Introduction to Vermiculture

 1.         Introduction

            Reasons we need earthworms

            Classification of the earthworm.


            Breeding and growth rate


2.         Caring for Earthworms

            Reason for keeping earthworms (Vermicast, Worms, Recycling)

Different housing methods

Setting up your worm bin

            What should you feed your worms and quantity?

            Where should you keep your worms?


3.                  Harvesting Worms and Vermicast


Using light (worms)

Vertical method (Vermicast)


4.                  General 

What to do with your castings

Warnings on Vermicast (Seeds – Bioremediate or Pasteurise)



 1.         Introduction


Reasons we need earthworms

Vermiculture is the process of using worms to decompose organic waste into a material capable of supplying necessary nutrients to help sustain plant growth.

This method is simple, effective, convenient and noiseless. It saves water, energy, landfills, and helps to rebuild the soil. The worms have the ability to convert organic waste into nutrient-rich material which reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers.

Vermicompost improves soil structure and aeration as well as increasing its water-holding capacity and aids in erosion control.

Vermicomposting adds beneficial organisms to the soil. These microorganisms and soil fauna help to break down organic materials and convert nutrients into a more available food form for plants.

Classification of the earthworm.

The best known means of classification is by Dr Marcel Bouché, which is according to which level of the soil they occupy and their feeding behaviour.


·         Epigeic (surface dwelling) types live at the surface in freshly decaying plant or animal residues.

·         Endogeic types live within the soil and ingest soil to extract nutrition from degraded organic matter.

·         Anecic types burrow deep in the soil but come to the surface at night to forage for freshly decaying residues.


The type of earthworm we use is the Epigeic (Compost worm), the Eisenia Fetida, commonly known as Tigers, Red Wrigglers or Red Worms.


The diet of an earthworm varies from species to species, but compost worms prefer a nutrient-rich diet. In general though, the rule is that worms will eat anything that was once living.  (Covered further, in caring for earthworms).


Breeding and growth rate

Tigers reach sexual maturity in 60-90 days, (once the clitellum has formed).  All worms are hermaphrodites, possessing both male and female organs, but Tigers need a partner to breed.

On average four young are produced per capsule, Tigers can produce approximately one capsule a week.  Tigers in good conditions can double their population every two to three months.

2.         Caring for Earthworms

Different housing methods

There are a number of different worm bins on the market, the choice is a very personal one and one that must meet your individual needs.

Basically worm bins can be put in three classes, vertically stacking, flat beds and flow-through systems.

Setting up your worm bin

To start any worm bin, you need bedding, which is normally a high carbon mix like shredded cardboard or newspaper. You can also use any aged manure (horse being one of the best) or Canadian peat moss(expensive).  The bedding should be well soaked in water for at least 24hrs and then wrung out and fluffed up to get lots of air into it. 

This bedding can be up to 15cm thick, then add your worms, approximately 400g per 30cm squared.  You can leave a bright light on around the bin for a day or two just to deter the worms from leaving this new environment.  A day or two later you can feed them and turn the light off.

What should you feed your worms and quantity?

Worms will eat almost any pre-plated food that we eat.


They especially like:

·         Raw vegetable scraps

·         Fruit scraps and pips

·         Bread (Mouldy or not)

·         Used tea leaves/bags

·         Coffee grounds

·         Crushed egg shells

·         Shredded cardboard and newspaper


The don’t particularly like:

·         Citrus

·         Meat and fish

·         Greasy foods

·         Dairy products

·         Dog/cat faeces



Quantity of feed will depend on how many worms you have and on the type of food you feed.  On average Tiger worms can eat just over half their weight in food everyday.  The best method to determine the quantity of food is just be keeping an eye on your worms and as you see there is only a small amount of food left from the last feed, it is time to feed again.

Over feeding is the biggest mistake most people make. This can quickly turn anaerobic (no oxygen) and this will kill your worms unless there is enough space for them to get away from the food. It also turns you bin acidic which worms don’t like, this is normally cured just by adding calcium carbonate (agricultural lime) to your bin.

Over feeding can cause a lot of heat (like a normal compost pile), which will also send you worms looking for a cooler spot.

Where should you keep your worms?

This is also a very personal thing, depending on how much you love your worms.

There are however, a few basic rules:

·         They must be kept out of direct sunlight.

·         They should not be able to get flooded.

·         They should not get too hot or too cold. (10 – 25 deg. C is ideal)

·         The darker the area the better (the quantity of worms per area can almost be doubled in a dark and well regulated environment).

·         The moisture level in the bin should be kept at about 70% (which is the consistency of a wrung out sponge.)


3.                  Harvesting Worms and Vermicast


Harvesting worms:

Using light

The simplest and cheapest method to harvest worms is by using the sunlight.

Due to worms natural dislike of light we can use this to harvest them, by simply putting a mound of worms and their bedding on a piece of plastic and then as they go down out of the light you remove the top layer bit by bit and finally you will be left with only a mass of worms. They can then easily be weighed or transferred to a new bed.

Harvesting castings

Vertical method

As mentioned above the vertical method uses the earth worms’ natural instinct to feed from the top, and compost worms generally stay in the top 15cm of the bed.  Therefore the lower portion is quite free from worms, the reason you normally leave it slightly deeper is so all the capsules will also have a chance to hatch, therefore not depleting your worm stocks.


4          General 

What to do with your castings

Worm castings are one of the richest forms of natural organic compost.  Vermicast is produced from organic materials that have taken up minerals in exactly the ratio in which they were needed to produce and sustain growth.  It has been tested and proven over and over that only a 10% mix of vermicast is necessary to be effective. 

Keep in mind, you can’t just add compost worms to your garden, they will just die, unless you make your beds worm friendly.  You will need to have at least 15cm of organic matter over your soil all the time, and it must be kept moist. What you can do though, is make you garden worm friendly, which will attract the correct species for your specific area.



Vermicomposting does not reach sufficient temperatures to destroy all pathogens and seeds, therefore bioremediation (sterilisation) or pasteurisation will have to be carried out. (This really only applies to large scale sellers of compost)


Enjoy your worms: they really don’t take much effort, but they can certainly give a lot of pleasure, especially when you see the results in the garden.

Quiz time

A young lady sits on a bench in a park at a spot where three paths
join.   On one path is a gentleman pedestrian, on another is a gentleman
cyclist and on the third, a gentleman  equestrian.

Which one of these three gentlemen knew the young lady ?

Answer:  Horsemanure !


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