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My First Indoor Worm Bin..."starring" Eudrilus eugeniae aka EE

I've made a few small indoor observation worm bins, but this is my first full-sized indoor wormery. Why choose African nightcrawlers? They have a reputation as a high-maintenance worm. They wander off for no apparent reason and demand a tight range of bin temps. Despite their supposedly temperamental nature, EEs are (arguably) a better choice than EFs for a vermicomposting system. If the proper conditions are provided, they can process waste and reproduce more quickly than EFs.

• "Under ideal conditions this species can process wastes very quickly and also has a very high rate of growth and reproduction. In fact, Dominguez et al. (2001) found that Eudrilus eugeniae outperformed Eisenia fetida at 25 C (77 F)."
• "Throughout its life cycle, E. eugeniae grew much more rapidly than E. fetida, in similar environmental conditions."

The primary requirement is a steady temp range of 70-80F. A bin that can contain them while still allowing them some room to wander is also helpful. Here's what I'll be using: a 32 gal. terrarium with a 1/16" screened lid & low-wattage overhead lamp. The lamp will help keep the worms down in the bedding and also provide heat. I've placed cardboard sheets on the outside of the glass walls for some insulation. The front cardboard panel is easily removed so I can observe the worms and bin conditions. I inserted a "wall" of cardboard on the left side and put a few inches of dry coir behind it. The bin is tilted slightly to the left. Any excess moisture should dribble towards the coir, which will act as an absorbent. I'll replace it with dry coir if necessary. The bedding is torn egg cartons & cardboard soaked in water mixed in with VC.

I plan to feed only the left half of the bin. The right side will be kept damp so the worms have room to explore. When the left side has a good amount of castings, I will stop feeding that side and begin feeding the right side. It's a basic lateral migration system. When most of the worms have moved to the right side I will harvest the left side. Hopefully this will disrupt only a minority of the population.
Note: I quickly abandoned this plan after Brian pointed out that worms rarely followed migration directions. I feed all parts of the bin and will figure out a harvesting system later.

This system will require a bit more time to maintain (mostly in food prep) and some electricity costs. If it succeeds, however, I'm hoping the EEs will be able to process a considerable amount of kitchen scraps in a bin free of the usual bin critters that many people find annoying.

Sorry this video is a little long (5:23), but I haven't had time to edit it. I was just a bit too excited about receiving these worms, so I sound like a kid with a new toy. You're seeing my reaction to seeing EEs for the very first time. Feel free to turn down the volume, but you should at least take a quick look at how big these worms are. Fast forward to the 4:00 mark to see them next to a measuring tape.

I bought these worms from Steve and Jeanne Landwehr at Northern Lakes Worm Farm.
*Note: they're now calling them "Red Hot" Nightcrawlers instead of African nightcrawlers. You may want to contact them to verify if they're the same.

Jeanne responded to my emailed questions quickly and was upfront about the fact that these particular worms were not raised directly on their farm in MN. I already knew that many worm sellers use wholesale farmers or drop-shippers to process some of their orders and simply wanted to know what to expect in terms of shipping time to CA. You can see from the video that the quality of the worms I received was excellent. I highly recommend contacting the Landwehrs if you choose to order African nightcrawlers.

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Comment by bpearcy10 on August 28, 2010 at 9:56am
Good idea. When I started I wanted to start with African Nightcrawlers because it's hot here 10 months of the year, but I went with EF's instead. Now that my wife has seen the bigger worm she wants to stick with EF's. She said it reminds her too much of reptiles and if I want her to continue helping I better stick to EF's. Maybe I'll win her over someday.

I have a 66 Quart bin that I feed laterally as you describe. Funny thing though. They don't really ever all move to the side with food. I'd say it's only about 50 percent. We still have to sort a lot of worms. But I guess half is better than 100%. And with the Africans they're much easier to sort anyway than a bunch of juvenile EF's.

I think you'll find that the enclosed bin will produce tons of pods. Mine is plastic, but its' always full of pods. My EFs seem to make more and more pods the wetter it gets.

Thanks for posting the video.
Comment by Andrew from California on August 28, 2010 at 11:12am
Brian, tell your wife these big fellas are really beautiful. Not at all reptilian. I'll try to get some better photos, but it's tough to capture that pearlescent sheen of their skin. They are pretty big, but that just makes it easier to handle them.

I'm already reconsidering the lateral migration idea. It sounds like EEs may not feed in groups like the EFs. One description makes it sound like they grab a bite or two and then back off to "chew". I'm not sure if I buy that, but I've read a few accounts where people say they don't swarm food like EFs or PEs. Maybe it's a nightcrawler thing. In any case, it seems they like to spread out, so I may also spread the food around. I'll figure out the harvesting later.
Comment by bpearcy10 on August 28, 2010 at 11:27am

She's seen them up close already. They have two worm bins where she works.
Comment by Andrew from California on August 28, 2010 at 11:36am
Ah...well, you'll just have to work on it a bit more. Sounds like a pretty cool place she works at. Other than a school, I'm not sure I've heard of a workplace that kept worm bins. That would be great if it became commonplace.
Comment by bpearcy10 on August 28, 2010 at 11:55am

She works at an organization that promotes small local farming, buying local, water conservation, and CSAs. It is pretty cool. I'm proud of the work she does.
Comment by Sue on August 28, 2010 at 12:51pm
I'm just wondering, how can the worm sellers ship worms & bedding free of mites and gnats??? I thought they came with the worms when we bought them.
Comment by Andrew from California on August 28, 2010 at 1:37pm
Larry: show your wife the babies first. She doesn't need to see the adults right away. Give one a name...say Mac. Then a couple of weeks later show her Mac when he's 1-2" long. A few more weeks and say Mac's now Mae and she's 3-4" long...not much different than a full grown EF. Then it won't be such a shock to see Mac/Mae at 8". BTW, when they're moving and fully stretched out...some of them look to be over a foot long. I tried counting the segments on one, but it was like trying to count cars on a really long train. I got dizzy and lost track.

I just took out a spoonful of the bedding and it looks like 98% castings. It's damp, but granular - doesn't clump. You heard what it sounded like when I grabbed a bit at the beginning of the video and dropped it back into the paper bag. It's like rough sand. It's not your ordinary worm poo.

Sue: my impression is the farmers raising EEs start with bedding of black peat and then feed them worm chow. The peat probably doesn't have critters to start with. If no food scraps are ever fed to the worms, then maybe those common critters just don't show up? It also seems they keep the moisture level just right...good for EEs, bad for critters. Just a guess. The research papers are pretty adamant that under ideal conditions EEs grow very fast and make lots of babies. I imagine it's worth the expense of buying peat and worm chow if you're selling them for $10/lb. or more.

I used the research data to calculate what these 500 worms will grow into and I basically can't believe the numbers. Someone please double check my math. Here's the data:
Reproductive rate: Approximately 7 young per worm per week under ideal conditions.
Time to emergence from the cocoon: Approximately 15-30 days under ideal conditions.
Time to sexual maturity: Approximately 30-95 days under ideal conditions.
"Cocoons of E. eugeniae hatched in only 12 days at 25°C, the earthworms at these temperatures reached sexual maturity in as little as 35 days after hatching."

Let's assume I only have 300 mature worms (instead of 500). Let's assume a reproductive rate of 3 young per week (instead of 7). Nov. 3 is 10 weeks away.
300 x 3 = 900 per week. x 10 wks = 9,000. They won't hatch for a month (instead of 12 days), so let's say I'll only see 25% of them. That's still over 2k. Even if none of the other babies make it, the adults stop breeding and it's just these 2,000...and I harvest the entire system on New Year's day to see 2,500 mature worms? I'd think I was dreaming. But (unless I really messed up on the math) that's a very conservative estimate of how quickly this squirm can grow.
Comment by Peter Barnard on August 28, 2010 at 2:04pm
Andrew: I would say that I have fair to good conditions in my bins, and temps of around 70-90º F for most of the year, but I have never seen anything remotely close to the reproduction rates that get published.
PE's are supposed to breed twice as fast as other types, yet they never take over and dominate a bin. Ditto the EE's. The good old EF's are still hanging in there - many thousands.
I guess this is just a long-winded way of saying that I doubt you'll ever be up to your neck in African Nightcrawlers
Comment by bpearcy10 on August 28, 2010 at 2:08pm

I know of at least one very large worm farm that feeds their EE's some worm chow, but the bedding is mostly rabbit manure. I know I seem to be hung up on rabbit manure this summer, but I've seen a 25,000 sq feet worm bed farm that uses rabbit manure from 300-400 rabbits and by golly I want to figure out how they're doing it. And besides that, I've still got a lot of it I need to use up. I also know where to get more of it anytime I need it.

The EE's are in raised beds and their EF's are in ground beds. There are a lot of lights and automatic misters over all the beds. Everything is on a timer. Lights, misters, etc.

They butcher a lot of rabbits for the wholesale market and need someway to dispose of the poo, therefore, they are also in the worm business in a very large way.
Comment by Andrew from California on August 28, 2010 at 3:16pm
Pete: I do have doubts about the research numbers. The critical phrase is "under ideal conditions". I'm sure your bins are near enough ideal for temps, moisture and food, but what about space? Population density seems to play a crucial role and that doesn't take into account the mixed species you have in your worm environments. That said, I still don't anticipate a quadrupling of EEs. I am curious enough that I may set aside 20 of them in a small bin just to see what happens.

Brian: that sounds like a good business becoming a great one. They turned a waste "problem" into a new source of revenue. Rabbit manure has been on my radar for months...probably since you first mentioned it. I just called a local pet store and they confirmed that I can pick up stuff from them anytime. Here's what they posted on craigslist a few months ago:
"This fresh material is comprised of recycled newspaper (decomposes in hours!), rabbit poop, leftover organic veggies, hay, and coffee grounds."

The gal I spoke to today said it also included guinea pig poo and specified the bedding was CareFRESH, which is "reclaimed, short, cellulose fiber - previously a waste product of the pulp industry". I was thinking of quickly screening some of this to get a cups worth of just the pellets. Maybe add a little water and mash it up before feeding it to the worms. The bulk of the material would go into a compost bin.


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