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Is mixing species a problem in non-commercial operations?

UserPost

6:10 am
June 3, 2012


Howard Hopper

Grecia Costa Rica

Member

posts 6

Hi, I'm Howard and a newbi to your site and forum. 

I have recently started experimenting with raising composting worms for the purpose of harvesting a more balance fertilizer for the garden. I have years of experience in gardening and years of experiencing the effects of common earthworms in the soil. I have little experience with, and lots of questions about, the composting worms.

Best to start slow with the questions, and perhaps after a paragraph on my system.

The present garden was designed around a worm bed system adjoining a small green house. Using and adding to existing construction block walls, about 11 square yards of three and four high ventilated block walls were constructed, with top doors of poly carbonate panels to control moisture and animal exploitation. All ventilation in the sides is screened so escape of the worms is prevented. The floor of the bin is concrete, built on top of 4 inches of 3/4 inch rock with a french drain setup below the rock. The floor has a two inch screened drain hole down to the main drainage system every three feet. Light control is accomplished by using truck tarps in areas the worms are present. The idea is to start at one end of the bed with bedding and food adding more aging food stock and encouraging the worms to leave behind well processed compost in search of more food, thus mainly relying on non mechanical system of harvesting castings. I would like to eventually have three square yards (area) of active worm habitat, three yards of aging future feed stock and bedding, proceeding three yards of harvestable castings. I am hoping for 9 or more cubic feet of casting material every week if possible, but will settle for half of that amount. Oh yes, my location is and the climate is in many ways ideal, with lows of 15C and highs of 31C.

So to the question in the post. Two months ago I stocked about a square meter of food stock 15 inches high with a kilo (2.2 lbs.) of compost worms and bedding, purchased locally. My guess would be Eisenia fetida/andrei, but who knows. I've been told here in Costa Rica they are called Lombriza rojo Californiana. I've googled that name, and found lots of articles in spanish which I'm not fluent, and a small amount of articles in english. Several articles suggested rojo Californiana is Eisenia fetida and the pictures are very similiar. But, the quote in this site's book, "Different species perform differently under different circumstances at different times", leaves pictures a very non scientific method to ascertain specie. Whatever the specie, they have survived well and no known predators have presented a problem. The initial purchase of a kilo was probably only about a quarter to half pound of worms not much for a square yard of habitat. (Note: the price of the kilo was only about 8$ so the price per pound is similar to the US.) So it is time to bring the stock up to about four to five pounds. Another source has worms some say are much larger than the two inchers I have now. Same species different habitat or perhaps Eudrilus eugeniae  (African nightcrawler) or another specie? Unseen it is hard to know and discussion with the vender at this time is not possible even if language was not a barrier. So, is the mixing of different species of compost worms known to be undesirable, will they interbreed and become breeding hybrids or possibly the opposite, sterile? Will each specie forced to share the same environment coexist but only breed within their specie? What can be expected?

Thank You, Howard     

 

  

No better place to plant, than in the trails of worms.

10:44 pm
June 3, 2012


Philip Rock

Member

posts 43

Hello Howard – and welcome!  Sounds like you've got a nice set up – and living in Costa Rica too…I'm envious! Just a quick reply – as a biologist – I can tell you that the definition of a 'species' goes something like:  "members of a population that can interbreed and produce viable offspring (that is, offspring that can continue to breed)".  There is no way that any species within the genus Eisenia could successfully cross with any species within the genus Eudrilus.  The genetic distance between the two is too great.  In fact, not even Eisenia fetida can breed with Eisenia andreii – if they could, they would be considered members of the same species. If the two different worm species you are using manage to co-exist, each will only be able to breed with its own kind.

I don't understand why you don't just get more of the same kind of worm you started with, as you say they are doing well.  I don't think there will be any problem mixing two different species in the same bin, however, over time, one species will likely dominate over the other – particularly if they are both exploiting the same resource in the same way. These kinds of experiments have been replicated many times by scientists.  Whichever species has even a slight advantage (faster growth/reproductive rate, more efficient use of the food resource, better adaptation to the specific environment, etc) will be the one that prevails.  If both species are very similar in all these respects, than it is a 'crap shoot' – a toss of the coin – as to which will succeed. It is possible that the two different species you intend to use may exploit the resources a little differently and manage to co-exist – and even make for a more efficient vermicomposting operation…they will, however, remain as separate species.

I can tell you that I started with Red Wigglers (Eisenia fetida) and European Night-crawlers (Eisenia hortensis).  I started them in two different bins.  The Europeans tended to leave the bins…I just couldn't keep them happy.  My friends jokingly suggested that they were trying to get back to Europe…  In the end I ended up mixing all the worms.  After almost two years, there is no sign of any of the European night-crawlers left.  The Red Wigglers are thriving, though.

Since you are in it for the vermicompost, and not to be selling one specific kind of worm, it should not matter.  May the best worm win!  Good luck to you and please keep the forum posted as to how things work out.

Cheers,

Philip

12:06 am
June 4, 2012


Howard Hopper

Grecia Costa Rica

Member

posts 6

Thank you Philip, for your rapid and succinct reply. I will probably as you suggest, stick with the original source of worms while preserving options to use a second source if problems arise. Again Thank You.

No better place to plant, than in the trails of worms.

4:42 am
June 4, 2012


Howard Hopper

Grecia Costa Rica

Member

posts 6

In further digging through this site I located in the Blog section under 'worm reproduction', an article, 'Collecting Worm Eggs / Cocoons' that linked to a second article by D Brian Paley that bolsters the no known specie hybridization of composting worms view. If anyone would like to read his comments it is at the bottom of the first of a seven part article. The first part is at the address listed below.

 

http://www.jetcompost.com/burr…..ecrets.com

 

It simplifies vermiculture some knowing there is not known cross specie reproduction and hybridization as sometimes occurs in nature in mammalian, avian, reptilian and other species. The horse and donkey produce a sterile mule, but coyotes, wolves, dingos and domestic dogs all have been known to produce fertile hybrids.

 

Later, Howard 

No better place to plant, than in the trails of worms.

4:48 am
June 5, 2012


Howard Hopper

Grecia Costa Rica

Member

posts 6

Another good article on point to the cross specie reproduction question, found in the Blog section.

Link to follow:

http://www.wormfarmingsecrets……s-problem/

Later, Howard

No better place to plant, than in the trails of worms.


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