Question about Red Worms

In my search on compost bins, I found retail sites for red worms. Are these worms really better than earth worms? I am in zone 4, will the survive our winters?
I appreciate any advice on these worms.
D~
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On Sun, 23 May 2004, Annaid wrote:

While I'm not an expert and I am a new person here I have been doing a lot of reading about this lately. From what I have read, (no pun...) the reason red worms are "better" is because they will eat material that regular earthworms won't. Redworms will eat almost any organic material. You can give them kitchen waste, shredded paper, manure, etc. The earthworms in your yard basically eat dirt. :)
I bought some red worms from a "live bait" vending machine. $2.00 for maybe 10 little worms. Not the best buy, but it's a start. I have them in a big coffee can now with some shredded newspaper (bedding) and blender compost. I'm not sure they like it yet, so I haven't added anything yet. I would like to get a real worm bin at some point.
Just wanted to share this information while it was fresh in my mind because I've been reading about it so much. Read on the net anything you can find about vermicomposting (and the google archives here).
What I'd like somebody to tell me about is if "regular" earthworms still have a place in vermicomposting. Is there any reason to have both? I imagine as long as there is suitable material they can still thrive. I am trying to be frugal and I would really like to not have to buy more worms right now!
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On Sun, 23 May 2004, Annaid wrote:

Forgot to answer your question about winters. Mostly because I didn't have an answer, but this person had some things to say:
http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/verm/msg0321363431621.html
The comment "Those that hung around are definitely the tough ones" makes me think about an interesting aspect to vermicomposting that I was thinking about before... The worms that will survive are the ones best suited to the conditions you give them, so if you allow them to breed over the years they would more or less adapt, I think... Maybe I am being too optomistic thinking about breeding a secret race of superworms. :)
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Here's a link to the worm forum: http://www.wormdigest.org/forum/index.cgi?#24886
The main difference between earthworms and redworms are that earthwoms live in the ground and won't survive in a bin. Red worms won't survive in freezing weather, or extremely hot weather. I keep mine in the garage, to keep from freezing and also to keep the earwigs out in summer. Many people keep a small bin under the kitchen sink. If you keep it covered with wet newpaper strips, it doesn't smell, and it can be very convieniant in the kitchen.
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The essential difference between the 2 species of worms is that common earthworms will not increase in numbers very fast. Start with 10 worms and next year you may have 10 worms, whereas red worms increase in numbers rapidly to the limit of their food. In my experience, and contrary to another poster, earth worms eat anything, whereas the red worms are fussy and won't eat tough things like tomato skins unless they are starving. I gave up my worm bin about 5 years ago and last year there were still a few red worms at the bottom of the compost heap. Some survived in the garden soil in a spot where I worked in a lot of compost for 3 years, and I live in zone 3.

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On Wed, 26 May 2004, Andrew Ostrander wrote:

Wow, that just seems plain odd. I haven't as much experience to back it up, but everything I've read says exactly the opposite about earthworms vs. red worms in regards to what they will eat. All the worm bin places sell red worms. I did try putting some earthworms in kitchen (blender) compost and they all died within a day or two. That was before I read about having bedding and such for them to live in. I actually kinda felt bad too. :(
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Yes, red worms eat even crap & can live directly in crap, like under rabbit hutches, & can be quite unwholesome, exuding a yellow toxin (more of the toxin if living in manure than if living in table scraps), so that if you fed them to pond or aquarium fish or salamanders, could kill your pets. They'll also live in swamps & sometimes seem semi-aquatic; I've turned bog mud over & found the redworms very thick & squirmy like in some sort of horror movie. Most of these conditions would kill regular earthworms & nightcrawlers, which are superior for aeriating the garden overall & enriching topsoil in situ, & even superior for ordinary garden compost as they take care of decaying plant matter very well, but not so good for rotting heaps of kitchen leavings or fresh manure.
Introduced red worms sometimes displace earthworms from gardens. Their competitive edge is unfortunate, since their toxicity is potentially harmful to birds & wildlife that rely on worms for a major part of their diet. When they migrate to gardens, however, their toxic level drops because they're not living in garbage & poo anymore, but they always smell bad & animals don't like them as much. If I ever use them they'll be in a tightly closed bin because I do not want them escaping to the garden. I feed my pet salamanders & newts earthworms right from the garden, & don't want to end up sorting tasty healthful worms from toxic worms. But my grampa's rabbitry used them right in the ground under the wire cages, & though the redworms tended to like life in the shit & urine, they did unfortunately also take over some of the nearby gardens.
If you let a nice garden earthworm slime your fingers, your fingers smell like good garden soil. But if you let those redworms slime your fingers, your fingers smell like the nasty toxins.
Common earthworms & nightcrawlers & tiny whiteworms all reproduce rapidly however. They just don't do so in filth & garbage. Little whiteworms are good at reducing autumn leaves to leafmold, & for a very SMALL worm bin, they are excellent. I raised them to feed salamander tadpoles, & any kitchen leftovers I dropped on top of their little bin was quickly gobbled down. They're so small though they wouldn't be great for producing lots of castings to spread in the garden, maybe for a few indoor pots. Nightcrawlers make the most castings plus you have ready fish bait, unlike with redworms that smell bad even to trout.
-paghat the ratgirl
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On Wed, 26 May 2004, paghat wrote:

Well now I guess I am thoroughly confused!
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Well, I had some red worms...never smell at all...Here they are called Californian red worms....
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Paulo
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