What Kind of Worms Am I Using?
July 7, 2014
I got really excited about starting a compost bin so my food scraps don’t go into the landfill. I went to the bait shop and the clerk didn’t exactly know which varieties of the worms on sale were “red wigglers,” if any. I bought some called Big Reds from a company called Evergreen Night Crawlers. I’ve had the worm bucket going for three weeks. We added a lot of scraps in the first week, and then noticed there was some mold, so decided to stop adding food until we noticed whether the worms were turning that food into dirt. Two weeks after that, I am finding that the food is breaking down, but I don’t know if that is due to regular old rot, or if the worms are working. The smell has a rich, earthy scent, with a whiff of alcoholic decay. Strong when you stick your face in the bucket and inhale, but not offensive. When I poke around, my worms look active and definitely alive. Do I have the right worms? Does this process sound like it’s off to a good start?
Answer by JH: Thanks for your question. Red wigglers, the common name for composting worms, are Eisenia Fetida. From your description it sounds like your bin is in good shape so you surely have the right worm. It is unlikely that you would be getting that rich earthy smell if you were using earthworms.
Another point for your consideration – you don’t mention whether you are also adding any bedding material, i.e., shredded newspaper / brown paper bag or such. This will also be broken down by the worms but is a necessary ingredient and should either be mixed with moist food or moistened with water to a damp state and added to the bin with food scraps. These ingredients plus air flow and a cool temp, 55ish, will keep the worms and the bin in a healthy state.
The alcohol odor you mention may be the result of inadequate bedding material and / or air flow and / or too much moisture in the bin. If you see tracks from the worms crawling up the side of the bin, it’s probably too much moisture.
Answer by CS: You are on the right track; we need to keep our landfills as small as possible. Another of our team has given you information regarding worms and possible causes of odors in your bucket / bin, I would add keeping a careful ratio regarding the number of worms and the amount of food scraps given…worms will eat just so much. It is easy to assume worms will eat everything given them but that will not be the case. Part of managing the bin is checking on that ratio.
May I suggest, if you have not already done so, that you attend one of the NM Composters workshops on composting or vermicomposting. They are free, well planned, and can be found on our website nmcomposters.org. While composting with worms sounds simple, there are particular protocols to be followed in developing a successful process. These are covered carefully in the seminars.