collecting worms from outside

nrgraham22(Z4 New England)April 8, 2005


I am sure this has been asked before, but finding the right search terms has escaped me, so I can't locate anything relevent using the search feature. I am starting a little bin (in an oxi-clean container) with worms I've collected from outside. How can I tell if I got the right ones, or at least some of the right ones? Here's what I did: I dug through some leaves that had been in the garden over the winter, and flipped over some boards that hadn't been moved over the winter. I got somewhere around 100 worms. What do you all think?

I've got a mix of compost, leaves and shredded newspaper for them to live in. Plus some kitchen scraps.



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squeeze(z8 BC)

perfect start - you found worms that naturally preffered the kind of environment you supplied them w/ - just don't let it get dry


    Bookmark   April 8, 2005 at 3:59PM
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carmellia(z 4 Minn)

When I began my bin, I was told that outdoor worms are deep feeders and the type recommended for bins are shallow feeders. I think you need to get the type of worm that wants to live in the shallow environment of a bin in order for the system to work. Red wigglers, striped tigers and Eisenfoetids (sp? are three types that I've heard of people using in bins. I believe mine are the striped tigers and the Eisenfoetids. Carmellia

    Bookmark   April 8, 2005 at 4:03PM
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Kelly_Slocum(sw WA state)

With apologies to those who have read this before, This may help, Nancy:

Earthworm Characterization

There are more than 4400 named species of earthworm on this planet, segregated by soil ecologists into three categories, largely descriptive of their habits and preferred soil zones. These three categories are endogeic, anecic and epigeic.

Endogeic worms are soil movers that build complex lateral burrow systems through all layers of the upper mineral soil. These worms rarely come to the surface, instead spending their lives in these burrow systems where they feed on decayed organic matter and bits of mineral soil. They are the only category of worm which actually eats SOIL and not strictly the organic component. Endogeic worms tend to be medium sized, pale-colored, and dependant on the consistent moisture level and temperature of the deep soil in order to thrive.

Anecic worms like the common nightcrawler Lumbricus terrestris build permanent, vertical burrows that extend from the soil surface down through the upper mineral soil layer, often reaching depths of six feet or more. These worm species coat their burrows with mucous which hardens to stabilize the walls, and will build little mounds of stone and castings outside the burrow opening, called middens, that marks the burrow as theirs. Anecic worms are able to recognize their own burrows, even in an environment where there are hundred of others present, and return to these burrows each day.

Anecic species feed in decaying surface litter, so they come to the soil surface regularly, which leaves them exposed to predators. They developed a spoon-shaped tale that bristles with little retractable hairs, called setae, with which to grip the burrow wall and avoid being easily pulled out. This flared tale shape is rarely found in the other species categories, making it a defining characteristic of anecic worms. Species in this category also tend to be very large and have pale ventral surfaces (bellies) and more darkly pigmented dorsal surfaces (backs). They have a long generation time, do not do well in high density culture and, similar to their endogeic cousins, require the stable environment of their deep burrows in order to thrive. In the absence of this burrow, anecic worms will neither breed nor grow.

The worms we use in vermicomposting systems, like Eisenia fetida, are in the epigeic category. In nature epigeic worms live in the top soil and duff layer on the soil surface as opposed to the deeper soil zones. These small, deeply pigmented worms have a poor burrowing ability, preferring instead an environment of loose organic litter or loose topsoil rich in organic matter. Epigeic species feed in organic surface debris and have adapted beautifully to the rapidly shifting, dynamic environment of the soil surface. It is worms from the epigeic category that are used in vermicomposting systems because we can easily duplicate their preferred environment in a bin or bed, because they are voracious processors of organic debris, because they do well in high density culture, and because their development as surface dwellers enables them to thrive in a wide range of environmental conditions and fluctuations.

Each soil environment on earth supports multiple worm species from each of the three categories. Different soil types, climate zones, and even plant types will impact which worm species dominate a given soil environment. Not all species can survive in all ecosystems, though the epigeic worm Eisenia fetida comes close. This ubiquitous worm is found on nearly every terrestrial land mass, though it is not always the dominant species, demonstrating a level of adaptability that supports its reputation as the premier worm for vermicomposting systems.

When a composting or vermicomposting system is in soil contact naturalized earthworms will be drawn to the system when and if it meets their environmental requirements. Even if the bin is stocked with one worm species, over time it will take on a varied population profile selected from the naturalized species present in the surrounding soils and their attraction to the bin environment. Local epigeic species will all live happily side by side in the bin, processing vast amounts of organic debris. The one best adapted to the particular bin environment and local climate will be the species that ultimately dominates the system, with others present at lower population levels. In most areas of the northern US the dominant epigeic worm tends to be E. fetida. Perionyx excavatus is sometimes the dominant epigeic species south of the Mason Dixon line, Amynthas hilgendorfi is often dominant in soils along the east coast, and Allalobophora caliginosa is the epigeic species most populous in Pacific Northwest soils.

Vermicomposting systems in soil contact, while dominated by resident epigeic worm species, can also play host to a surprising number of anecic worms. Piles of organic debris are rich sources of food to all earthworms that feed in decaying surface litter, and, while they typically do not take up residence in such environments, anecic worms will certainly take advantage of the available feast. Their presence should not be taken as an indication of their preference for this environment as a suitable home, however, but simply as their current choice for a good meal.

Earthworms are an incredibly varied and adaptable group of animals that are so common in our world that they often go unnoticed and unsung. We are far more dependant on them than we realize, and are fortunate that they are so eager and able to rise to the challenges we pose them!

Kelly S

    Bookmark   April 8, 2005 at 6:20PM
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Nice copying job from

Good info nonetheless. I also found this link useful:


    Bookmark   January 2, 2009 at 6:42AM
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I don't understand why you have come here 3 1/2 years after the fact to criticize Kelly for posting this information in more than one place.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2009 at 12:37PM
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C'mon Alex, it's not like she was trying to get published and it was good reading, well organized and educational. You on the other hand must have done quite a bit of research to correlate those sources to the info contained in her presentation. A little more detailed and scientific than Nancy was probably looking for, but good info nonetheless.

I probably would have said that you, Nancy are off to a good start, but if you have a lot of brown looking worms, they may not compost much. I started out that way a couple years ago with worms collected from around my outdoor compost bins and found that the worms were not happy in the bin environment. Eventually most of them escaped or died.


    Bookmark   January 2, 2009 at 12:43PM
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Has anyone noticed that Kelly was "copying" herself? I can remember when Kelly was one of the most knowledgeable posters on any of the vermicomposting boards. I can't find a board where she posts now. I miss her contributions to the vermicomposting community. No doubt she is still active somewhere.

BTW, if it matters after 3 1/2 years... If I were to go outside where I live and collect worms the way that Nancy did, I would wind up with a bin full of nightcrawlers who would not survive in a worm bin. I have never found any composting worms growing wild here, but I have found borrowing worms feeding in or near compost piles.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2009 at 1:06PM
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If Alex had been more observant, he would have seen that the article that Kelly "copied" was posted 9 months AFTER she posted the same information here.

It seems that the owner of was the one who did the copying. One can only assume that he had Kelly's permission to do so. He does, after all, give her credit for having written the article.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2009 at 2:51PM
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I'm sorry if I offended anybody. I literally had just finished reading the post at when I ran across the exact same words in this forum. I immediately assumed that Kelly had done the copying instead of checking the dates and taking on the authors at compost-bin!

Kelly, I should have known better, you are one of the most knowledgeable persons in this forum and always have a constructive answer for the question posed. In future I will check my facts before posting. Will you accept my apology?

    Bookmark   January 5, 2009 at 6:01AM
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