Adding worms in aquaponics systems can be extremely beneficial. It is another completely organic way to get rid of waste and excess material that you do not want in your system. They will not harm your plants or your fish, they will simply improve your system.
You must choose worms that will survive in your aquaponics system; the most common type being Eisenia fetida also known as the red worm, red wiggler, branding worm, manure worm and tiger worm. You probably won’t find these little guys on your property; you’ll have to purchase them from somewhere else. Regular (soil and garden) earth worms cannot be used- they will die if added to an indoor worm bin.
Why add red worms to your aquaponics system?
Red worms will break down solid waste from the fish, excess roots and other materials that plants give off, and make them more bio-available to the plants through their excrement; this is called vermicompost. Media growers can avoid frequent cleaning and filtering by adding worms to their system; a 12” deep grow bed with a healthy population of worms will only need to be cleaned out about every five years. Worms can save you time and money! Researchers have found that vermicompost and the “tea” that results from soaking vermicompost in highly oxygenated water are very beneficial- they suppress plant disease including Pythium, Rhizoctonia, Plectosporium and Verticillium; and suppress plant insect pests including tomato hornworms, mealy bugs, spider mites and aphids (click here for our post on pests in your system).
Red worms love environments with high levels of moisture content, as well as areas with very rich organic matter – perfect for an aquaponics system.
Research has shown that vermicomposting can reduce the levels of pathogens in waste materials, as well as mitigate pathogens that affect humans. Who knew worms were so helpful?!
How many worms should you use?
Try and figure out how much waste you have and want to get rid of in your system. A reasonable guideline to follow is ¼-1/2 total worm weight in waste per day, so if you have a pound of worms they should be able to process roughly ¼-1/2lb of food waste per day. It is widely believed that a worm can process the equivalent to its weight in waste each day. 1 pound of composting worms consists of about 1000 individuals and can cost in between 15 and 40 USD.
Things to Remember
- surface area is more important than depth for red worms
- regular light is harmful to red worms, but red light is not
- red worm eggs look like tiny straw-colored lemons
- adding crushed egg shells can help stimulate worm production
- this next one is very important: worms can bring diseases into your system. If you’re getting them from a source you’re not so sure about, such as Craigslist, be sure to clean them off before adding them to your system, and ensure that there’s nothing sticking to them (soil, etc.). The worms could be carrying bad bacteria, but once it passes through their system it will be completely safe. In order to purge their systems you can put them in wetted down corn meal for 24 hours and then wash them off.
To learn more about red worms, click here.
Though many of us aren’t exactly the biggest fans of the slimy little guys, there are plenty of benefits of welcoming them into your aquaponics system!
Do you use worms in your system? Have you noticed any changes- positive or negative?