Vermiculture is the practice of cultivating red worms for composting. They eat organic material to produce residues which are a great fertilizer. These worms are also 70% protein, so they can be used to feed animals such as chickens, reptiles or pigs. Fishermen also buy or reproduce them since they can be used as bait. Thankfully, it is quite easy and fast to reproduce red worms!
Red worms are known by many names including Californian red worms, tiger worms, brandling worms and red wrigglers. Their scientific name is Eisenia Fetida. Most people who start to reproduce red worms buy some from a reliable supplier. If you treat them right, you will soon have plenty. They multiply fast, so you could give some to friends and family or even sell them. Normally their populations double every three to six months.
How to Reproduce Red Worms
Californian red worms are quite bizarre creatures since they are incomplete hermaphrodites. This means they are both male and female, but two are needed to reproduce Californian red worms. When they mature, they develop a swollen band (called clitellum) near their head that stores both the eggs and sperm. When Californian red worms reproduce they join at the clitellum and exchange seminal fluid for three hours. A mucus ring forms around each worm, which hardens when they separate. Each worm will back out of their respective rings over a period of 7-10 days.
Each worm will produce a cocoon, which takes between 12 to 23 days to incubate depending on the conditions of their home. Each cocoon contains 2 to 21 worms which will reproduce after three months of birth, when they reach sexual maturity.
Considering they can live for 10 years (normal life span is 4-5 years) and they can mate as frequent as every seven days; they can reproduce a lot! Under normal conditions, each worm will produce about 1,500 worms per year.
If you want to reproduce red worms there are three main factors to consider: abundance of food available, creating an area with suitable mates and survival, and environmental conditions which can be threatening.
Red Worm Life Stages
To reproduce red worms you must understand the different stages in their life, which are divided in four:
Cocoon or Egg Stage
Red worm cocoons start yellow in color, shaped like a lemon and smaller than a grain of rice. Through the incubation period they will change color to a deep red, as the embryonic red wiggler (maroon in color) develops inside. Eggs will hatch in a temperature ranging between 65-85 F (18-29 C). This process can take between 30-75 days.
Juvenile red worms are as thick as about four human hairs and less than 1/2 inch long. They start eating organic waste since they are born. Place them in composting bins or directly on your garden soil to enhance it.
This stage ranges from a juvenile red worm to an adult. In just 40-60 days they will develop the genital markings called clitellum. When this can be seen – it turns orange in color – you are ready to reproduce red worms.
Two worms are needed to reproduce red worms since they are hermaphrodites, as previously explained. They become sexually active as the weather warms, they won’t reproduce if it is too cold. These types of worms mate by joining their clitellum together and exchanging sperm. Heads will be in opposite directions. After copulation they will separate and secrete eggs or cocoons from their clitellum. Then they will back out and fertilization takes place.
Ideal Conditions for Composting Red Worms
To successfully reproduce red worms they need to have ideal conditions. It is important to learn what to feed composting worms, what temperature and humidity they like, level of moisture, aeration, among other components. Red worms hate hot weather, dry areas, environments with too much light, saline medium and acidic soil or food.
The ideal temperature to reproduce red worms is between 66-68 F (19-20 C), bu they can tolerate temperatures between 55-77 F (12-25 C). Temperate or eternal spring climates are ideal for them. However, they can be raised in places with temperature ranges between 32-104 F (0-40 C) under less than ideal conditions. In the wild they can move through the soil searching for temperatures that suit them. If you keep them in a bin, they must be in the shade and out of the heat which will kill them. Worms slow down their metabolism and hibernate during cold weather.
Unlike other species of worms, such as night crawlers, red worms like close and highly populated conditions. They don’t burrow, so you will never see them going deep underground. For this reason you can put them in different forms of infrastructure that range from beds, boxes to recycled plastic containers. Space needed depends on how many worms you have, but since they reproduce so much, it is best to get a larger area. 16 inches (40 centimeters) is a good height and 1 meter (3.2 feet) wide and 2-3 meters (6.5-9.8 feet) in length is recommended.
It is best not to reproduce red worms on the ground, either construct a raised home or put cement, plastic or a mat to isolate your worms from the soil. This way they won’t get attacked by leeches, ants or flat worms. Building their home with a small slope or doing holes is also necessary so the water does not stay puddled. Also, keep your red worms under a roof and close it off with fabric or mesh so birds, rodents and other predators cannot eat them.
To reproduce red worms they need to have the right amount of moisture. Their bodies are mostly made of water, so make sure to keep their bin moist but not too wet. Too much water can kill your red worms since they take in oxygen through their skins. Red worms will drown if their bodies are submerged. Under natural conditions, when it rains, red worms tend to come up to the earth’s surface.
Californian red worms consume a daily ration that matches their own weight or at least half of it. These worms are self sufficient from the moment of birth. They can’t eat all your food scraps, since anything that is acid will harm red worms. Read my article on what to feed composting worms to have a better understanding of what they can and can’t eat.