How to Use Red Worms in Composting? – A Complete Guide

When it comes to healthy gardening, worms take the limelight. It is rightly said that no other organism in the soil is as vital as worms. These little ones help the soil by feeding and burrowing through it, improving its overall health.

Of course, vermicomposting is something we all have heard of, and most have even practiced it. But how about using red worms in a regular compost pile? Will they help by making the compost better? And if so, then how? We have answers to all your questions. So stay with us to find out more!

Adding red worms to your compost pile will fasten the decomposition and add nutrients to the compost. Red worms can withstand various conditions, making them perfect for composting. Spread them gently on the compost pile, add food scraps and cover them with a layer of bedding soil. 

Well, this is just a sneak peek at the whole process. There are certain things to remember before adding the red wigglers to your compost. But before that, let’s know what red worms are and why they are most preferred.

What are Red Worms?

Close Up of Red Worms in Compost Pile

Also called ‘brandling worms,’ ‘red wigglers,’ ‘trout worms,’ and ‘manure worms,’ red worms are a type of earthworms and are epigeic in nature. They have a red-brown color with segments on the body. They don’t have teeth and use a gizzard, a unique structure that helps them eat. 

There are two species of red worms that are preferred for adding to compost. One of them is Eisenia foetida (also called Eisenia fetida). Eisenia foetida is the most aggressive type of composting worm and thrives in different composting conditions. It can survive up to a maximum of five years. Though it has a short lifespan, it has a high reproduction rate.

The other species is Lumbricus rubellus, an excellent choice for adding to compost but not as great as Eisenia foetida. And as you know what kind is best, let’s shed some light on how these crawlers help your compost.

How are Red Worms Good for Compost?

The best thing about these cute wigglers is that they survive in various conditions. They are better known as composting worms as they act like a long tube that takes the food from one end and produces compost from the other.

Red Wigglers are aggressive feeders; they can consume a lot of compostable materials. And once they feed on the food they like (which we will discuss later), it passes through the digestive tube, and the excreta or the worm castings is the final compost having all the nutrients that the plants need!

This compost is a nutritious additive for soil; however, avoid planting directly into compost as it can do more harm than good.

So clearly, they break down the composting material merrily. But what are the other benefits of good composting worms?

Benefits of Adding Red Worms to Compost

Healthy Red Worms in a Compost Pile

Having a voracious appetite is red worms’ forte! And this nature helps our plants.

  • Speed Up Composting: Red worms are gobblers. They eat and excrete, eventually making the composting process faster. Once added to the compost pile or bin, they feed on the kitchen scraps and other organic material, and you will have your compost fully ready in some time. 
  • Add Nutrients: They enrich the compost by adding nutrients to it. As the compost already contains Nitrogen, adding these epigeic worms to the compost will help increase the Nitrogen content as the worm castings bind micronutrients making the compost richer and better.
  • Improve Structure: Red worms are also known as wigglers because that’s what they do – they wiggle! And due to their rapid movements, the water and air circulation inside the compost increases, ultimately improving the structure of the compost.
  • Quality Compost: The worm poop not only contains nutrients but also provides compost with gut bacteria and mucus. And all of this together improves the humus content of the soil.
  • Increase Plant Growth Hormone: Red worms increase the production of PGR, which helps the plants grow faster by accelerating the germination rate.
  • Prevent Diseases: Worms act on compost, and when the resulting product is added to soil, it prevents many soil-borne pathogens. This will help the plants remain healthy and disease-free.
  • No Odor: Worms feed so fast that there are fewer chances of rotting food waste. And when there is no rotting, there is no foul odor.

And this also makes worms a perfect fit for indoor compost bins as well!

Therefore, there are myriad benefits that encourage you to add those red wiggling worms to your compost pile. But this doesn’t mean you can add them straightaway to an existing stack. You need to take care of many things as red worms are fragile and can DIE if not taken care of properly.

How to Add Red Worms to Compost?

Adding red worms to your existing pile is no rocket science. The focal point of concern is maintaining the ideal conditions and providing them with food. But before learning about their needs, let’s look at how to add them to compost.

Composting with Red Wigglers_

Step 1: Spread the Worms on Top Layer

Gently take a handful of worms and scatter them on the compost pile. Keep on adding them evenly. It is better to spread to avoid overcrowding at a certain point.

Pro Tip: Before adding red worms to your compost, move the bin to a well-lit area. Red worms are sensitive to bright light and will readily move inside the compost to avoid it. Add some food to the bottom of the compost so they have no reason to come out. You can move the worm bin later to a dark location.

Step 2: Add Food Scraps and Other Organic Waste

Add food for your worms lest they should leave. Or worse – they should die. A red wiggler will prefer specific food, which we will discuss later.

Quick Tip: Reduce the size of the food as it will increase the surface area for worms to feed on. 

Step 3: Cover the Bin

After adding worms and their food, cover them with bedding material. This will give them a comfortable environment, and they can move freely.

And your worm compost is ready! Make sure to add your worms’ favorite food so they can never leave your bin. After all, hungry worms are angry worms. And angry worms won’t take much time to escape. But what should you feed the worms?

What to Feed Red Worms

Red worms enjoy a variety of food but also hate certain things. So let’s dig in and find out what to feed them!

Compost Dryer Lint via Worm Bins

What You Can Feed:

  • Vegetables (Note: Except onion and garlic)
  • Fruit (Note: Except citrus)
  • Food containing starch like bread, rice, potato, etc. (Tip: Start with small amounts and gradually increase)
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds
  • Newspaper or shredded paper
  • Tea bags
  • Hair (Chopped human and pet hair)
  • Peat moss
  • Corrugated cardboard
  • Old leaves

What You Can’t Feed:

  • Meat
  • Oils
  • Acidic food
  • Pet waste
  • Chemicals
  • Dairy products

Therefore, you know what your worms will eat and what they won’t. So, naturally, feeding them the right food will make them function better. But food is not all that would help them stay well in your compost.

Ideal Conditions for Red Worms in Compost

A red wiggler composting worm is accommodating and can adjust to various states. However, if you want your wigglers to thrive, you should know the perfect conditions for them.

Preparing Bedding for Composting Worms

Temperature

The ideal temperature for red worms in composting should be 55℉-77℉. Temperatures above 80℉ can kill the worms, and temperatures below 50℉ can retard the worm activity.

Note: When the compost pile is hot, red worms move to the edges and gradually move to other parts of the compost as it cools down.

pH

Red worms are pretty neutral; hence they prefer a pH of 7. However, they can tolerate a wide range of pH from 4.2 to 8.

Tip: You can add limestone or pulverized eggshells to your compost to correct acidity.

Moisture

Compost worms love moisture. They breathe through their skin, which is why they are fond of a moist environment. They thrive in compost with a moisture content of 80%-90%.

Note: Do not overwater the compost. Worms will escape if the compost is too wet.

Aeration

Overwatering can block the pores, blocking the oxygen flow in the compost. Therefore, ensure aeration in the compost pile by giving it an occasional turning.

Maintain these conditions, and your red worms will dance in your compost with happiness.

Well, all of this tells how red worms are an excellent addition to your compost and how you should keep them. But are there any downsides to adding them to your compost pile?

Drawbacks of Adding Red Worms to Compost

Nothing in this world is perfect, and shockingly, so aren’t the red worms! Adding red worms to compost might pose some problems. Let’s shed some light on the disadvantages of adding them to your compost for a better understanding!

Composting Worms in Dark Location
  • High Maintenance: Worms require attention, and keeping them unattended can lead to their death. Although they can tolerate a wide range of conditions, they can escape very quickly as soon as the situations become extreme.
  • Odor Problem: If there is no proper aeration in the compost, your brandling worm compost might produce foul odors. Even adding excessive amounts of wet food might trigger a bad smell.

But if you manage these issues, nothing can stop you from making those wigglers blossom in your pile!

So, now you know the perfect way to keep the perfect worms. But you won’t keep them in your compost pile forever. So, how will you separate the composting worms from your compost? We’ve got you covered for that too!

How to Separate Red Worms from Compost?

Separating Red Worms from Compost

Separating red wigglers from compost is not a difficult task to do. You can compost them by two methods.

Method 1: Adding Fresh Food

You can push your compost to one side of the bin and add new food material to the other side. Once you do this, stop adding food to the existing compost pile.

Eventually, a red wiggler worm will start moving towards the fresh bedding, and all will leave your compost alone within 2-3 weeks. Then, you can take that compost out and use it.

Method 2: Putting the Compost in Light

Put all the compost on paper or a plastic sheet. Make cone-shaped piles of the compost and place them under the sun or light. Red worms are photophobic and will move towards the base to avoid the light.

Next, collect the upper layer of the compost, which will not contain the worms. Similarly, make cone-shaped piles again and repeat. Eventually, all the worms will be collected at the bottom. And you can have your compost all ready for your plants!

Note: You can manually take the red worms out of the compost if there are any left.

Tips for Adding Red Worms to Compost

Follow these additional tips for reaping the maximum benefit of red worm composting.

  • Add peat moss as food for red worms as it has excellent moisture holding capacity.
  • Feed your worms less initially and gradually increase the amount of food. 
  • Cut the food into smaller pieces before adding them to the compost as worms have no teeth, and reducing the size will help speed up the process.
  • Add pre-digesters like bacteria, fungi, molds, etc., to accelerate the process.
  • Keep the compost away from light, or place a red light above the compost as worms work fine under red light.
  • Add woodchips as mulch for feeding the composting worms.

So that’s all! Knowing about the right conditions for caring for red worms will make them happy. And that means happy worms will make a happy compost that makes happy plants, making you happy!

Let’s spread happiness by introducing red worms to your compost!

Why are red worms escaping from my compost bin?

If your red worms are trying to escape from your compost, either the compost is too wet, or you are overfeeding your worms. Poor ventilation is also one of the reasons why worms escape the bin.

Is red worm and earthworm the same?

Red worms can be called earthworms, but the two are slightly different in terms of temperature and nutritional requirements. For example, earthworms can’t tolerate high temperatures, while red worms can. And earthworms take nutrients from the garden soil, while red worms break down organic matter.

Can I add red worms to my composting tumbler?

It is not recommended to add red worms to the composting tumbler as compost in tumblers has a very high temperature, which is unsuitable for worms. Turning the tumbler also disturbs the worms greatly.

How can I use the worm compost for plants?

You can add the compost to the soil directly, or you can add it as mulch. You can also make worm tea or use it as a seed starting material.

Can we add dairy products to the worm bin?

No, it is not suggested to add dairy products to the worm bin as worms can’t digest food high in fats.

So what are you waiting for? Have those red worms in your compost and let them wiggle all the way through! Just make sure to add those worms to your large compost pile by fall, as they might not like winters. But if you’re looking for ways to compost in winter, don’t worry! Check out our blow-by-blow guide and enjoy!

  1. Using Redworms for Indoor Composting – Brooklyn Botanic Garden
  2. How to Create and Maintain an Indoor Worm Composting Bin – the United States Environmental Protection Agency
  3. Research Findings on Worm Compost’s Impact on Plant Disease – Cornell University