Ever wished to multiply the amount of your compost worms within a few weeks?
I had bought my first batch of red wigglers and quickly realised that they seemed so few compared to how many you want to employ in your compost.
My first wormery bin was doing quite nicely and I started to wonder how to breed worms fast and step up my game to produce more vermicompost.
What would it take to have more and more healthy worms breeding, growing and converting organic matter into nutrient rich vermicastings?
Read on to find out what you can achieve and what you need to take care of to provide more compost faster for better plant yields.
This post gives you all you need to know to give your red wigglers what they need to grow and breed as fast as possible.
You can jump ahead to the growing tips further down the article. But we recommend you read through the basics of how fast red wigglers can actually reproduce and their basic needs first because then the tips will make more sense and you can adjust everything to your situation, location and supplies.
How Fast Can Eisenia Fetida Really Reproduce?
Whatever conditions we create to speed up breeding of worms it’s well worth considering a few facts and checking in with reality. Composting worms are after all biological creatures and do need a certain time to hatch, grow and mature.
Commonly, a time span of 60 to 90 days is given for the life cycle of red wigglers, that is from cocoon to sexual maturity. The length of time varies due to changes in food availability, temperature and bedding conditions.
With all these possible variations and combinations it’s good to have a study where environmental conditions were kept constant over a longer period of time.
This lab study here did exactly that back in 1988. J.M. Venter and A.J. Reinecke, two scientists in South Africa observed several batches of 10 worms over 600 days and came to some interesting conclusions.
During this time Eisenia Fetida (red wiggler) were studied on cattle manure under favourable conditions of moisture, temperature and nutrition. They took data to get more information about the development, growth and reproduction of these worms.
The favourable conditions in the lab were
- Finely ground and sifted pure cattle manure without any straw and free of urine, aged for 30 days for nutrition. This is because there seems to be a link between food particle size and the rate of growth
- Distilled water was added to bring moisture levels to 75%
- Temperature was kept at 25 degrees Celsius
Under these constant conditions, the red worms reached sexual maturity after 60 days. Cocoon production took 4 days after mating. Incubation time (time between cocoon produced and hatching) was somewhere between 14 and 44 days, a mean was given for 23 days.
Let’s do the math.:
4 days cocoon production
+ 23 days incubation before hatching
+ 60 days to maturity
= 87 days TOTAL from new cocoon to sexual maturity
There is another lab study from Ohio with somewhat different results, notably the time it takes for worms to reach maturity:
5 days for mating and cocoon production
+ 18-26 days incubation
+ 21-30 days to maturity
= 44 – 61 days TOTAL from new cocoon to sexual maturity
Hmmm…both were done at 25 degrees Celsius because that seems to be the best temperature for growth.
The main takeaway here is that lab studies have confirmed that the life cycle of the red wiggler is somewhere between 44 and 87 days at 25 degrees Celsius.
How Quickly Can Red Worms Multiply?
The previous paragraph looked into how long it takes for a worm to produce another. Now let’s look at how many cocoons and hatchlings can come from one red wiggler worm.
Thanks to the longterm study by Venter and Reinecke above we know that worms can produce around 130 cocoons per year!
They also found that one Eisenia Fetida cocoon has 2.7 hatchlings on average when incubated at 25℃.
Quick math then shows 130 cocoons x 2.7 hatchlings = 351 new worms for just one worm in a year! Amazing or what?!
Add to this the new generations of hatchlings and you’ll appreciate just how fast things can develop.
Here is a cool worm population calculator simulator based on the studies mentioned above. It gives you an idea how things might pan out in your worm bin.
Please be reminded that these are numbers obtained in lab conditions. In reality, most vermicomposting are not geared up to provide optimum food, moisture and temperature.
More realistic values go with 60-90 days to double the amount of Eisenia fetida.
Creating the 5 Best Conditions for Red Wigglers
Now that we’ve seen what’s possible let’s have a look at how to provide the best conditions for a red wiggler population to reproduce fast.
Red wigglers thrive if the following 5 conditions are met in their environment
1 – Suitable Bedding to live in
2 – The right moisture levels
3 – Aeration (aerobic conditions)
4 – Comfortable temperature
5 – Food
The bedding is often described as a separate layer or area from the food. In reality, bedding material and food are often mixed up and food can have a double function as bedding.
Good bedding material is essential in helping worms to settle especially in the beginning.
Here are some suggestions of bedding materials most used for red wigglers:
- Shredded (or torn up) and soaked corrugated cardboard
- Aged horse manure
- Leaf mould compost
These beddings work well because they
- absorb moisture very well providing a moist environment, which should be between 70% – 90%
- break down slowly and therefore allow aerobic conditions
- are themselves food for the worms
Best Temperatures for Fast Breeding
Red wigglers can survive in temperatures between 0-35 degrees.
However, the optimum temperature for growth, cocoon production and hatching is a constant 25℃ according to this study.
Especially interesting is the influence of temperature on the time from cocoon to hatching and the number of hatchlings.
Red wigglers grow and develop fasted at a cozy 25℃. However, this is not the best temperature for the highest number of hatchlings per cocoon, in fact there are slightly less hatchlings emerging at 25℃.
The most hatchlings were counted at constant temperatures of 22 ℃ .
The authors concluded however, that overall 25℃ would be a better choice because more cocoons are produced at that temperature which makes up for slightly less wormlings coming out of each single cocoon.
Best Food for Maximum Growth
Composting worms feed on bacteria, microbes and fungi that break down organic matter.
The best food sources are therefore very moist mixes of rotting organic material. Ideally it would also have a small particle size, allowing more microbes and fungus to grow and break down the fresh food faster.
Good examples of great food sources for vermicomposting are:
- Banana flesh
- Pumpkin flesh
- Wet, aged manure from herbivores like horses, goats, sheep, cattle
- Coffee grounds and tea leaves
- Chicken mash
Aeration and Moisture
The trick to creating perfect conditions for red worms is to ensure high humidity of 70%-90% and still allow aeration to occur. If it’s too wet oxygen is being shut out and anaerobic (absence of oxygen) processes take over.
A sure sign of this is when everything goes very smelly.
A healthy vermicompost on the other hand smells earthy.
This explains also why manure of herbivores are such good environments for worms. The high percentage of bulk material creating enough air pockets to keep aerobic microbes alive.
Density of Worms
Provided all the conditions are met as described above there is only one more thing to consider. How many worms do you need so there are enough to actually meet each other to breed but not too many that they are preoccupied with competing for food?
The Manual of On-Farm Vermicomposting and Vermiculture by Glenn Munroe Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada solves this dilemma.
According to this source, 5 to 10 kg per square metre (1 to 2lbs/ square foot) works best for a high reproductive rate.
If the amount of worms per area is increased worms above 10 kg worms will produce more vermicompost but their reproduction rate goes down.
This means, to keep increasing the number of worms you will have to regularly move some into a new location. Otherwise, worms will self-regulate their population and produce less cocoons.
The following conditions provide the best environment for red wiggler to multiply at record rates:
✅ Constant temperature of 25℃
✅ Food: Rotting organic matter with small particle size
✅ High humidity of 70%-90%
✅ Aerobic conditions
✅ Bedding that holds moisture well and doesn’t break down too quickly
✅ Worm density 5 to 10 kg per square metre (1 to 2lbs/ square foot)
These are proven, ideal conditions for to breed worms fast by providing a habitat for worms to thrive and multiply quickly in. However, it is worth pointing out that red wigglers are the composting worms of choice due to their fairly high tolerance to varying conditions.
So do go out and experiment with the bedding and food materials that not only fulfil the criteria above but are also easiest to come by. After all, you will want to create a process you can sustain for a long period of time with as little fuss and energy possible.
Keep spreading the good soil!