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Re: Red worm culture

> Date: Mon, 18 Aug 1997 17:02:31 -0400
> From: "Maladorno, Dionigi" <DIONIGI.MALADORNO at roche_com>
> I have a red earthworm culture that has been running for about two
> years, on a peat substrate (very soggy now, but still very productive).
> I feed them dried plant material and various types of ground seeds
> (corn, birdseeds, rice, beans, whatever goes bad in the house).

These are the same worms used for vermicomposting.  You can feed them
any kitchen waste except those containing meat or oils/fats.  Coffee
grounds and tea bags are favorites of these animals, but all your vegetable
trimmings etc are excellent too.

> Questions:
> - - I addition to the white mites that have been residents of the culture
> for a long time, I noticed more recently some very small (say, 0.5 mm or
> less) reddish , round beetles, which congregate in big numbers. I assume
> they will not give substantial problems: anybody has any experience with
> them? I even tried to feed them to the tetras, but they ignored these
> little bugs.

I've got some of those in my 5-year old colony too.  Either they are
more common when the bedding is too wet, or they are more visible when
wet bedding drives them to the surface.  I've never noticed them to do
any harm, which doesn't mean that they don't, of course.

> - - does anybody know if the number of worms escaping from the culture box
> correlates to any variable that can be corrected (availability of food,
> humidity, etc.)? 

It usually means that the bedding is too wet, too anaerobic, too acidic,
too salty, too hot or unsuitable in other ways.  If there is room in the
container, add some dry bedding.  I use crumpled newspapers, which disappear
surprisingly fast.  I keep the pH stable in my colony by adding eggshells
with the other compost.  This neutralizes the acid, which is especially
important if you are using peat moss as bedding, since it is quite acid
to start with.

The worms avoid light, so you can force them to remain in the box by shining
a light into it, but you really should do something to make the bedding more
tolerable for them.

There are several methods of separating the worms from the compost, for the
purpose of harvesting one or the other product.  Your library probably has
some books describing them in the gardening section.  What I do is leach the
solubles out of the whole mess every spring when I am starting my garden.  I
dump the whole thing into an old fibreglas laundry tub with a drain at the 
bottom, and pour buckets of water through it over a period of a few weeks.
The 'compost tea' that drains into a bucket underneath is fantastic plant
fertilizer.  The first few buckets have to be diluted before use.  I mix the
remaining compost and worms with crumpled newspaper back in the colony tub,
and just feed, harvest and add bedding as necessary for another year.

Beverly Erlebacher
Toronto, Ontario Canada