“What’s a red wriggler?!”
For readers unfamiliar with my pal the red wriggler, the name may sound like a disgusting fishing lure or a monster in bad horror movie. We’re actually discussing Eisenia fetida, an earthworm more commonly known as the red wriggler. Please note that E. fetida is different from worms like Lumbricus rubellus and Eudrilus eugeniae, that E. fetida are most often used in vermiposting.
The humble red wriggler is the powerhouse of detritivores. A detritivore is the scientific classification for any creature that consumes nonliving organic matter (think vultures, mushrooms, and dung beetles). Detritivores are vital to the function of any healthy ecosystem. They get rid of waste and recycle it into microbially available nutrients for the most basic members of the food web.
The red wriggler is indigenous to Europe, but is available worldwide thanks to global shipping. This particular earthworm is well-suited for consuming detritus; it is tolerant to heat, cold, humidity, and pH swings; thus, Eisenia fetida is ideal for vermiposting. These worms are voracious eaters and rapidly consume a great deal of material. Although they are hermaphroditic, two worms are required for reproduction. If input organic matter material is routinely exchanged and properly aerated the red wrigglers will breed rapidly and you will find a myriad of tiny worms squirming about your worm bins.
While there are a wide array of commercial vermiposting units available, my preferred method for many years has involved the use of two identically sized Rubbermaid bins. The top bin is drilled out to be used as the aerator/vermiposting bin, while the other acts as a catchment receptacle. The liquid that will drain drain down to the catchment receptacle is a product I can only describe as “liquid gold”. This humate-rich liquid can be applied in a diluted form to your roots (it will act like a homebrewed version of Roots Excelurator from House and Garden) or added to a compost tea recipe.
Finding the proper bedding for a worm bin is important since worms require both protein and carbohydrates to do their dirty work. I prefer to use paper towel rolls and toilet paper tubes, cardboard shreds sans glossy print, shredded bills and papers, as well as root mass, stems and leaves from my cultivation, and other plant material. Make sure that these items do not contain grease, feces or similar fluids that might be harmful to the worms. As long as the interior of the bins is kept moist, the worms will thrive. The black, nitrogen-rich castings in the bins should be removed periodically and replaced with new bedding in order to sustain healthy worm populations. If the system is maintained properly, it can be kept completely odor-free.
I will cover the reuse and reintegration of used grow media in future articles, but I want to briefly mention that my worm bin is an important component of my recharge process. I use my worm castings in combination with coco that needs recharging at a ratio of about 25% worm castings to 75% spent coco. I add a series of nitrogen-rich amendments, along with enzymes and microbes, then set the mix to rest for at least three months. I would not be able to properly complete my recharge process were it not for my worms.
As is true with everything in life, moderation is the key to success with your worm bin. With experience, you will find the proper ratio of additional new material, moisture levels, pH, and more. Keep it simple when first adding input material and starting your bins. Skilled growers dial in the conditions in their worm bins in the same way they dial in the microenvironment in their grow rooms. Once established, the worm bin can be an unassuming and inconspicuous means of safely eliminating the majority of the waste typically generated by a grow while simultaneously producing nutrient and microbe-rich food for our plants. Like a microcosm of looped systems in our own universe, I find it especially pleasing to witness the life cycle of a plant repeated over and over again. As a grower, it’s particularly pleasing to know that the past feeds the future. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Happy Growing!