are for your in-ground soil.

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Red wigglers are excellent consumers of organic kitchen waste and provide incredibly nutrient-rich worm castings which you can use in your garden or potted plants. There are both advantages and disadvantages to keeping red worms and nightcrawlers together in the same living space.

Although it is possible to do so, there are some details to consider before you make your final decision, including the size of the worms and the container, the type of organic matter you will be using, and whether the compost bin/pile will be open to the air or closed. The two are adapted for different environmental conditions, so it can be quite tricky to keep them together in the same container or composting system.

However, with some creativity and care, you can make the perfect setup for both worms to be comfortable and thriving. Additionally, if you are keeping nightcrawlers in a composting system, you will need a much larger containment setup than you would with red worms.

Both species would have access to conditions optimal for each of them: the nightcrawlers would be able to burrow deeply into the soil, as they can either burrow into the ground soil or deeper into the compost mix (since the openness of the container or pile allows for a large collection of compost/organic matter). Keep in mind that, if you do mix the two species in one compost pile, you will need to add them at different depths.

In fact, don’t be surprised if you find earthworms showing up on their own in the lower parts of your compost pile. The one word of caution I would offer with this is that you should probably use the pile in a “cold” compost method, meaning not turning it very often if at all.

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It is possible for earthworms and red worms to live together but each would require certain conditions in order for their needs to be met. If you could provide a deep soil environment for the earthworms while ensuring shallow-soil feedings of the red worms then you could have the best of both worlds and be rewarded with a bountiful garden.

To truly understand the factors of maintaining a successful worm bin, be sure to read How Long Cared Wiggler’s Go Without Food? Red wigglers aren't very picky about their environment, as long as it is somewhat moist and contains food and lots of bedding.

Red wigglers process paper, cardboard, and most food scraps relatively quickly. I've grown hops, blackberries, tomatoes, and peppers in my backyard with the help of my little friends in the ground.

Red wigglers are usually a reddish color, unlike the blue worm or Alabama jumper. Depending on their diet, sometimes their tail end is a lighter red or yellowish.

Red wiggler worms are about 3–4 inches in length when fully grown and stretching out to move. In the red wiggler, the saddle is slightly larger than the main body of the worm and looks similar to a bead on a string.

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Here is a great shot of red wiggler worm that shows all the different identifying characteristics. As a general rule, you should be able to pick up some of your moistened bedding and squeeze our a drop or two of liquid.

I have tried a fair number of different styles of vermicomposting systems, both commercial made and DIY. To get a good idea of how much moisture is in the bin, pick up a small handful of material and squeeze.

If a lot of liquid comes out, add some dry bedding to the top of your bin to help absorb the excess. They can safely process aged manure, most fruits and vegetables, newspaper, and plain brown cardboard boxes.

Pineapple and citrus are also very acidic and have special meat-tenderizing enzymes that are bad for their squishy bodies. Try to bury foods underneath some bedding to avoid undesirable insects, such as roaches, fruit flies, and ants.

As it reaches time to harvest your castings, try to bury foods to one side of the bin. Your worm army will naturally migrate towards the food, making harvesting the other side much easier.

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Once your harvest is complete, replace with moist bedding and begin feeding on the other side. Keep them in the shade, and they will provide you castings to use or sell, all while decreasing the amount of waste that ends up in the landfill.

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 worm composting experience aside, the sheer size of this system makes it very worry free. Even if there are unfavorable conditions in one section of the bin, the worms can easily move into many other favorable zones. Similarly, I tend to keep 1 or 2 small indoor bins at one time, plus an “overflow” bucket (for excess food waste), thus making it much easier to ensure that balanced conditions prevail.

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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).

What many people don’t realize however is that this species is not very well suited for life in a confined worm bin. This species of worm is adapted for a crowded life in very rich organic matter, such as that found in a manure pile (pretty well their ideal habitat).

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