The Importance of Microbes in Your Worm Farm

The Importance of Microbes in Your Worm Farm
By []Steve Coe

Earthworms of all kinds, including the various red compost worms used in vermiculture, rely on a symbiotic relationship with specialized micro-organisms (microbes or bacteria), to enable them to digest their food. This relationship is a beautiful example of a partnership that is of equal benefit for both life-forms (symbiosis). The worms carry millions of microscopic bacteria on their skin, in their gut, in the mucous secretions that keep their skin moist and especially in their faeces (tailings) which ultimately is the vermicompost.

Worms cannot masticate raw food as they have no teeth, but the activity of the microbes actually breaks down raw organic waste into a form that the worms can readily ingest into their digestive tract. The worms rely entirely on the bacteria swarming around them to actually break down the foodstuff that we put in our worm farms. Without them they would starve. The micro-organisms attack the “food material” and it is deconstituted and reduced into a slimy gruel that can be slurped up by the worms. The slimy paste that is ingested by the worms is teaming with bacteria, which are thus introduced directly into the worms gut.

Within the warm and secure environment of the worms’ digestive tract, the bacteria multiply tenfold and continue the process of deconstituting the ingested organic sludge – changing complex matter into its basic components – enzymes, compounds and trace elements. The resultant “soup” is highly nutritious to both the worms and to the microbes themselves and it provides the energy needed by both life-forms to grow and multiply. This is a perfect example of a natural synergy arising from active cooperation between species. The rewards are equally shared and are essential to both organisms.

Within the tailings or faeces of the worms, masses of bacteria are returned to the worm bin and are now ready to begin the process all over again. The tailing (also called worm casts or castings ) are actually the vermicompost sought by the worm farmer and are packed full of simple elements and compounds that are readily taken up by plants as a highly nutritious fertilizer.

Large numbers of these bacteria are released back into the worm bin, together with the waste products in the feces 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. Moreover there is an added benefit for the garden, in that pathogenic bacteria and toxic compounds that may originally have existed in the original waste material that was offered as “worm food”, will by now have been broken down into simpler forms and their threat to plant and human health, neutralized by the action of all the beneficial micro-organisms in the worms’ gut. Furthermore, when the fresh vermicompost is put into the soil to feed the plants, the “good” microbes continue the process in the immediate vicinity of the plant’s roots and actually “disinfect” the soil by attacking any pathogenic bacteria. Could you really ask for anything more?

It has been said that the activity of these bacteria are responsible for producing CO2, (carbon dioxide) a greenhouse gas, which will inevitably escape from the composting process and add to the problem of global warming. But consider what would be the alternative, if the organic wastes were simply put in a dumpster and allowed to putrify in the anaerobic conditions of a landfill. The putrification process in this instance would take place in the absence (or scarcity) of oxygen and the anaerobic bacteria that operate in these conditions would produce large quantities of methane – a far worse greenhouse gas than CO2. Besides all the methane given off, anaerobic putrification (unlike aerobic decomposition) is smelly and can produce very nasty toxins and pathogenetic bacteria, which pollute the soil and groundwater and pose a long lasting health threat. So trust your worms and their millions of microscopic helpers and stay green.

Worm farming will produce a richly nutritious organic plant food for your garden, whilst getting rid of kitchen scraps and other organic waste in a way that is entirely eco-friendly and convenient.

You can read all about these tiny hard-working organisms and a great deal more about the fun science of vermiculture at the highly informative website –

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1 Comment

  1. Brice Bryan

    and bacteria to convert various forms of agricultural and urban waste into usable fuels .

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