Eisenia fetida, commonly called red wiggler, is a great compost producer and soil engineer. They live most happily in mulchy, compost conditions, in the top 8-10 inches near the surface. As they need to stay moist to stay alive, their environment should be quite damp but not soaking wet.
What do they eat?
Red wigglers eat most kinds of food scraps, the smaller the better. They eat on top of their environment so food should be left on top.
Vegetables and fruit are their preferred scraps, not meat, starch, and no citrus or acidic fruits. (Feeding fruit can bring fruit flies). They like coffee grounds, corn meal, and do well on horse manure- this should be composted and never come from a recently dewormed horse.
There are other types of manure they will eat, such as cow, sheep and goat. These manures tend to get compacted, so they need to be mixed with bedding to keep the environment porous and aerated. They do well with carbon sources; leaves, shredded cardboard and paper.
All food sources should be fairly wet before given to the worms.
Feed lightly every 4-5 days is adequate in most cases. Overfeeding can be harmful if the food sits and decays turning acidic, while underfeeding is relatively safe. They will devour whatever you put in within a couple of days normally. If there is food remaining, remove it and feed less.
Generally, feed about two cups of food for every pound (1000 count) of worms.
What environment will help them thrive?
If you start a worm bin from scratch, leaves, cardboard, coconut coir or peat moss will provide “bedding”, the material they live in. Horse manure is a good source of bedding as well as food. (Peat moss, while cheap, is environmentally unfriendly).
The worms will survive between 30 and 80 degrees farenheit, but thrive in the 70’s.
They also like dark conditions, but can burrow under to avoid temporary light.
Worms may need to be lightly watered. They do not tolerate either fluoride or chlorine.
We in the Tucson city water system do not have fluoridated water but there is a harmful amount of chlorine. To use this safely, the water has to be poured and sit out for 24 hours before use, after which it’s safe for mixing food or watering. Other municipalities may add fluoride to their water, which has to be filtered before use.
If the worms are unhappy, they will start to escape their container. Outdoors, they may just disappear or die out. They are pretty hardy as long as they have: bedding, air, moist conditions, temperature within range, and clean water.
If you have more questions, please reach out below. We are happy to help!