Compost Worms – Earthworms – Field Worms
There is much confusion and misconceptions about compost worms, what they do and how. So here is the lowdown:
Types of Worms
When looking at ‘earthworms’ there are two basic types of worms :
These are generally small red worms. They occur naturally in forested areas and live on top of the soil but under the leaf litter. Living in this situation they eat bacteria that breaks down the organic material on the ground. As they move through the material they create air holes which gives more surface area for the bacteria to grown on and they spread the bacteria in their castings (they farm the bacteria). They breed rapidly, doubling numbers every 3 months, grow to maturity in 60 to 90 days and have a voracious appetite. These are the worms we humans have been using for thousands of years in composts and worm farms, and these are the main commercial types of worms.
These are the larger worms (grey, brown or red) that live deeper in the soil, that many people find when digging in the garden. They create tunnels which aerate the soil and allow water and fertilizer to penetrate down to the root zone. They basically eat what is in front of them to create their tunnels. We really don’t know how many different varieties of field worms there are in Australia, it is estimated there are more than 800. Whilst they also feed on bacteria, the concentrations in the material they eat is much lower, so they grow quite slowly. Also living in tunnels they don’t come across mates often, so they breed slowly (heavy rain is the signal to come to the surface for a big night out). Very few worm farmers grow these on a commercial basis.
Compost Worms – commercial varieties
We, and almost all other Australian worm farms, grow and sell the three main varieties of compost worms, red worms, tiger worms and blue worms. They are best all together rather than as a monoculture.
Lumbricus Rubellus – Red worm
Known as reds, red wrigglers, flat tails, blood worms. Grows up to 75mm long, hermaphrodite but needs a mate to breed, clitellum starts on segment 32.
Esineia Fetida – Tiger worm
Known as tigers, banded, yellow tails. Grows up to 100mm long, hermaphrodite but needs a mate to breed, clitellum starts on segment 32.
Perionyx Excavatus – Blue worm
Known as blues, big blues, opal worm, indian pacific, pacific blues. Grows up to 200mm long, hermaphrodite but able to breed alone (in summer), clitellum starts on segment 7 or 8, does best in summer.
By having a mix you will find that they will work better over a wide range of conditions and seasons. And of course the more worms in your compost or worm farm generally the better it will work.