Lumbricus terrestris culturing methods

Mark

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Has anyone successfully cultured Lumbricus terrestris? If so could you provide some details:
  • what temperature were they kept at?
  • what size container did you use?
  • was it indoors or outdoors?
  • what did you feed them?
  • what was the rate of reproduction?
  • how many did you start the culture off with?
I get the impression these worms are almost impossible to breed indoors and breed very slowly. Any tips for a successful culture gratefully received!
 

Jennewt

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I am hoping someone will have some experience on this. I would also like to know if it's possible. One thing that I do know is that they need to be kept relatively cool. One hot day in a tub would kill them I think, so that might be a serious limitation.
 

pete

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Interesting timing. Not long ago, I threw out my red worm culture, because my salamander's didn't like them and it more or less had become an indoor compost bucket. So I read all of the negatives of Lumbricus terrestris culturing, and my first attempt to culture them failed (prior to the redworm culture). Feeling upbeat with my successful redworm culture, I figured I'd start up another culture and see how it goes. It's only a week old at the moment, so far the worms seem to be doing alright and looking strong. I have no idea how sustainable it will be yet. My apartment is a basement in Berkeley, CA and consistently cool (55 - 65 F), so I'm keeping them inside in a shaded corner. Right now, I have them in a large (guessing ~1 X 2 ft) rubbermaid tub. I started with 200 worms, and my impression is that the container could be larger. I also am keeping a piece of cardboard covering the soil. (This is just from childhood experience with them, I remember them liking to sit under things at the interface of the soil, and it seems to hold true for my current bunch.) I'm feeding them my vegatable scraps (They keep me eating healthily). As for reproductive rate...we'll see what happens. I'll let it go for a month or so before I start pulling worms for feeding, but I look forward to any other posts on the subject.
 

Ed

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The problem with L. terrestris cultures is the long time between hatching and reproduction (between 6 months (ideal conditions) to a year (more average conditions) (see abstract at http://www.springerlink.com/content/k44842571225p707/ )

There are reports in the literature of temperatures over 60 F causing death over a period of time with a rise above 75 F causing death fairly rapidly (

See references in Notes on the Effect of Heat in Lumbricus Terrestris L. Arnold V. Wolf
Ecology, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Apr., 1938), pp. 346-348

And you probably will want to locate copies of


Butt, K.R., Frederickson, J. & Morris, R.M (1994)
Effects of earthwork density on the growth and reproduction of Lumbricus terrestris L (Oligochaeta: lumbricidae) in culture
Pedobiologia 38 254-261


Butt, K.R., Frederickson, J. & Morris, R.M (1994)
The lifecycle of the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris L (Oligochaeta: lumbricidae) in culture
European Journal of Soil Biology 30


Butt, K.R., Frederickson, J. & Morris, R.M (1992)
The intensive production of Lumbricus terrestris L. for soil amelioration
Soil Biology and Biochemistry 24, 1321-1326

If you can get copies of these let me know as I would be interested in some of them.



Ed
 

Mark

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Thanks Ed, I shall try to dig some of those papers out. The challenge seems far harder than I first suspected. They have such a slow rate of output that it almost seems fruitless to attempt a culture. I have a small group indoors which I am packing with ice daily but I think it may be better to invest in a fridge (the wine cooler I’ve been meaning to buy for some time would do the trick).

Lumbricus terrestris is a popular bait worm which is being cultured on mass by somebody (unless someone collects them from the wild, which may be a possibility). It would be great to speak to a worm breeder to discover their method. I doubt it involves standard compost bins and ambient temperatures.

Pete, that’s an awful lot of worms! How large are they? The ones I have are 8 inches long. Good luck with the culture. We can compare notes.

I’ll let you know how I get on with the papers Ed.
 

pete

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Yeah, it's a bit of worms (ranging from 6-8 inches, I'd say). The reason my last failed was because the reproduction rate was too slow, so I figured I'd try increasing the numbers. We'll see how it goes.
 

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I wondered if there was any feedback on this thread over the last year. I've just started three cultures of Lumbricus terrestris as I found them thriving in a heap of two year old wood chippings (From a horse chestnut - gale damaged) which has to be moved.

I've merely put large undamaged worms in sealed tubs of the decaying wood compost and spread grass and leaves on top. I'll open them regularly and maintain a litter layer.

The literature suggests:
Adult worms are very long lived, (up to seven years) and should produce 20-30 offspring a year each, but the cocoons which only contain single eggs take 70-100 days to hatch, so if they are put in fresh medium expect no new worms for over 3 months. I suspect most people give up at a month or two!

Temperature wise below 10C they grow slowly, 15-17.5 is probably optimum, 20 is tolerated. 25 shortens life to months and 30C is rapidly fatal. I'm keeping the containers against a north wall and will move them into a cool cellar when frost threatens.

One abstract I read said 8 worms a litre was optimum density ( though optimum for what was not very clear). I've set up 12 worms in 2.5L, 12 worms in 5L and a yet to be determined number in 18 L.

I hope that 15-30 worms are enough to lay eggs for a steady supply of one mature worm a day after a startup period of about 9 months. I intend to leave the initial worms in the smaller tubs in peace for about 4 months then move them on to a fresh tub of compost and grow on the offspring separately.

I'll post feedback next year or sooner if disaster strikes. I have not sterilised the medium so I may end up with a colony other worms, woodlice or even ants!
 

eljorgo

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i have a lot of worms from my enclosure.. it´s outdoors, 60x30x30cm full of soil, bunny´s poo (fezes) temprature at 28C, some bananas often and its the secret! resulting in good A quality white worms in all range of sizes, very noutritous and in maximum health, you can do with out the poo but noting will be the same.. not so good worms, not so much worms...
 

oceanblue

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Thanks. I've just added shredded banana peel to the leaf litter layer.

In Madiera you are probably growing a more heat tolerant species. In practice i'm feeding a range of worms from the garden, but I want to culture this species rather then the more usual compost worms widely grown in the UK.
 

Mark

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It’s been over a year since I posted this and I’ve learned a few things since.
Lumbricus terrestris is a popular bait worm which is being cultured on mass by somebody (unless someone collects them from the wild, which may be a possibility). It would be great to speak to a worm breeder to discover their method. I doubt it involves standard compost bins and ambient temperatures.
If I remember correctly nearly all Lumbricus terrestris sold as bait in the UK is wild collected and imported from overseas - I think from Canada, where it is considered a pest.

Another thing I’ve learnt is that they definitely don’t breed indoors.

I keep a mixture of Dendrobaena and Lumbricus outdoors in my worm bin and whilst the Lumbricus lifestyle is not suited to compost bins it does seem to survive and breed in small numbers. I’m not sure how productive a 100% Lumbricus bin would be.

Shredding the compost matter is a great tip. The smaller the waste the quicker it breaks down and the more food there is for worms. Nothing goes in my bin without being chopped, shredded or crushed first. I think we need a worm bin thread because a decent worm bin can be the jewel in the crown of the serious newt keeper – I can’t believe I just typed that….:D
 

oceanblue

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Thanks for the update. Information on culturing worms of various sorts is a bit scattered. I tend to just dig the garden but have problems with droughts (not this year!) and frost.

The glut of food seemed too good to miss. Thanks for the info and tip on shredding.

I understand Lumbricus terrestris fails in compost bins because it digs permanent burrows and does not thrive with continual disturbance. I'm going to try minimising disturbance of the initial culture for now.

This thread of yours seemed the right spot for Lumbricus terrestris specific information but a compost bin thread seems a good idea.

Many keen gardeners are also into compost bins though "jewel in the crown" is definitely a sign of a serious obsession;).
 

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Just saw this thread, and wanted to update on my success. My first Canadian nightcrawler attempt failed. I started another one this spring. This culture seems to be going okay. I see some babies now, but they definitely reproduce slowly, and they aren't the best at composting. I built a wood box ~ 1 meter long X ~ 0.7 meter deep X ~ 0.5 meter tall. The box has holes drilled in the base for drainage and a screen covering the holes to prevent escape. This box sits on two cinderblocks, and drains into a jar in my kitchen. I started with a peat substrate about 10 cm deep and about 200 worms.

At first I added the vegetable scraps to the surface, and then layered with cardboard or newspaper. (dividing the surface into thirds, hoping to cycle through sides. Where I could add waste in one section, let them chew in another third, and dig for worms in the last third. This worked for awhile and the worms seemed robust. It turned out they couldn't keep up with my waste production. This resulted in overloaded food sections and a fruitfly explosion (thousands!)

At this point I sealed the box with a few cloth covered air holes for about 3 weeks. When I cautiously opened the box, I found my worms were doing quite well, although there was no food left. So I added some food, less than I ever did with my redworms. In my experience they do like the food to be on the surface, but you can cover it with a light (about 2 cm) layer of substrate. If you bury it too deep, it seems to get composted slower. Cutting up stuff more finely sounds like a great idea that I'm going to start to employ. The worms tend to hang out at the very base, so you really have to dig to find them. This is gets annoying as the substrate level increases.

As originally stated I live in a basement so it's generally quite cool. When I open the wood box the air inside feels cooler than my apartment. I don't know why this is, possibly evaporative, the moisture or something to do with the wood. I have yet to put a number on the temperature difference, and it could be my imagination.

Downsides would be:
-They clearly aren't the fastest reproducers, but I don't have a heavy worm requirement at the moment so it's working for me
-They can't keep up with my compost production. I more or less only add food weekly.
-The light burying of substrate makes fruit flies and other pests slightly more of a pain, but the tight-fitting easily sealable lid makes this manageable if a problem occurs.
-The worm farm is quite large and takes up a lot of space (But the box is well-made, covered with a table cloth and serves as a chair or sturdy surface when needed).
 

John

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I don't think peat based material is a good substrate - in my experience these worms do not tolerate acidic conditions very well.
 

oceanblue

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Pete- thanks for the update, it gives me hope all will go well. I may need drainage holes, at present I'm using totally sealed plastic containers. The worms have settled in and are taking down grass clippings so i'm leaving them alone for now.

John- I haven't checked the pH of my wood chipping substrate, I'll check it and consider adding a bit of ground limestone. I wonder if a compost bin thread or section in the help as opposed to the advanced section for other worms would be useful.
 

pete

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I don't think peat based material is a good substrate - in my experience these worms do not tolerate acidic conditions very well.
Yeah, this is true, but it's what I had, and I had pH'd it before. It wasn't very acidic, so I used it. Good point, though. A detail I overlooked.
 

pete

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Just an update: I have since moved and no longer am in my cool basement apt of 6 yrs. My current place seems to be about average about 5 degrees warmer over the past month. The condition of my canadian nightcrawlers has been noticeably deteriorating over the past 3 weeks. What were once slick vigorous muscular critters have become limp nodular dying worms. I think it won't be long before this culture is doomed to Global-Apartment Warming.

So sad, but I'm not unexpected. Oh well, life changes.... It was a fun experiment while it lasted. On a plus side I don't use my sweatshirts and blankets as much, and I foresee not being sick as often. I actually have heat in this place, too! :)
 

oceanblue

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Pete: Thanks for the update. I'll not be tempted to warm up my tubs which seem OK and have had minimal care (take the lid off and look every two or three days, top up surface grass clippings/leaves/shredded banana once).

I'll have a dig around next year to see what is happening but for now all seems well and an occasional worm is visible therough the plastic sides of the containers.

Enjoy the warmth of your new apartment. Lumbricus terrrestris is not a threatened species globally at the moment!
 
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