Want to try composting with nightcrawlers, but aren’t sure where to start?
This article is full of the information you need to raise nightcrawlers for composting. I also answer common questions about nightcrawler diet, lifespan, and reproduction.
Let’s dig right into the topic, so you can start raising nightcrawlers for composting and see the benefits for yourself!
Are Nightcrawlers Good For Composting?
Nightcrawlers are the perfect little helpers when it comes to composting.
Worms offer these benefits:
- They break down organic matter into a nutrient-heavy growing medium
- Increase soil aeration as they tunnel
- They spread beneficial bacteria throughout the soil
- Casting improve soil texture
- Castings increase nutrient levels within the compost
- Castings improve water retention within the soil
An abundance of worms in your compost means you can allow them to transfer into your vegetable and planting beds as you utilize your compost as mulch or a soil additive.
Your garden will benefit tremendously by raising nightcrawlers to spread around your plantings, which brings the same improvement in soil quality that it does to the compost itself.
Should I Add Worms To My Compost?
Any well-maintained outdoor compost pile will naturally attract worms, who will feed on the ingredients while helping to speed up the decomposition process.
Most worms tend to live in the top 12 inches of soil and will readily migrate to any area that offers a food source, like a compost pile.
Nightcrawlers live in burrows deep in the ground but still seek and find compost piles when left to their own devices.
For those with composting bins, you will have manually add worms to reap the benefits they offer.
In reality, tossing some red wigglers into your bin is only useful if you maintain the container correctly, since temperature, moisture levels, and type and size of food scraps all affect the health of the worms.
When bin composting with nightcrawlers, it’s best to keep the worm in mind.
This method means the compost bin incorporates screens and look different than traditional compost bins like these stacks of trays or bag versions that are very popular with home gardeners.
These features help you quickly separate the worms from the worm castings when your compost is complete, so you are ready to start a new batch immediately.
Gardeners find the many benefits of worms to be the top reason they choose to raise nightcrawlers for composting, so they always have a healthy population on hand.
Which Nightcrawler Is Best For Composting?
Watch this video to learn even more about composting many different types of worms so you can decide which nightcrawler is best for your own needs.
Not all worms work the same inside a composter. Composting with worms, known as vermicomposting, needs the right type of worm to function optimally.
Research shows that vermicompost is more abundant in nutrients and helpful microbes than traditional compost due to the castings the worms leave behind as they process waste material.
While the small Red Wiggler worm (Eisenia Fetida) is a top choice for vermicomposting, the ability of a worm to digest its body weight in material each day means many people turn to the larger nightcrawler to speed up the process.
Next, are common nightcrawler species with a bit of information about each one and whether or not they are suitable for composting.
European nightcrawlers (Eisenia Hortensis)
European nightcrawlers are a good choice for composting. This species has similar characteristics to the Red Wigglers in that they love to eat, and are more hearty when it comes to fluctuating conditions within the composter.
Since this species is three times larger than the Red Wigglers, you can expect them to process a more substantial amount of material daily.
The European nightcrawlers also reproduce quickly so that you can expand your crew of compost helpers in no time!
Canadian nightcrawlers (Lumbricus Terrestris)
Choose Canadian nightcrawlers if you love to fish.
If you want to compost, pass on this species because they are a poor choice as a composting worm.
Canadian nightcrawlers like to live deep in the soil, are slow to reproduce, are finicky when it comes to maintenance, and aren’t voracious eaters. For a composting bin, the personality of this worm won’t produce the results you want.
African nightcrawlers (Eudrilus Eugeniae)
African nightcrawlers do well in compost bins. The worm prefers the warmer temperatures inside a composter, where their thinner skin is more protected.
The African nightcrawlers eat more and therefore process more material and produce more castings when temperatures are 70-degrees or above.
These worms create batch after batch of rich worm castings, which you can use in your garden or sell to other gardeners.
Alabama Jumpers (Amynthas Agrestis)
For those looking for a nightcrawler to add to an outdoor compost pile, consider the Alabama Jumper. These worms are tops when it comes to aeration as they move through the pile.
While they prefer to burrow deep in the soil, they willingly come to the surface to eat up leaf litter, food scraps, and other yard waste. These worms should stick around as long as you keep a steady supply of food available within your compost pile.
How To Keep Nightcrawlers Alive
Dead nightcrawlers are no help to anyone. Here are some great tips to keep your nightcrawlers alive in your compost.
HANDLE WITH CARE
When moving worms into your composter and again when you need to separate them from your compete compost, be gentle! Try not to stretch them out, nor let them drop roughly back into the bin as you can damage their delicate skin.
WATCH THE TEMPERATURE
Avoid drastic temperature changes, since it could cause weakness or even death in your worm population.
Worm bins can sit indoors, on patios, in sheds and garages, or outdoors if the temperature stays over 65 degrees.
Keep the worm bin composter away from the hot sun and protect it from the heavy, driving rain. Worms love dark, and relatively dry conditions.
KEEP THE STOCK HEALTHY
When adding new worms or transferring out castings, look for worms that appear sickly or are dead that can easily infect the others.
Signs that worms are sick or dying are groups of them balling up tight together, or seeing them crawling slowly about on the surface.
USE PROPER BEDDING MATERIAL
When starting or adding to your compost, never use materials that contain chemical fertilizers or cleaning agents, which will kill your worms.
Black and white newspaper, torn into small strips then misted with water is a fantastic way to recycle even more household waste.
MAINTAIN MOISTURE LEVELS
Raising nightcrawlers means you worms need moisture so they can breathe, and their skin doesn’t dry out.
Don’t overwater, since this can drown worms and also compact the soil so they can’t move freely.
Always use dechlorinated water for your worm bin to keep them healthy. City drinking water from the tap often contains chlorine. Check out these methods to dechlorinate water at home.
FEED THEM WELL
Worms are just like me, and love to eat! An ample supply of fresh food every couple of days should keep them happy.
Always bury new food, or cover the food with fresh compost, so the worms do not have to expose themselves to surface light to eat.
Remove finished compost. There is no food left in completed compost for the worms to eat, which takes around 8-10 weeks.
Empty and start a new batch, or move finished compost over to the side of the bin and add in fresh material and food. Soon the worms will move over to eat from the new menu.
How To Make A Worm Bed For Nightcrawlers
If you don’t have the time or budget to purchase a pre-made worm composter, you can make one at home with supplies you may already have on hand.
You’ll need a stock of composting worms, which you can buy fresh from various suppliers.
You can try using worms dug up from your yard, but I don’t recommend this since you can never be sure just which type you are collecting and how they’ll react inside the bin.
Step 1 – Prep Your Container
Use a large, opaque lidded container, like a plastic storage bin. A shallow bin 12-18 inches deep is best.
Turn the bin over and use a drill with a 3/8-inch bit to make holes across the bottom every few inches. These holes will permit drainage of excessive moisture and help keep the interior of the bin at proper levels.
Use a 1/8-inch drill bit to make ventilation holes around the upper few inches of the container on all sides and also across the entire lid.
Have a second large tray or bin available to collect the drainage fluid. You will place the worm bin over this second tray once you fill the container to avoid making a mess on the floor.
Step 2 – Install Your Bedding
You can make your worm composting start-up bedding or buy a bag of compost from a garden center.
To make your bedding, take soil from your garden or use up that partially empty bag of potting mix sitting in the shed.
You can then mix in shredded old newspapers, sawdust, grass clippings, dry leaves, or vegetable scraps chopped up finely until you have about 50-percent soil to 50-percent additive ratio.
DO NOT add in your worms at this stage!
Step 3 – Layer The Container
Take long strips of newspaper and soak them in a bucket of water.
Squeeze out the excess water, stretch them back out (wrinkles are good), and lay them down across the bottom of the container keeping wrinkles and air pockets intact, so the paper doesn’t compact.
Keep going back and forth across the bottom until the lower three inches are full of fluffy, wet newspaper.
Gently add a good handful of worms across the newspaper and then spread a thin layer of your bedding soil over the worms and paper.
Cut a piece of brown cardboard to fit inside the container so you can place it over the top layer. Moisten the cardboard, so it’s damp and lay it over the top of the dirt and press down slightly. Place the lid on the container.
Step 4 – Position Your Container
Find an ideal location for your worm composter and set it down over your catch tray.
Elevate the worm bin by setting a few bricks underneath, which helps air circulation around the container and lets any fluid drip out into the tray.
Step 5 – Begin The Feeding Schedule
Leave the worms alone for a week to let them settle in. There should be enough nutrients in the bedding soil and newspaper to keep them happy for this time.
After a week, take off the lid, remove the cardboard cover (if it hasn’t already broken down), and add compost-safe food scraps, grass or dead leaves, even some coffee grounds to the bin. Add more bedding soil to cover the new food.
Related | Are Coffee Filters Compostable?
I find adding more food, then topping it with soil, prevents any possible damage I could cause the worms if I tried to dig down and bury the food.
I also keep a container with safe water next to the bin to mist the contents every couple of days if it appears to be too dry.
Keep up this layering of food and bedding soil as you see the food scraps disappearing, which can range anywhere between two to six days.
Step 6 – Empty The Compost
When the layers reach up to the holes you drilled in the sides of your container, it’s time to let the worms finish up so you can remove the compost and start a new batch.
For a bin container, gently dump small amounts of compost through a screen to catch the nightcrawlers as you sift through the soil. Once the bin is empty, start the process over with the worms you just extracted.
How To Farm Nightcrawlers
Nightcrawler worm farming has been around for decades, and you can use the same methods you incorporate for worm composting and expand them to farm nightcrawlers for profit.
The conditions inside a worm composter encourage the nightcrawlers to reproduce, which means you can boost your population quickly. The start-up cost is low, especially if you make your bins and bedding material.
For optimal profit, have as many worm bins operating as you can tend to. Thankfully, this should only take minutes per day.
As the number of worms inside your bin increases, remove a portion to a new bin or count them out and pack them in a container kept refrigerated at 45-50 degrees until sale.
Nightcrawler Worm FAQs
What Do Nightcrawlers Eat?
Nightcrawlers will eat just about any compostable material like leaves, roots, grass clippings, non-citrus fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds, pasta, grains, manure, and dead animals.
As any of the items mentioned above begin to decay, the worms then suck the nutrients into their mouths.
How Long Do Nightcrawlers Live?
Nightcrawlers live, on average, between six to nine years. As long as conditions remain ideal, with warm, moist soil and plentiful food sources, nightcrawlers can live and reproduce a long time.
This characteristic is a great reason people choose to compost and farm nightcrawlers since they don’t need to replace the stock often, if at all, once you buy your first batch.
How Often Do Worms Reproduce?
Nightcrawlers mate and lay eggs several times a year. It takes a nightcrawler up to a year to reach full sexual maturity.
The breeding cycle of Red Wiggler worms is approximately 27 days from the time of mating to laying of the eggs.
How Fast Do Worms Reproduce?
Nightcrawlers mate fewer times a year than other worm species and produce only 10-15 offspring during each cycle. The nightcrawler, therefore, is fairly slow when it comes to reproduction in comparison to other worms.
Earthworm types like the Red Wiggler mate more often and can double their population nearly every sixty days, which is a high-speed reproduction cycle.
Nightcrawler worm farming is a fantastic addition to a gardener’s life. Whether you choose to compost with worms for improvement of your garden, or for raising nightcrawlers for profit, it’s not difficult to reap the benefits.
Now that you know how to raise nightcrawlers for composting, you can try it yourself, and experience just how cool it is to use worms to recycle your household waste!