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Microbes – Their Role in Vermiculture

The relationship between earthworms (including  the various composting worms) and the aerobic microbes or bacteria that accompany them is one of nature’s most perfect examples of symbiosis. The worms have millions of beneficial bacteria associated with them, both externally, on their skin, in the mucus secretions that keep them moist and also swarming internally inside their gut. These microbes, are essential for the processing of the worms’ raw  “food”  material  into a form that the worms can actually ingest into their bodies.

Worms have no teeth, bills or jaws, nor a true stomach and rely solely on the bacteria swarming around them to actually break down the foodstuff that we put in our bins. Prior to ingestion by the worms, the  foodstuff is deconstituted and  altered considerably by the microbes, such that it can be sucked up by the worms as a slimy paste-like substance. It goes directly into their gizzard and passed onward through the worms’ very rudimentary digestive tract, together with  masses of the bacteria, swarming within the slime.

Inside the worm’s gut the breakdown process continues and the worms’ digestive tract, provides a perfect environment for the ingested bacteria, who multiply further and continue to convert  the complex cell structure of the original foodstuff into its basic elements and compounds, altering it into a simpler form that can be used directly by both the worms and the bacteria for nourishment. These simple elements and compounds provide the basic building blocks to  sustain both worms and bacteria and are reconstituted according to the messages carried by the DNA to build up the complex cell structures that create the living physiology of both worm and bacterium. A true win / win situation for both organisms.

Large numbers of these bacteria are released back into the worm bin, together with the waste products in the faeces or castings – our vermicompost. The microbes will have multiplied in the ideal environment of the worm’s gut and now, greatly increased in numbers, are once again ready to attack new food sources and start the process all over.

Of great importance, these waste products, or vermicompost, excreted by the worms have been thoroughly processed by the microbes and are now in the form of simple elements and compounds, that are readily taken up by our garden plants, providing a highly nutritious food for them. Moreover any dangerous toxins and infected material would have been simultaneously neutralised by the bacteria within the worms gut, as complex forms of pathogenic material are also broken down into simpler, more basic (harmless) components by the microbes. In the soil the process continues and worm compost, with its load of beneficial bacteria will also tend to improve the health of soil around the roots of  plants by removing  pathogens. This is the beauty of using worms and their huge army of tiny microscopic helpers, for your composting.

Worm Forum

I’m beginning to think that a Working Worms Forum  would be of more use than the current blog – which is a bit one sided – Is there any interest?



From: Adrian Glanvill 
Sent: 08 September 2009 01:21 PM
Subject: Where and How?
Importance: High


Could you please direct me to an Inexpensive source of Eisenia fetida (SP??).
I have contacted a number of work farm suppliers, but the prices they quote are prohibitive I feel.
I can dig worms out of my garden of course, but these are “deep burrowers” mostly, and though I do want to breed them as part of a Land restoration Project, I also need to produce vermicompost.
Adrian Glanvill


 The one source I had for cheaper worms is out of the market – all the rest seem to charge about the same – around R150 per thousand (about 250gm). I’ll put a post on our blog site – asking for assistance, maybe someone will contact you. See Don’t waste your time with earthworms – good for the garden / no good for worm farming..


Hi Adrian, 




From: Adrian Glanvill
Sent: 08 September 2009 03:17 PM
To: steve
Subject: Re: Where and How?


Thanks, I have in the interim found someone who charges R25.00 per hundred.  They are in the Cape, but this is not an insurmountable problem.
I actually need both.  Eisenia for worm farming, but also the other (Lumbricoid) types. These can be used to revive worked out soil.  Common sense tells me to harvest these from the local environment (if any can be found) since they are likely to be better adapted to vegetation and soil types.
I am seeking to help a self-development project that wants to improve food production for school feeding schemes.





—–Original Message—–
From: Adrian Glanvill
Sent: 12 September 2009 04:18 PM
To: steve
Subject: Re: Where and How?

Ah, now there is an immediate problem.
Tyres are not a good idea for the garden, they contain cadmium and some other toxic stuff that pollutes the soil.  At one stage tyres were used for growing potatoes in a stacking bed, but this is now discouraged because of the toxicity of the soil and hence the potatoes. 
No body in the world really knows what to do with tyres- they are not permitted in landfill sites anywhere, according to my son who is a consulting geologist – one of his services is advising on land reclamation and the rehab of open cast pits.  Using them for worm farms is thus out.  I know that it is done, but I will not recommend that it is done.

It would be better to use cardboard boxes coated with paraffin wax.  Ultimately they will compost and need to be replaced, but they are at least bio-degradable.  The wax itself is metabolised by bacteria (slowly) but is not a toxic pollutant.

One could also stack bricks, or make frames out of untreated wood (my favourite) and polypropylene/polyethylene shade cloth, or biddum.  What we will do is see what is available for recycling without pollution at each site, and adapt our practices to suit.


 Hi Adrian

Thanks for that valuable information  – I’d never heard that. I’ll post it on the blog and will need to update the website.



—–Original Message—–
From: Steve
Sent: 12 September 2009 01:12 AM
To: ‘Adrian Glanvill’
Subject: RE: Where and How?

Hi Adrian,


Regarding your self-development programme – have you thought of stacked tyre worm farms – see seen the article we wrote at and the section of working worms



DIY Worm Farm

Hi Again,


You start them going in bin 2 (middle) with about 2 to 3 inches of bedding – coconut coir or similar is best, but any natural fibrous material is ok – a lot of folks just use crumbled cardboard (the coarse corrugated kind). Keep on putting  fresh bedding over the food scraps. Don’t bother about the top bin until you have lot of castings (vermicompost) mixed up with the bedding in the middle bin. You only need to start the top bin going at the point that your middle bin has reached capacity and the covering bedding is touching the underside of the top bin – you now want to separate out the worms and recover your vermicompost. At that point set up the top bin exactly as before – stop feeding below, allow them a few days to clean up most of the remaining food/ bedding  and after a few days start feeding above. After a few weeks most of them will have moved up and you can take out the middle bin – sort out your castings and put that bin at the top and so on.





—–Original Message—–
From: Irenicus Ghost
Sent: 14 August 2009 06:35 PM
Subject: Another vermiculture question


I was curious if there was any specific amount of bedding that should be added to bin #1 (top) and 2 (middle).

Hi There


No – you can vary the height to whatever seems appropriate – depending on the taper of the bins you might want to start with shorter packers at first. You are right about the aeration – folks use a blunt metal fork to turn the bedding – or just use their fingers.




Visit my website at





—–Original Message—–
From: Irenicus Ghost
Sent: 14 August 2009 05:06 PM
Subject: Question about worm composting


Hello, I was reading your articles about vermiculture which I have to say is really well written. I recent bought 3 storage totes from Wally world and marked out the drill points as you specified but now I am curious as to if the stacker’s have to be precisely 8 inches tall? (Mason Jar’s with aluminum lids on)

Also, I was wondering about the bedding do I have to turn it every so often to aerate it?

Thanks for your time.

Black Soldier Fly (or Not?)



Thanks for the reference – excellent website –  but I think you might have missed something – they usually start off light coloured and get darker as they approach the change into pupae. You say they seem to have expired – I wonder if they are not just pupating and will turn into flies soon.



From: Tony Fister
Sent: 17 August 2009 12:47 AM
To: steve
Subject: Re: Seeking advice



Absolutely fine to post on your blog.

I had seen the page you referenced.   I’m just having difficulty identifying them.  🙂 Based on this link…

… it looks like it may not be the BSF. It appears that the small BSF

larvae is very dark in color.


In any event, the larvae have been climbed up the sides of the walls of

the bin and have turned from a bright white color to a light brown color

and it appears that they have pretty much expired.


I guess I’ll find out over the course of the next few days or weeks if

whatever is in there has affected the habitat of the red-wigglers.






Steve wrote:

> Hi Robert

My guess is that you most likely have Black Soldier Fly – DON’T PANIC  – these are actually good guys – see attached extract below from our  Website – “Handling Vermiculture Pests and Other Problems” –

However it could also be housefly larvae or blow flies – not so nice –  but flyscreen cloth and a few fly tapes will sort this out – no meat or fat in bins – stick to vegetable matter.

I’d like to post this on our blog –  –  ok with you?

Good luck.

 *Black Soldier Fly*

 Latin Name: /Hermetia illucens/. It is a moot point as to whether this

> fly should actually be called a pest. It is a tropical fly, originally

> from the Americas, that has now spread around the world. The larvae of

> the fly are a type of small maggots, that feed exclusively on

> putrescent material. They are often found in worm farm bins, but

> although unsightly are not a real threat to the worms, as they do not

> attack them and may in fact complement the compost worm’s activities,

> rather than compete with them for food. Like the vermiculture worms

> their faeces make excellent compost and the maggots are also useful 

> as a high protein fish or poultry feed and may be used either live or

> dried, as a processed meal. They may also be used by the less

> squeamish for fish bait. They can best be kept out of the worm farm

> bins, by not using meat and fatty waste and by keeping the moisture on

> the dry side, and making sure that there is a good cover of  bedding

> material over the feeding area.

> These remarkable creatures, unlike the common housefly, do not spread

> bacteria or disease – in fact the larvae ingest potentially pathogenic

> material and disease-causing organisms and thus render them harmless.

> Moreover black soldier flies exude an odour, which positively

> discourages houseflies and certain other flying pests. When the larvae

> reach maturity they  leave the feeding area  to pupate, preferably  in

> a shady bush or tree. After turning into an adult fly, the female

> lives a further 5-8 days and produces almost 1000 eggs. The adult fly

> is nocturnal and characterised by very fast and rather clumsy flight.

> It has no mouth and cannot bite or sting.> There is a growing interest in using Black Soldier Fly for commercial processing of sewage and agricultural waste. Some hobbyists have been > experimenting with the Black Soldier Fly, as an alternative to vermiculture, for for private composting/ waste disposal. For the same size of container it is said that a well stocked colony of Black Soldier Fly would be able to process waste material very much faster

> than a comparable sized worm farm.

> —–Original Message—–

> From: Tony Fister 

> Sent: 16 August 2009 03:46 PM

> To:

> Subject: Seeking advice

I have a newly established bin (2 weeks old) and it has been running fine – no smells, no flies hovering over the container, the worms were doing their jobs. Three days ago I fed the worms, careful to add the food to the bottom of one side of the pile. I added some additional  shredded newspaper bedding on top of that. Last night I checked the bin to see if they had jumped on the new food (I’m trying be careful not to over feed) and I noticed the presence of a  bunch of white larvae about 1/8″ to 1/4″ in length. They were the only thing consuming the new food and the red wigglers had remained buried  deep in the older section of the pile. What I was hoping to learn is this.


> A.  What the larvae might be (probably any one of a hundred things I’m sure)

> B.  What threat, if any does the larvae pose to the red wigglers? Will  they harm the wigglers or is they just competition for the food?

> C.  Is there anything I need to do to get rid of the infestation or will  it resolve itself?

> D.  How to prevent future infestation.  It sounds like a piece of  plastic over the bedding might help

 Note, my worm bin is for my own personal home project. This is not a medium or large scale worm “farm”. I have a bin consisting of 2  Rubbermaid containers, one (with holes for ventilation and drainage inside another (no holes).


 Many thanks,


> Robert






—–Original Message—–
From: David Wong 

Sent: 01 August 2009 07:14 PM
Subject: Worm Compost



Dear Sir/Madam,


We are a trading company based in Hong Kong. We are interested in your vermicompost (worm compost) product.


We will be looking to buy in bulk and so please provide us with your best possible prices. The minimum order will be at least 1 metric tonne. If this works out well, we’ll be looking to buy regularly thereafter.


Please provide us with your best ex-works price. Our local agent will arrange the transportation from your factory/retail outlet. We only need the ex-works price.


David Wong,
M/s Wong Trading Company.



I’m very excited about our new vermiculture dictionary  “WORM TERMS” at web address –  it calls itself  a hybrid of a vermi-dictionary, a glossary and a mini worm encyclopaedia. The plan is to make it a single point reference centre for vermiculture definitions and to expand it over time to encompass all those tricky vermiculture terms that you keep on stumbling across and were never quite sure of the exact meaning. If you want to help us why not send in your own definitions, additional facts or corrections posted as comments to this blog or email to

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