red wigglers feeding on composting, best worm for composting, best worms for vermicomposting

Red Wigglers, Indian Blues, & Nightcrawlers - What are the Best Worms for Composting?

Composting with earthworms is a great way to recycle food scraps, yard debris, manure, and other organic matter, but what is the best type of worm to use for composting and vermicomposting?

For home composting, most people use Red Wigglers, Indian Blues, or Nightcrawlers. Having raised millions of all 3 worm composting species, we believe the Indian Blues and Red Wigglers are the best worms for composting and vermicomposting. Both species work well in indoor and outdoor environments, and both are easier to manage and are less finicky than their nightcrawler cousin. 

Red Wigglers and Indian Blues are very similar, and although the Red Wiggler is slightly more adaptable to certain conditions, this is more than offset by the Blue worm’s ability to compost more waste and breed faster (which leads to more worms in your compost bin, more waste processed, and more worm castings for your home and garden!).

Best Worms for Vermicomposting - Characteristics of Red Wigglers, Indian Blues, and Nightcrawlers

Before making a decision on the best type of worm to use for vermicomposting, it’s important to know more about how each species operates. 

Red wigglers and Indian Blues are epigeic worms, meaning they live, breed and eat within 2-3 inches of the soil surface. Nightcrawlers, by contrast, are anecic worms, meaning they burrow horizontally and live much deeper in the soil. 

The tendency of Red Wigglers and Indian Blues to live in or around the surface is 1 reason why they are the best worms for vermicomposting. Most indoor and outdoor worm bins are set-up so that food is placed on the surface of the bin (where Red Wigglers and Indian Blues naturally live and breed). Nightcrawlers, on the other hand, prefer deeper areas to burrow where they eat and breed.

Best Worms for Composting - Types

Let’s do a deeper review of the 3 main options in the best worms for composting category. 

Indian Blue Worms

Indian Blues (Perionyx Excavatus) are a great compost worm - they are more active than Red Wigglers and generally process more waste and breed faster than their redworm cousin. They are comfortable in temperature ranges of around 40-90 degrees Fahrenheit.

It is often hard to tell the difference between a blue worm and a Red Wiggler. Blue worms tend to be skinnier and slightly longer than Red Wigglers, and they move in a faster, more jerky motion.

Blue worms sometimes get a bad rap in the vermicomposting space as they can be more finicky (e.g., leave the bin) than Red Wigglers. However, in our experience, issues with blue worms are almost always related to bin conditions. 

If conditions (pH, moisture, and feedstock) are good, blue worms will not leave the bin any more frequently than Red Wigglers. If conditions are not great, blue worms might leave the bin in search of better conditions (Red Wigglers will do this as well if bin conditions are not conducive to their long-term survival).

As mentioned earlier, we think any issues with Blue worms are more than offset by their active disposition and ability to breed well and process waste.

Red Wigglers

Red wigglers (Eisenia Foetida) are the most common type of compost worm in North America. They can process organic matter quickly, they breed well, and they can live and thrive in a variety of conditions. 

Red Wigglers are similar in size to Blue Worms - they are on average slightly shorter than blue worms but thicker in diameter. Red Wigglers also have more pronounced, raised clitellums (the egg ring around their neck) after mating.

Nightcrawlers (European and African)

Nightcrawlers (Lumbricus terrestris) are larger earthworms that are great at processing waste but are more sensitive to temperature and soil pH than Red Wigglers and Indian Blues.

As mentioned above, nightcrawlers burrow horizontally and live and breed deeper in the soil than other compost worm species. For this reason, nightcrawlers are more suited for vermicomposting in a compost pile or windrow than a more shallow bin.

Here’s a quick summary of the 3 best worms for composting and their characteristics:

Worm

Size

Key Traits and Notes

Red Wiggler

2-4 inches (L)

⅛ inch (D)

  • Suitable for all types of indoor or outdoor vermicomposting - worm bins, outdoor composting, and windrows.
  • Tight banding pattern from tail to head
  • May have a yellowish tip on tail
  • Distinctive, raised clitellum
  • Can handle a temperature range of 40-95 degrees F
  • Moves in a slower, more methodical manner than  Indian Blue

Indian Blue

3-5 inches (L)

1/12 in (D)

  • Suitable for all types of indoor or outdoor vermicomposting - worm bins, outdoor composting, and windrows.
  • Not blue, but can have a bluish sheen in the right light
  • Clitellum is flush with body
  • Suitable temperature range of 45-90 degrees F
  • Moves in a jerky, fast manner and can jump around when exposed to light

European Nightcrawler

3-8 inches (L)

¼ in (D)

  • Suitable for outdoor vermicomposting (compost piles or windrows)
  • Dark pinkish, red in color, can grow to be twice the size of red wigglers
  • Prefer temperature range of 50-80 degrees F

 

Best Worms for Composting - Frequently Asked Questions

#

FAQ

Answer

1

Can red wigglers, indian blues, and nightcrawlers live together in a worm bin?

Yes! All 3 species can co-exist happily in a worm bin or vermicompost pile

2

How many compost worms should I use in my vermicompost bin?

As a general rule, 1 lb of worms per square feet of bin or pile space is a good benchmark. However, we don’t recommend starting with that amount until you have the hang of things.


For an indoor worm bin with 2-3 square feet of bin space, we recommend starting with 1 pound of worms. For outdoor bins or piles, we recommend starting with 1-2 lbs. In both cases the worms should breed and expand their population over time.

3

How much food will compost worms eat per day?

A good rule of thumb for feeding amounts is ⅓ the weight of your worm population every few days. So if you start with 1 lb of worms, 5-6 ounces of food every 2-3 days should work great.


That said, worm farming is part art  - we recommend monitoring the worm’s eating and adjust accordingly. If the worms are finishing the food in 24 hours then increase the amount per feeding. If it is taking 4-5 days for the worms to finish the food, then feed a little less in subsequent feedings.

4

Where can I purchase compost worms online?

Compost worms can be purchased online, or in some cases at garden centers or grow shops in your area. At Brothers Worm Farm we sell a live compost worm mix of Indian Blues and Red Wigglers.

 

Thanks for reading! If you have questions about this "Best Worms for Composting" blog post, or vermicomposting in general, comment below or feel free to send us an email at highfive@brotherswormfarm.com. Happy farming!!

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