Vermicomposting is fun, challenging, and faster than hot composting. I compost with blues, red wigglers, and European Nightcrawlers.
Best Worms for Use in Florida Composts and Gardens
There are five worms to discuss for vermicomposting in Florida:
- Red wiggler
- Indian blue
- Alabama jumper
- African nightcrawler—overall best
- European nightcrawler
Each one has specific benefits and drawbacks. Each one has specific uses, limitations, and quirks that make them better or worse for the Florida environment.
1. The Red Wiggler
The red wiggler, known by many other names, including tiger worm and brandling worm, typically will actually be one of two common worms, Eisenia fetida or E. andrei. They are virtually identical to visual inspection.
These worms are a great beginner's worm, because they tolerate mistakes more than some of the other worms we will discuss. Red wigglers process waste very quickly, eating just about their body weight every day, in optimal conditions. They reproduce very quickly, allowing a worm farmer to quickly expand if desired. They are somewhat small for fishing, but have nonetheless earned the nickname "trout worm" due to their frequent use.
2. The Indian Blue Worm
The Indian blue worm is frequently seen as the red worms' more eccentric cousin. Recently becoming popular for how quickly they can produce castings, Perionyx excavatus is much pickier about conditions in your bin.
If the surroundings aren't to their liking, an entire colony might decide to migrate to a different area—usually right out of the bin. This mass exodus leaves behind many cocoons that will re-populate eventually, but can certainly slow down production.
The Indian blue is thinner than the red wiggler, but more lively. Their size and quicker movements would make them less easy to place on a hook, but their reproductive and casting production speeds make them an attractive, if challenging, choice.
3. The Alabama Jumper
The Alabama Jumper, or Amynthus gracilus, is considered an invasive species here in Florida and the United States overall. The "crazy worm" found its way to the U.S. likely in shipping containers containing potted plants from Asia.
There is much concern that this voracious worm will out-compete native and naturalized worms here. In my area, the worm is endemic and can be readily found in piles of decomposing leaves already. Be that as it may, I use the jumper to help deal with leaf litter in my area. If the jumper is not already in your area, however, please do not import it, as this will slow the spread.
4. The African Nightcrawler
The African nightcrawler has relatively recently become popular for vermicomposting in certain areas. The African nightcrawler, along with the red wiggler and Indian blue worm, are some of the quickest casting-makers. They also reproduce very quickly, due to their quick maturation rate.
However, African nightcrawlers must stay relatively warm, above 60°F, or they will die off. This makes them somewhat unattractive for long-term vermicomposting in the North. However, here in Central Florida, where it usually is not cold for an extended period of time, they can stay warm enough to live outside all year long.
If you plan to sell your Africans as fishing bait, they should not be refrigerated. This means that there will be a greater potential to sell to places that don't have cooling capabilities.
5. The European Nightcrawler
The European nightcrawler is one of the largest composting worms available and a good choice for fishing bait if it is your only or main consideration. However, they do not reproduce as quickly as any other composting worm. They do not create castings as quickly and are more suited to a cooler environment.
While there certainly are some drawbacks to the Euro, it can definitely be done successfully here in Florida. If you plan to sell your worms, either to other composters or as bait, the Euro needs to be kept cool so that they remain healthy, whereas the African nightcrawler does not.
Which Worms Are Best for Florida Composts?
Especially if you live in Central or Southern Florida, the African nightcrawler is a great choice. Due to it dying off if too cold, the amount of damage it can do as an invasive species is limited by the climate. The rapid speed in which it reproduces and creates castings is very helpful for expanding your operation, or to use as bait. The large size is also a plus for anglers, making them easier to hook, as well as for the fish to see.
If fishing isn't a consideration, the red wiggler is also a great choice, especially in Northern Florida, where it gets colder than central and southern portions. It will tolerate the colder temperatures much better than the African nightcrawler. The red wiggler isn't as picky as the Indian blue worm, making it less likely to flee the bin en masse.
Overall best picks: African Nightcrawler or Red Wiggler
Humidity, Heat, Rain, and Sun
Due to the unique climate, Florida offers some specific challenges as well as benefits that make vermicomposting worm selection important to be successful. Which worm species is best?
One of the things Florida has going for it is that it is the most humid state. Even Hawaii has a lower average humidity than Florida. This makes it less likely that your bin will dry out too quickly, if a good spot is chosen for your worm farm. Some sort of covering should be used on your farm, if possible. This will protect your worms from predators, help limit cross-contamination from other species, and keep in moisture.
Florida gets hot. Florida has a higher average temperature over a year than every other state in the United States and is among the hottest in summer as well. Temperature management is important. Most composting worms don't do as well in Florida's tropical and sub-tropical climate. The covering that I mentioned before.
It rains a lot in Florida. Enough that if you leave your bin open with no top, it will fill up and drown your worms if it isn't corrected quickly. First, make sure there are drainage or weep holes near the bottom of your bin. I like to put a piece of cloth or burlap over the top, then place the lid on top of the bin. However, I do not securely attach the lid. This prevents too much rain from getting into the bin, while retaining what moisture is already there.
Bins should be placed in a shaded area, perhaps beneath a tree. Too much sun will increase the temperature in the bin, cooking your worms. If you can elevate them off the ground, that will help decrease pests somewhat. The only bin I have without roach issues is the one that is elevated, covered with cloth, with a loose fitting lid. Elevating the bin will also decrease the likelihood that other worms will find their way into your farm. This is very important if you plan to sell your worms.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.