The Amazing African Nightcrawlers
The African Nightcrawler, Eudrilus Eugeniae (Scientific Name), is truly an amazing composting worm. African Nightcrawlers have a unique coloring, being a mix of grey and purple. They have huge appetites, they will eat up to 150% of their own body weight each day if given the proper environment and proper amount of food. They eat more food per day than any other composting worm. I cannot say that I am familiar with all the operations in the United States that produce and sell large volumes of Worm Castings as their primary product, but out of all the ones that I know, I believe that the majority of them are using African Nightcrawlers to produce their Worm Castings. And, of course, this makes sense because they produce Worm Castings 2-3 times faster than the other composting worms.
Sensitive To The Cold
Now, we must remember, that African Nightcrawlers are a tropical worm. They like it warm. There seems to be some discrepancy on what the bottom temperature is that they can endure. Some say 60 degrees Fahrenheit is their bottom, some say 50 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature they start to die at, I have even read a grower say that they can handle 45 degrees Fahrenheit comfortably. The largest composting worm producer in Austrailia, George Mingin, of Kookaburra Worm Farms, who knows more about growing African Nightcrawlers than anyone else I know says that they start to die between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. So, that is what I am going with. Even if you keep them above 60 degrees you will not see them thrive or produce lots of castings, or reproduce much until you get them above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. I have found that they really kick it into gear between 75-80 degrees. So, getting back to what we said earlier, they will only produce 2-3 times as many Worm Castings as the other composting worms if you keep them in this “sweet spot” of 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Great Worm Castings
As far as I know, all composting worms produce equally good quality worm castings. The quality/value of Worm Castings is really based more on what you are feeding the worms than what kind of composting worms you have. Now, that being said, if appearance means anything to you, then you will want African Nightcrawlers because their Castings are the most beautiful. They have a granular texture that makes them look, well, amazing. Their castings are larger than most of the other composting worms. The only castings I have seen bigger are those of very large bait sized European Nightcrawlers, and we are talking 1.8-2.0 gram sized Euros.
Very Fast Reproduction Rate
African Nightcrawlers possibly out reproduce Red Wigglers and definitely reproduce faster than European Nightcrawlers. The only composting worm that I know of that reproduces faster than African Nightcrawlers is “Blue Worms” (Perionyx Excavatus), also a tropical worm. If you look at the numbers it may appear that Red Wigglers reproduce faster, producing an average of 3 cocoons per week with 3 babies in each cocoon, in ideal conditions, of course, resulting in approximately 9 worms per week increase once hatched. African Nightcrawlers produce approximately 2-3 cocoons per week with 2-3 babies per cocoon averaging out to about 6-7 worms per week. Now looking at these numbers would say that the Red Wiggler reproduces faster, but because the African Nightcrawler reaches breeding age faster, approximately 1-2 weeks sooner, there is the possibility that they may reproduce faster than Red Wigglers.
Learning the Ropes with ANC's
I was very concerned that African Nightcrawlers would be more challenging to raise and so we did not add them to our operation here at Midwest Worms until just recently. Now that we have had them and been raising them for a little over 6 months and have learned a few important things about them. Again, as my friend George Mingin, likes to say, “test things out for yourself”, meaning things are always a little different for each Worm Farmer because his or her environment and conditions are always going to be slightly different. All that being said, what I have learned may be different than what others think so do your research and don't take all that I have to say about ANC's as the indisputable truth. I have always heard that European Nightcrawlers are the most sensitive to being disturbed, but I have found that when I mix up the bedding with the worms in it, which I do rarely, that it takes the ANC's longer than the Euros to settle down and quit trying to escape. Also, it seems to me that light does not drive the ANC's into the bedding as fast as it does Euros and Reds. If my bedding food mix is brand new and has not cured for at least 2-3 days, allowing a good microbial population to accumulate the ANC's take the longest to settle down and stay in the bin before I can take them out from under a light source. But if the bin has cured for at least 3 days, they seem to have very few problems getting in it and staying there fairly quickly. Another secret I learned, also from George Mingin, is to make a big hole in the center of the new bedding, pour your ANC's into that hole with some of their old bedding, allowing them to move into the new bedding at their own pace seems to keep there desire to flee at bay.
They Get Big
ANC's get easily more than twice the size of Red Wigglers and get as large as European Nightcrawlers. The difference between Euros and ANC's is that ANC's get longer, but are usually thinner than the Euros. The African Nightcrawler gets up to 8-10 inches long, on average about 2 inches longer than Euros at the same weight. They will spend most of their time in the top 6-8 inches but will dive down a little further if needed for food, bedding, or protection from adverse weather/temperature conditions. Some say they make good fishing worms, we have not had that experience. In fact, we tested 4 different bait worms and wrote an article about which worm was best for fishing.
High Volume Producers of Worm Castings
African Nightcrawlers are truly amazing Composting Worms. If you live in a fairly moderate climate or are willing to put them into a climate controlled area, maintaining temperatures in the 70's they are the best Composting Worms for producing high volumes of amazing looking Worm Castings. They simply grow larger and eat more of your food scraps faster than any other composting worms. Worm Castings are simply the best substance for gardens of any kind. Nothing will help your plants grow better, nothing will cause your plants to produce the best tasting, most nutritious produce, and nothing will help you produce more of that high-quality produce than anything else. I have been watching the popularity of these worms increase over the past year in the United States and even with their sensitivity to the cold, they are quickly becoming the most sought-after composting worms around. If you want to produce Worm Castings at an amazing rate, get some African Nightcrawlers today.
What to Feed them:
Fruit and Vegetable waste ( other than citrus fruit)
Used Coffee Grounds with the paper filters
Cardboard (just make sure it does not have any glossy paper on it)
Starchy Foods like potatoes, rice, bread or pasta.
All farm animal manures (herbivores)
grass clippings ( make sure there are no pesticides or herbicides on it) (and let it dry for a couple days to decrease the ammonia released in the worm bins and to prevent it from heating up the worm bin)
Do not feed:Meat
Cooking oil or grease (including salad dressings with dairy or oil in them)
What kind of dirt I should purchase?
Hi Kyle and Jen,
Just read an article you wrote on African nightcrawler. I bought 4 pounds (2 orders of 2 pounds each) of ANCs and a pound of Eoropean nightcrawlers from you last year. My question is, what is your recipe for bedding/feed when you first start your African nightcrawlers? I messed up the first 2 pounds I got when I put too much peat moss in, to acidic I think. The second batch is still going good in the basement. Thanks Kyle and Jen.
All my worms, ANCs, ENCs and red wrigglers break down citrus. Citrus adds a nice smell to the bedding.
Maybe 20 years ago I traveled from Cincinnati to Pennsylvania to have a fellow named Ambrose to teach me how to raise African Nightcrawlers. That was very interesting. He had maybe 2000 buckets stacked on skids, 9 to a layer 5 or 6 layers high. He started a new bucket with a 2 handed scoop from a full bucket and added a quart of moss and corn meal mixture on top. after a period of time the food was eaton he would add another quart. he keep doing this until the bucket was full. Then it was time to harvest. I have the instructions written down somewhere and I will have to look for them. I’m interested again. Thanks for getting me intused again.
Good info on the ANC. My worm composting is all indoors since I have no backyard or any outdoor space, although I have experimented with trench composting at a community garden and found trench worm composting is the most optimal for explosive worm reproduction. Most probably due to the stability of the environment with temperature and moisture. Keeping them above 70 degrees is key. The first winter I kept the room temperature at 68 degrees and they seemed sluggish. Once I made the temperature more comfortable for myself and the worm herd in the range of 72 degrees I noticed an uptick in activity. I have been growing them for over 5 years in Mega Inns and love the castings they produce. They are smaller since I have them in limited space but the castings are still super. The only thing I would add to this blog is to remember to use 3 times the amount of carbons (ie. shredded cardboard) for optimal results.