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June 2008


Red Wrigglers
Your "Garden-variety" Earthworm

By Chris Molnar

Earthworms, those common critters you regularly see in your garden or crawling along the driveway after a heavy rain, are vital to your soil. Their tunnels help aerate your soil, allowing your grass and plants to grow stronger roots. Their castings (okay, worm poop if you need to know) enrich the soil with vital nutrients, and when they die their bodies become rich sources of nitrogen, natural phosphate and potash.

However, these industrial workers in your yard cannot be used in a vermiculture compost box. They won’t survive. For that, you will need a different species, called red wrigglers – also called redworms, tiger worms or brandling worms. Unless you live on a farm or previously introduced them, you likely won't have them in your garden.

What's the Difference?

Your common garden earthworm drills deep beneath the soil -- as much as six feet -- and create burrows for themselves. They live a mainly solitary life in the soil, and crawl to the surface to feed on organic debris, often bringing their food back down to their burrows. They do this simply to store food, but to us, it helps mix nutrients into the soil. Their daily activities help create rich, well-conditioned soil. Red wrigglers are actually a different species of worm. They like to stay near the surface, reproduce fast, prefer moist, warm conditions, and have a voracious appetite. Without a large amount of organic material, they'll starve. This is why you'll likely only see them in the wild on a farm, where their idea of heaven is a nice mound of manure! In fact, that's one of their names, manure worm. Because of their large appetite and ability to quickly reproduce, the red wriggler (and their cousin, the European nightcrawler) make great vermiculture worms. Not only that, but since they live near the surface, we can easily replicate their ideal environment. As they live in loose topsoil rich in organic material, to create a similar environment you simply add the necessary bedding and kitchen scraps in a ventilated box. They will happily congregate in large groups, and will also self-regulate their population if things get too crowded.

Worms and Composting

Vermicomposting is an excellent and odor-free way to reduce your household garbage and contribute rich organic material back to the earth. However, you can also include red wrigglers into your outdoor compost pile. You will need to create an environment similar to your indoor worm bin, with moisture and shredded paper mixed in. Your worms will live near the first few inches of the top, busily munching away and aerating your compost with their burrowing.

However, as worms can't survive the winter (in slow thaws they might), it is best to round a couple up for indoors. The worm eggs inside your compost will likely survive, to bring forth a new generation next spring.

And your common garden earthworm? They will likely visit the bottom portion of your compost pile if it is not closed off, snagging a meal here and there before returning underground.

Now that you know you can't use regular earthworms from your soil, where can you buy red wrigglers? Fortunately, you can get them almost anywhere. Stores specializing in vermiculture, garden centres, and of course at Red wrigglers don't mind being transported via mail. Happy vermicomposting!

Contributed by, a site devoted to composting, natural growing methods and other organic gardening tips.

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Cathy's Crawly Composters

Bradford, Ontario
Local: (905) 775-9495
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