I promised a post on Red Wigglers vs Earthworms in my Vermicomposting post and here it is! Vermicomposting is composting using worms and there is definitely a difference between red wigglers vs earthworms in vermicomposting.
When I lived in the midwest and heard “worm” the first thing that came to mind was the large earthworms that you find on the driveways and in the streets after a large rainstorm or the worms that you use in fishing. I never really gave red wigglers vs earthworms a though. When I began vermicomposting and gardening I learned that the types of worms you find after a rainstorm are usually dew worms or nightcrawlers. You can sometimes find red wiggler worms in bait shops (although those are usually nightcrawlers since nightcrawlers are larger and a larger size makes a better fishing worm). Here are the basic differences between red wigglers vs earthworms (and how knowing these differences can help you in both your garden and compost).
Red Wigglers vs Earthworms: Nightcrawlers
Earthworms are the same as nightcrawlers. These are the types of worms you find on your street and driveway after a rainstorm. There are a few theories as to why earthworms surface after a rainstorm. These include:
- Earthworms require oxygen and if their tunnel is filled with water they will have to come to the surface to get it. Earthworms “breathe” through their skin so their skin has to stay moist (which is why you can find dried out worms by the middle of the day).
- Since an earthworms skin has to stay moist a rainstorm gives them the unique opportunity to move quickly over land.
- Earthworms have an easier time mating at the surface (it is easier to find each other).
- Earthworms are very sensitive to poisons since they breathe through their skin. Rain could be washing pesticide into their tunnels so they have to leave to escape it.
The main difference between red wigglers vs earthworms is what they eat and live. An earthworm eats soil. It gets it's nutritional needs from the living things in the soil (fungi, protozoa, bacteria, etc). They leave “castings” behind that are great for your garden (yep, just a fancy way of saying worm poop). They also aerate the soil when they burrow into it. These types of earthworms can (and do) live deep in the soil.
Red Wigglers vs Earthworms: Compost Worms
Red wigglers are sometimes known as compost worms. A red wiggler worm is segmented just like a nightcrawler, but it is smaller (which is why you generally do not find it in a bait shop).
Remember, the main difference between red wigglers vs earthworms is in what they eat and how they live. More specifically:
- The nightcrawler/dew worm eats soil, a red wiggler eats decaying matter. Red wigglers like manure, vegetable matter, rotten fruit, etc. Red wiggler worms will actually eat your kitchen waste.
- Red wigglers also tend to live closer to the surface of the soil compared to nightcrawlers (in the top 6 inches or so) and can tolerate a more crowded environment and higher temperatures.
Vermicomposting is a great way to create fast, healthy compost for your garden. Head over to my post on vermicomposting to see how to compost using worms!
Red Wigglers vs Earthworms for your Garden
When talking about red wigglers vs earthworms for a garden, earthworms win. Since Earthworms eat soil (and the organisms living in the soil) they are great for your garden.
- The castings left behind are a great fertilizer.
- Earthworms aerate the soil while crawling through it.
- Earthworms can live deep in the ground so they can move to where there is moisture and the soil is the right temperature.
- Earthworms need cool soil. A compost gets very hot and will kill earthworms.
- Earthworms do not tolerate a crowded environment as well (and if you want them to eat your food waste then more worms is better).
Red wigglers are great for the garden because the compost they create is (and also the compost tea you can make). But, the worms themselves will not do well (or much good) in your garden soil.
Red Wigglers vs Earthworms for Vermicomposting
When talking about red wigglers vs earthworms, red wigglers win in the vermicomposting ring. Red wigglers make great worms for compost or vermicompost.
- Red wigglers eat organic matter so they will eat your kitchen scraps that you throw in the compost bin (earthworms will not)
- Red wigglers stay at the top of the soil so they will be fine in a shallow worm bin
- Red wigglers live in warm soils (compost can get pretty hot)
Earthworms are great for your garden, but they will die in a compost bin (from a lack of food and it will be too hot).
How Many Red Wigglers Should You Get?
The number of red wiggler worms (or compost worms) you need to vermicompost depends on the amount of food you want to compost. A red wiggler can eat half of it's weight in food each day. That means if you produce a half pound of food waste each day you need a pound of red wiggler worms (which will be 800-1000 worms). You can always start with a smaller amount and allow them to reproduce to the level that you require. If you notice food not being eaten quickly (within a day or two) then take it out and start giving them less or add more red wigglers!
- 1 pound of Red Wiggler Worms for every 1/2 pound of daily food waste you produce
You can usually purchase a pound of red wigglers for $20-$30 or two pounds for $35-$45.
You can purchase them online or at a local nursery or bait shop. I have purchased Red wiggler worms from Amazon a couple of times now and they come to the house ready to go. They are a little dehydrated (and therefore small) after shipping so make sure to get them into a moist worm bin quickly. They tend to plump up in a matter of days. Just make sure you get the red wiggler worms if you are going to use them for vermicomposting or earthworms if you are using them for your garden!