Any tricks to finding cuccoons and whether worms are eating?

JamesMarconnet(7)October 13, 2011

I've been small-scale worm-growing for just a month or so. So far I've not found any cuccoons, nor have I been able to tell whether they are eating the food that I put in or not.

Any tips on how to find cuccoons and how to evaluate food consumption under the top layer of bedding without totally disturbing the worms?

I have some fishing bait/tackle shop-purchased red worms and Canadian Night Crawlers in two shallow plastic bins to start.

I've been distributing coffee grounds under the top layer of shredded newspaper bedding. Recently I made a trench across the middle and put canned pumpkin in the trench, hoping that it would be obvious that the worms were burrowing thru and thereby eating it.


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Welcome to the club... eh... the club of vermicomposters that have no idea what their worms are eating or why they have become celibate.

It is more likely you will find the worms below the pumpkin. That is where the good stuff is. Be sure as you add food that you also add bedding such as cardboard. Egg cartons are good.

"Any tips on how to find cuccoons and how to evaluate food consumption under the top layer of bedding without totally disturbing the worms?" Nope. I suggest getting a second container and using a garden claw to move material from one container to the other to observe exactly what is going on in each handfull from time to time. This is how you can learn exactly what is happening in the container.

Plus it is fun.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2011 at 12:06AM
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If you've only had them for a month they may be too new to their environment to start reproducing. The little microsystem you have in the bin may also take a while to build up its microbes and such that speed along decomposition. I noticed that my worms seem to lay cocoons much more prolifically in well-composted material as opposed to fresh bedding and food.

If you are putting food in in the pocket system, it will reach a point where you make a pocket and realize that all the food you put in that same spot last week is noticeably gone. But it takes a while for the microbes (and worm population) to build up to the point that you can measure food consumption in that way.

The other possibility is that they may be laying cocoons, but the number hasn't built to the point that you really notice them. One cocoon in a worm bin would be hard to spot. But after a couple of months when many have been laid, they are much more noticeable.

Hmmm...this could also explain my association between lots of cocoons and aged VC, if the number of cocoons accumulates to a point of critical mass at the same time the bedding and food is being converted to VC to the point of being noticeable. Perhaps they're not waiting until there is well-aged VC, perhaps they've been laying all along and I'm just believing they're not because the cocoons haven't accumulated to the point of being noticeable. Perhaps they're waiting. Perhaps they're reproducing all along. Will we ever know?! The mind boggles. But I digress....

I would assume that unless your worms are all trying to escape, or dying in droves, they are happy and reproducing. Eventually you will open your bin to find cocoons peppering the top. Just be patient and I'm guessing that within the next month or so you'll see all the signs you are looking for.

Also, I would echo what equinoxequinox said. If you are adding something gloppy like canned pumpkin, that could easily create an anaerobic environment. Best to mix it in with bedding (even dry bedding if it is really wet - it will absorb the moisture of the pumpkin, creating little air pockets) to make sure it doesn't make a giant airless mass.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   October 14, 2011 at 3:46AM
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This forum, and you two in particular, are a wealth of info! Thanks!

I think what I'll do, since I only drilled holes in the lids when I started my two bins, is:

1) Get two more brand new bins, and drill holes not only in the two lids, but in the bottom of one, with the holes more or less lined up in the lid and the bottom.

2) Take that new bin, and with "tweezers!" methodically transfer all the worms, bedding, and food from one of the existing bins into it. That gives me an opportunity to "inventory" all the worms, dead worms, cuccoons, etc. I may want to put any cuccoons that I find into a separate bowl to start a separate "nursery". This in my case, could actually lead to two new nurseries, since I have red worms and also Canadian Night Crawlers, in separate bins.

3) Drill holes in the bottom of the now-empty bin.

4) Repeat steps 2) and 3) with the second existing bin and worms and such.

5) Sit the 4th bin underneath the stack of the two active bins with lids to catch the drippings.

6) Clean up the 4th bin for the next pass thru this process.

7) Clean me up and review my inventory results.

Anyone else with ideas and suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

Jim Marconnet

    Bookmark   October 14, 2011 at 11:19AM
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I bought those bins, did lots of drilling, sorting, and counting. The results:

18 Canadian Night Crawlers. All large. All sexually mature that I noticed. No cuccoons found. The bedding has largely been turned from shredded paper into black stuff. Found only a few small pieces of orange pumpkin, so I think that they ATE IT! I did not notice any coffee grounds still there, but it's a lot like the other black stuff, so who knows how much of it they ate. No noticeable carrot peelings left.

68 Red Worms, plus one dead one. I did not try to determine sexual preferences! 4 were very tiny. I was only able to find them because they moved in the black stuff. They may have been small ones that came along with the larger ones, or they may be newborns. Who knows? No coccoons found. The bedding has largely been turned from shredded paper into black stuff. Found only a piece or two of the orange pumpkin, so I think they Ate It! I did not notice any coffee grounds. No noticeable carrot peelings.

I had prepared a "nursery" each for the Reds and the Canadians, but with no cuccoons found, they are still awaiting occupants.

Thinking since I thoroughly disturbed the worms tonight that I'll just let them recover for about a week before adding any more food.

I've read about putting the proposed worm food outside for about a week in the sun in a pot with some water to thoroughly become ucky. Thinking of doing that unless I get a better suggestion.

I feel like I'm off to a good start after all!


    Bookmark   October 14, 2011 at 10:16PM
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I wanted to comment on your proposed method of leaving the food sit for days at a time. People have different ways of preparing food before they give it to the worms. Some compost it, some let it sit, some grind it or puree it, some just throw it in as-is. Some buy worm food in bags from the store. I used to freeze mine until my worm population required daily quantities that were larger than the capacity of my freezer.

The main thing to know is that they won't eat anything that is still biologically active (alive). I like freezing because it ends the biological activity (so starts the decomposition immediately upon thaw), and also tends to kill things like fruit fly eggs and those pesky melon seeds that will sprout later in the bin. It also means I don't have to find a place to store something that is "thoroughly ucky." I did however, have to defrost it thoroughly, as I discovered the hard way that worms and frozen food are like tongues and light poles in the winter...

Be aware that if you are leaving food outside uncovered for days at a time, all sorts of critters could get into it and/or lay eggs that you would then be inoculating your bin with, and your food won't decompose any faster than if it were in the bin.

Now that my bins and flow-through are really up and running, I just dump the food in as-is and make sure I bury it under lots of bedding. It never really reaches the ucky stage as the worms will eat the decomposing parts as soon as they start decomposing. I would say that it disappears more than it rots.

Let us know how it goes!

    Bookmark   October 15, 2011 at 11:50AM
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If you have a small population in a big area, it can be difficult as you can have them all below the food eating, being invisible unless you really dig down.

68 worms is a tiny, tiny population, that can hide very easily. I had more than the 1/2lbs shown here
and they vanished in my Worn Inn. Not dead just so hard to find. Worms at their best eat their weight in food a day. So think how much your 68 worms weigh, at best that's what they'll eat a day.

Some things I've found in my adventures.

Can't go wrong with bedding, have lots. Almost all the cocoons I've found in still being processed areas, are in the bedding. They seem to like clean areas to get busy ;)

I freeze my food which helps breaks it down. Greatly speeds up things like broccoli. Even then it takes about a week before the worms get real interested. Some foods attract earlier than others. But I mainly do it to remove any eggs from gnats or fruit flies (9 months and still clear), you can toss in raw. My corn on the cob's are taking their second pass through after been turned into cylinders when the worms ate out the centers lol.

Worms like being down, until I got the bigger populations, I had to dig to find them. Putting some feedings lower down might get better results. Don't smother the food (you want it to breath) but lower with loose bedding on top works great.

What goes in, has to come out. If you find worm poo, they are eating. If you find little black dots or streaks on what used to be clean cardboard, you've got worms around. I have a mesh top on mine, so they tend to venture around at night, I can see the trails the next morning.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2011 at 5:39PM
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Thanks Peter2K for that link. That video and others like it opened my eyes big-time! I've been doing my vermiculture more like a surgical operation than their throw it all into a deep bin intact and wait for it to decay and to get eaten. I live and learn.

OK, using 1000 redworms per pound and doing the math, my redworms could eat a max of 1 ounce a day of food. That would be 7 ounces max if fed once a week. Doubt I've ever fed them nearly that much. Perhaps an ounce in a week! Gives me a bogey to feed less than at a time, about once a week.

I pureed my on-hand egg-shells, carrot peelings, pumpkin, and an over-ripe banana last evening and put the resultant glop into a plastic ice cube tray for portion control. Now to release and weigh one of the food cubes!


    Bookmark   October 16, 2011 at 5:22AM
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If it's any comfort, it took me 18 months to really get up to speed. I just dump food in the top now, plus plenty of torn-up corrugated cardboard.

If you're building up from a small starting population, the main problem is avoiding the temptation to over-feed, because you tend to attract flies and whatnot.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 3:18AM
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I've read that red worms take 8-10 weeks after hatching to become sexually mature. So mine are definitely old enough for that.

Then I read "In optimum conditions compost worms breed and lay an egg capsule every 7 to 10 days. Each egg contains on 6 to 20 worms, hatching in 21 days and reaching maturity in 3 months. Best breeding occurs in autumn, late winter and spring. To grow your worm population you need to give them a damp, cool and dark environment avoiding bright light and noise."

It's autumn, so anyone with ideas why I'm not finding any eggs yet?


    Bookmark   October 22, 2011 at 11:00AM
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Maybe you have the second verifiable culture of abstaining monk worms. I have the first. No eggs. Few babies. Just what they find wraped up in pink or blue and in carseats on the steps to the bin with notes on them. Some worms are just more fun than others. I think mine are Shaking Quakers.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2011 at 11:07PM
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I've found that my worms are shy. I try not to mess with them especially if I am wanting them to get busy. If they are kept moist, well fed, dark and undisturbed they will make compost and babies -- it's what they do. Relax and enjoy.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2011 at 11:41PM
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