If you are working on your own compost pile, you’re probably doing so because there is hardly anything better for nourishing the plants in your garden and elsewhere on your property.
You also probably already know that your compost pile is actually a tiny ecosystem all its own, one that needs various organisms present in order for the material within to break down into that rich, useful compost you’re after.
Among those tiny creatures, one somewhat contentious category of creature is worms. Should you be adding worms to your compost bin?
You can add worms to your compost bin, but you don’t have to. Worms aren’t absolutely essential for the production of compost, and native worms will find their way into an open bin. Adding the right worms can speed up the process, however…
Worms inside a compost bin are one of those things that some people try to remove, but other people definitely want, to the point of adding or importing worms into their compost pile for the purpose.
Though you definitely don’t have to add them, you might consider it if you want to speed up the composting process and in any case you don’t need to worry about the presence of worms in your pile.
Keep reading, and this article will explain it all to you…
You Don’t Have to Add Worms to Get Compost
Here’s the bottom line: you don’t have to add worms to your compost bin.
Assuming the ingredients in your compost pile and other conditions like moisture, temperature, aeration and so forth are taken care of, the process of decomposition that results in rich compost will continue whether or not there is a single worm in the pile.
This is because bacteria and other microorganisms will be present in it from the beginning, and unless they are disrupted or killed off they will work to break down the organic matter that you added to the pile.
But, this is not to say that worms have no part to play in making compost.
Worms Can Help Your Compost Bin
Worms can, in fact, help your compost pile by eating certain kinds of decomposing matter and then depositing their own waste material into the pile which contributes to the richness of the finished product.
Additionally, the passage of the worms through the compost can help to aerate it, further enhancing decomposition and helping to manage heat, however slightly.
But that of course is just accounting for a single worm.
If you have a great many worms in your compost pile, their contributions can really add up in a significant way! In fact, worms can be so beneficial that some people actively leverage a large warm population in their compost through a process known as vermicomposting.
For summit gardening applications, vermicompost can be among the very best kinds to promote plant growth and quality, especially for vegetables!
You’ll Want the Right Kinds of Worms, Though
Now, it’s important to point out that not all worms are equal or even beneficial when it comes to their place in our compost pile.
When you hear the word “worm” you probably think of common, indigenous earthworms. But even among earthworms, there are many, many different kinds, each with their own unique biology, diet and environmental requirements.
Simply stated, very few will actually thrive or even live in our compost pile. Most will seek to leave the compost pile at the earliest opportunity and return to the earth or else may actually perish because the environment is actively harmful to them.
If you aren’t adding worms to your pile, you don’t need to worry about this at all for reasons we will discuss soon.
If you are adding worms to your compost pile, knowing which worms you should pick is essential for good results.
Red Wigglers Eat a Lot, and Multiply Quickly
If you want to add worms to your compost the very best around are red wigglers (Eisenia fetida).
To the uninitiated, they look just like common, chubby earthworms, but closer inspection reveals several distinctive traits like pale tail ends and distinctively ringed, segmented bodies.
And that’s the trick: these worms aren’t “true” earthworms at all.
They don’t live in the dirt; they live in rotting vegetation and other organic material, the same kinds of material we have in our compost bin!
These creepy crawlies can eat nearly their body weight in rotting material every single day, and produce an equivalent amount of waste material right back into the compost.
Considering how small they are, that doesn’t sound like much but remember what I said about multitudes of worms doing the same thing day in and day out, working on your pile.
But, chances are it is not going to be worth your while to track them down in the wild and relocate them to your compost bin.
It is possible to purchase live specimens from specialized garden stores or greenhouses where they are sometimes sold under the name of topsoil worms or manure worms, and you can always order them off of the internet.
Rest assured if you add these worms to your compost pile they will be right at home and do good work for it, assuming of course that the compost pile is in balance.
Common Nightcrawlers Won’t Stay Put
Now, let’s say you take a different approach, and head out to your local bait and tackle store and grab some common nightcrawlers (or you can dig them up yourself after a good rain).
Toss these beefy worms in your compost bin and job’s a good one, right?
Wrong. Nightcrawlers are true earthworms, meaning they live in the soil and surprisingly deep.
They aren’t like our red wigglers up there, and will not eat decomposing biomatter of the same kind or in the same quantities.
In fact, your average compost bin is going to be quite a hostile environment for them, including the substrate itself such as it is and also the average temperature which is much too hot for their continued survival.
As soon as you put a nightcrawler in your compost bin, they are going to work as hard as they can to get out of it, typically crawling straight down through it and into the earth below if you’re bin is on open ground or is partially open at the bottom for drainage or ventilation.
If they have the rotten luck of being in an enclosed or sealed bin, they will die.
In either case, nightcrawlers don’t really help our compost bin even for the short time they are there and they won’t stay in any case.
If Your Compost Pile is Open, Worms Will Find Their Way In
Now, after reading all of this you might be fretting over the notion of whether or not you should try to track down the right kind of worms for your compost bin, or if you should bother with it at all.
If you are uncertain, overworked, or otherwise happy with your composting process to date, I say don’t worry about it at all: know that worms, and the right kind of worms, will find their way into your compost bin on their own assuming they can actually get into it.
If your bin has slatted sides or if you aren’t using a bin at all and just composting on open ground, the right kind of worms will be making their way into it when the time is right and assuming you manage your pile properly they will likely reproduce quickly, further speeding along production of that wonderful compost we are working so hard to get.
So, in short, if you want to speed things up or are just an overachiever, yes, you can and should add the right kind of worms to your compost pile.
But, if you’re happy with your composting process, don’t feel obligated as adding them is not strictly required.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.