Redworms 101

all worms are not created equal.

Redworms 101:  It really is easy  By D. Converse             no part of this article may be transferred or copied without the author’s permission

Redworms can be easily raised and kept for a variety of reasons.  The good news is that generally, if you know the basic needs of redworms, and meet those, it really is EASY.  Honestly, redworms do not care if the place they are kept outdoors is a Better Homes and Gardens’ photo shoot candidate, or a Martha Stewart-worthy piece of furniture if kept indoors.  A lump on the ground outdoors, or a plastic kitty litter bucket indoors both will suffice, when you know how to keep those redworms happy.

There are a lot of reasons for keeping and raising redworms.  The most obvious is keeping them as an efficient way to convert compostables quickly into worm castings for a variety of benefits in any vegetation growing effort.  Composting with redworms is faster than traditional methods of composting, and has the added benefit of the end product being higher in plant available nutrients than any other fertilizer, compost or manure.  There is a wonderful benefit of ridding your house hold of compostable trash rather than having to pay to have it taken to a dump somewhere. Raising redworms is also a very “green” project in that it keeps a lot of wastes from ending up in a dump.  Worm castings have incredible benefits for soils, seeds, roots and plant foliage, and can work as a natural insecticide and cure for many plant maladies.   Redworms also make an exceptional form of feed for a variety of creatures.  They make an excellent bird feed, fish feed, and reptile feed to name a few. Redworms are also excellent for fish bait.  Many anglers use them rather than larger worms because they can get the whole worm on the hook and thus get better worm-action.  A bonus is that for the person willing to work outside the box, raising redworms can be a source of income, or a bartering tool.

There is no real trick in raising redworms.  Many fliers and books are dedicated to the “how to’s”.  The good news is that while there are formulas for doing so, there really is no reason to complicate the whole project.  To give you an idea of the simplicity, I ran across an article on the internet about a seven year old boy who raises redworms by himself, and sells them.  Knowing what I do about redworms, I do believe this is possible.  For those who are already on a shoe string budget, reading books and articles about the “How To”-s that show a fancy box or raised bed all costing scarce dollars can be  discouraging.  Take heart.  The worms really do not care if the place they live looks fancy.  They just want their needs met, which CAN be done within a shoe string budget.  If a person wants to get fancy and invest dollars doing so, it will work too.  Both approaches will get excellent results.

Here is the simplified version of raising redworms. Please excuse the lack of scientific jargon.  This article could go there, but really the redworms do not care if it is used, and the point of this article is to peel away the mystery of raising redworms. There are a few terms that anyone delving in the realm of raising worms should know though.  Vermiculture is the term that refers to the culture of worms, raising worms.  Vermicomposting is the term that refers to the method of composting using worms, usually redworms.  This concludes the vocabulary session. Redworms are a group of worms that live in the upper horizon of the soil.  This litter layer is the place where leaves, grasses, and other vegetation lay collected, waiting to breakdown, where is it moist.  Redworms do not live down in the soil.  That is the realm of the earthworm.  Knowing the natural habitat of the redworm helps in knowing what they need in a wormbin or wormbed.   The term wormbin will refer to any portable box-type structure for raising redworms, commercial or not.  The term wormbed refers to any outdoor (or in green house) place that redworms are raised on the ground.  Redworms require a few basics.

Redworms breathe through their skin.  This is accomplished by a process using the moisture in the environment in which they live.  This means they need a moist place to live, or they will suffocate.  Redworms can live in the bottom of a pond for months, because they can draw the oxygen out of the pond water.  Then why do we see redworms drowned on the surface after rains?  First off rain, is not oxygenated, and secondly, the red pigment of the redworms skin is highly light sensitive.  If exposed to light for a few minutes, redworms will become paralyzed followed by death shortly.  The place redworms live needs to be moist but capable of draining.  To check for moisture all you need to do is the “squeeze test”.  Grab a handful of the bedding the redworms live in and squeeze it.  If drips come out between your fingers, it is moist enough for the redworms.  If none escapes, add water.  More wet is better than less.  For those of you who cannot stomach the idea of touching redworms or their bedding (yes, it is possible to raise redworms and NOT have to touch them), the squeeze test can be done with gloves on.

Redworms do not live in a soil environment.  Many people ask how much soil they should add to their wormbins or wormbeds.  The answer is none.  Huh?  These worms cannot survive in a soil environment.  Many books and fliers will site adding some of the native soil to the mix the redworms live in. This can be difficult if the redworms operation is an under-the-kitchen-sink bin in an inner city apartment complex.  Where can one get “native soil”?  The reason for adding soil to the redworm set-up is simply to add microbes that aid in the digestion process of the redworms.  Redworms are what is known as secondary decomposers.  They do not have teeth.  Anything they consume needs to be dead and beginning to decompose.  This is where the symbiotic microbes come in.  The food the redworms eat has begun the primary stage of decomposition.   Forget about hunting down “native soil”.  Wherever you get redworms from should have some of the natural bedding the redworms were raised in.  This bedding will have those microbes.  Just dump it all in your wormbed or wormbin.  Mission accomplished.

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