Vermicomposting, worm bin, composting with worms community and forums

Eisenia hortensis (European nightcrawler aka EH)

I broke down (don't ask) and ordered 5 lbs. of E. hortensis from David & Chris at Earthworms 4 Sale. [Note: as of Aug. 2012, they were drop-shipping Euros from Florida. You may want to request NC-grown worms if that matters to you.] They'll be shipped out Monday. Below is what I've culled from various forums and blogs. There was quite a flurry of discussion on this species '98-'00, when EHs were first becoming popular among worm farmers in the U.S.

Since the terrarium worked out so well as a wormery for my African nightcrawlers, I decided to bump the aquaponics project and use a ~30 gal. aquarium as an indoor worm bin for these European nightcrawlers. That completes the vermi-trilogy as far as I'm concerned (no disrespect to the PEs), with EEs & EHs indoors and the EFs outdoors. With the exception of cooler bin temps (60-65ºF) and damper bedding, it sounds like I'll set things up pretty much the same as I did for my EEs.

• 6-8" of damp egg carton/cardboard bedding with a sprinkling of VC. I may add leaves.
• secure lid (around the edges) with 1/16" screening for ventilation.
• nightlight on top of the lid to discourage wanderers for the 1st few weeks.

I hope the worms I receive look as good as Eve's gob of EHs:

Although most of the quotes below support the very little scientific data that is available, there are clearly very strong anecdotal accounts from worm farmers who disputed the low reproductive rates reported by the scientists. I think it is a classic apples vs oranges kerfuffle. The scientists were studying worms to process cattle manure and the worm farmers were providing very different environments and food stock for their Euros. Of course the results would be different.

Excerpts from the Eisenia hortensis sub-group
"Doctors Adrian Reinecke and Sophie Viljoen conducted detailed studies on the reproduction and maturation rates and environmental requirements of this species in the early 1990s, which confirmed studies conducted on this species by Dr. Clive Edwards in the late 1980s. The researchers found D. veneta to be a large worm with a low reproductive rate and slow maturity rate compared to Eisenia fetida, Perionyx excavatus and Eudrilus eugeniae; findings which suggest this species is the least suitable for vermicomposting of those studied. Even so, D. veneta (reclassified by taxonomists to the genus and species Eisenia hortensis) has demonstrated some value in vermicomposting. Studies demonstrate that this species performs better in excessively wet environments than the other species used for vermicomposting, leading to its use in some large-scale European vermiprocessing systems remediating paper sludges."

"Some U.S. worm growers have become fans of Dendrobaena veneta and dispute the research data, believing the worm to reproduce and grow as rapidly as Eisenia fetida in their vermiculture and vermicomposting systems. Their observations are compelling and, coupled with the great size of this worm, are likely responsible in part for the sudden popularity of the species."

Kelly S.: "E. hortensis, which is a slow-growing worm species even in its ideal environment of high moisture and temps between 60-65º more easily stressed by lower moisture levels...Heat tolerance is dependant on moisture level. This worm is very tolerant of environmental fluctuation and handling, but has a slower reproductive rate and requires very high moisture levels, relative to other worm species...edwards and reineckes research show E. hortensis to be long lived and slow growing"

Bentley at redwormcomposting: "They have a lower rate of reproduction and take considerably longer to mature. That being said, I’ve been told they can be more tolerant of poor bin conditions and low food levels – more apt to stay put as compared to red worms...they seem to like manure a lot more than food scraps."

Kazuko at K & W Rabbit and Worm Farm (no longer online): "I've seen the reference to the study conducted by Clive Edwards regarding the reproduction rate of Eisenia hortensis/Dendrobaena veneta. Contrary to his findings, it has been my experience and the experience of other growers I've spoken with that not only do they have an excellent rate of reproduction, but under optimum conditions they will out produce Eisenia fetida. I've found that Eisenia hortensis has different preferences to temperature, moisture, bedding etc than Eisenia fetida and I'm wondering if the study may have been conducted out of their optimum range. In tests I've done with Eisenia hortensis in home vermicomposting bins, they have performed as well as or better than an equal biomass of Eisenia fetida. They seem to be able to break down cellulose material without as much help from soil bacteria."

Jeff at friendlywormguy (in cold Canada): "My beds are 8″-12″ in depth...the reds are composting in the top 3-4″. The Euros are composting from 4-12″ levels of my composting worm beds. All I had read about the euros, and their want to crawl, out of the beds, bins etc. Is wrong in my opinion, I have had alot more problems with the Red Wigglers crawling, then I have ever had with the European N/C. On another note: It is hard to kill Euros...The Euros take change in their environments better then the Reds do."

RedHen: "I started raising ENC's over a year ago, just to see if they would thrive in a bin situation. They do not reproduce at the same rate as the EF's, (they are slower). I notice that the ENC's like things cooler. If the temps get above about 70, they get kind of melty and very slow. I am raisng them at 60F and they are doing really well. They also seem to like it wetter, which in a plastic bin, is easier to have happen. I started with 2 lbs and the original gang went through trial and tribulation, and I was not too sure about how they were going to do. I started feeding them more often (and think they actually eat more, and faster than the EF's) and put them in a cooler temperature situation. Things started looking up."..."When I get new worms I do make food (steamed) very soft for them, so there is food immediately for all. Food, good cool temperature and very damp bedding should get you and your new pals off to a good start."

flyboy: "I got three pounds of euros late last fall. I have them in a 10 Gal Rubbermaid tub. I have never seen the cocoon density in my red worm bin like I see in my euro bin. I feed them every couple of weeks and leave them alone."

gardenfanatic: "I don't know if you have access to fall leaves, but ENC's are eager consumers of them. Also, they tend to like the bin wetter and a little cooler than the reds."

stevemc: "They eat like hogs. My redworms rarely light into food the way the encs do. I have been giving them some coffee grounds with fruit and veggie scraps and a light dusting of corn meal. They do not wait for the macro herd to prepare it for them..the just seem to start eating."

wtman: "I didnt put anything in there new home except shredded newspaper ( confetti style) for the first couple of weeks, but i will say this, they absolutley thrived in the shredded paper alone. you will have no doubt about the castings either, its not hard to tell their castings from the compost like the ef's."

thinwhite: "E. Hortensis was my first attempt at vermiculture, and I found them to be very easy creatures to deal with. I actually started out with 270 (yep, 270) worms that I bought locally for fishing...I did find at first that they did have a tendency to roam - especially after I harvest the castings. I raise the Euros, E. Fetida, Georgia Jumpers, and African Night Crawlers. I've found that all of these critters just LOVE to roam after a harvest...Amongst all the species I raise, I've also found them the most likely to dig into a pile of dead leaves and grass clippings with gusto. The other species WILL eat these foods, but none do so with the enthusiasm of the Hortensis'."

Here's some video of the worms when they first arrived 6 Oct. 2010:

Views: 5324

Comment by Andrew from California on October 3, 2010 at 7:46pm
Larry, there's not much mention of manure in the various real-life experiences of the worm farmers. The things most often mentioned are cool temps, wetter conditions and that they process leaves and paper products faster than EFs. The researchers, however, used cow manure. That alone could explain the difference between what the scientists observed and what worm farmers observed. That would also explain Utah's problems with his Euros in manure windrows.

One thing is certain after reading about some of the research methods...there's no way I could do worm research. They went through the manure bedding every day (small, pint-sized containers) to count worms and remove cocoons. They then tracked each batch of cocoons under the same conditions they were born into, so those cocoon batches had to be checked daily to see when the babies hatched. They weighed the babies after a certain number of days - I'd like to know how they did that without damaging the little guys.

Utah's observations about EHs spreading out into his yard also confirms another common observation: EHs do well in the garden. They'll make shallow burrows in soil in order to insulate themselves from harsh conditions on the surface. EFs reportedly just stay on the surface and die. Both still need decaying organic matter to feed on.
Comment by Andrew from California on October 6, 2010 at 7:13pm
The worms arrived today in great condition, well over 6 lbs. of prime worm meat. I'll post video a little later. They were very active and quick to spread out into the habitat I'd prepared for them. I had noticed this with the babies, but now with the adults it's very obvious that EH are much more sensitive to light than EE. I can reflect a flashlight beam off cardboard or my hand and view EEs without making them scamper back. Not so with EH. They quickly draw back when even a bit of reflected light touches them.

I didn't get quite as nice a photo as Eve, but this species is definitely beautiful. I love the stripes.

Comment by Andrew from California on October 6, 2010 at 7:45pm
Larry, I just gave them some worm chow and they're up there eating it. These guys really travel well. No jet lag at all. They spread out to all 4 corners of the aquarium and are exploring everywhere. I can watch them using a red lamp.
Comment by Andrew from California on October 6, 2010 at 9:03pm
Yeah, these guys are having no problems climbing glass. The screen on the aquarium lid is 1/8", so I'm keeping a light on these guys for a while. I saw three go above the cardboard "ceiling" before I turned on the light. They are fast and very active considering they just got unpacked a few hours ago. I can't find my other probe thermometer, but I'm guessing it's below 70F in there. They're going through that chow faster than the EEs did at first. I may have to give them more before I hit the sack.
Comment by Andrew from California on October 7, 2010 at 2:47pm
I love these Euros! I didn't think anything could pig out like the EEs, but these guys are more than a match. I thought there was still worm chow on the cardboard "plates", but it turns out they started chewing on the cardboard itself and gave it a fuzzy look. It's like they licked the plate clean and then started eating the plate itself.

The distinctive stripes make it really easy to observe their motion. They were much more active than the EEs last night even though both had worm chow to work on. The difference was the EE bin was "only" at 73F, which is a tad cool for them. This morning I saw a couple of the EHs mating, so they seem to have settled in quite well. There were plenty of babies and juveniles roaming last night, so this particular biomass of EHs is likely to grow very quickly.

I can't embed a video into this comment, but scroll up a bit and you can see the video I added at the bottom of the original post.
Comment by Andrew from California on October 11, 2010 at 8:46pm
Day 5 update: I've fed the EEs (African nightcrawlers) a little worm chow every day for the past month and they seem fine. The EHs ate the worm chow so fast that I started feeding them 3-4 times each day. Today I picked out 6 dead worms that were on top of the bedding or just under a cardboard sheet. I'm not sure if this was caused by too much worm chow or by injuries from the harvesting and shipping.

Most of the EHs (couple of thousand at least?) seem fine, but I decided to cut back on the worm chow and add other food stock for now. I put old camphor leaves through a garbage disposer and mixed in some damp coir. I put a few handfuls of this material into the EH bin a few hours ago and the worms are already burrowing into it. I'll add more tomorrow and maybe throw some food scraps into the mix.
Comment by Andrew from California on October 13, 2010 at 9:59pm
Larry, now I know what you meant by the "chartreuse" description on the Euro cocoons. I had no problems spotting these guys.

Comment by Andrew from California on October 13, 2010 at 10:20pm
Larry, I forgot to mention that you're probably right that Euros come up to the surface to die. I've got anywhere from 2,000-2,500 worms in there and certainly some of them are old enough to simply die of old age.
Comment by Andrew from California on October 26, 2010 at 9:17pm
Mass escape! I went out to dinner earlier this evening and forgot to turn on the lights above my indoor worm bins. The EEs stayed put, but the EHs decided to make a run for it. I coaxed back ~100 of them that were just about to drop over the edge or were entwined in the mesh lid. I then spent a good half hour finding 20-30 of them on the floor or table. I think I need to add more bedding and food.
Comment by Andrew from California on October 27, 2010 at 9:26am
Larry, the EH bin lid has 1/8" screen. Even the big guys can squeeze through that if they suck in their guts and go slow. They started out with ~6" bedding depth. That's now been processed and reduced down to ~3". Hopefully more bedding will keep them from wandering, but I'm still going to keep the light on.


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