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TRINITY RANCH ' WORM TIPS 'N' TRICKS '
Worm Bin Creatures

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Mites

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Springtail

Springtails are extremely numerous in compost. They are very small wingless insects (the maximum size is 6 mm/0.2 in. in length; 1 to 2 mm/.05 in. avg. length) and can be distinguished by their ability to jump when disturbed. They run in and around the particles in the compost and have a small spring-like structure (called a furcula) under the belly that catapults them into the air when the spring catch is triggered. A springtail 5-6 mm in length can jump 75-100 mm. Springtails that do not have a furcula cannot "spring".

Springtails come in many colors such as white, yellow, gray, red, orange, metallic green, and lavender. They chew on decomposing plants, pollen, grains, and fungi and are beneficial organisms in the bin. Springtails usually diminish in numbers when the bedding dries out a bit.

Classification

Springtails are in order Collembola, class Insecta, phylum Arthropoda.

Controls

For control of springtail populations use Hypoaspis miles. This tiny (0.5 mm) light-brown mite naturally inhabits the top 1/2" layer of soil where fungus gnats, as well as springtails and thrips pupae dwell. The female Hypoaspis mites lay their eggs in the soil, which hatch in 1-2 days, and the nymphs and adults feed on the soil-dwelling pests.

Each Hypoaspis mite will consume 5-20 prey or eggs per day. They survive by feeding on algae and/or plant debris when insects aren't available. Their entire life cycle is 7-11 days.

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Soldier Fly Larvae

Black Soldier flies (Diptera: Stratiomyidae) are true flies that resemble wasps in their appearance and behavior. These flies do not bite or sting. Adult flies are often found on flowers and vary in color from black, metallic blue, green or purple, to brightly colored black and yellow patterns. You can tell that they are flies and not wasps because flies have just two wings, unlike wasps that have four wings. When at rest, the wings are folded scissor-like across their abdomens.

The larvae are very aggressive consumers in the worm bin. So much so that the passive worms may temporarily retreat to the lower parts of the bin until the soldier fly
larvae have grown into adults and flown away. If your worms do retreat be sure you have food in the lower parts of your bin so they dont starve. The larvae change in color
from off white, to light brown, to gray. Some describe them as big, ugly, segmented maggots. They have about 10 segments and are somewhat flat on the underside. One
end is round and the other end comes to a slight point.

The larvae are found in large groups in the organic material, and can tolerate very hot conditions. When disturbed, they will retreat from the light, just as worms do.

Some folks raise these in the bins and use them as fishing bait. Others remove them by hand and feed them to the birds. We have heard of one worm farmer who placed their
chicken in the bin to dine upon the tasty morsels and found this to be a very effective method of soldier fly larvae control. My concern is that the bird might find the worms
and eat them as well.

Soldier fly larvae are harmless to you, your worms and your plants. They are very good decomposers and, if allowed to stay in your vermicomposting system, will help to recycle
your waste. Just be sure that your worms get plenty to eat as well. The soldier fly manure does make good worm feed, as well.

There are approximately 1,500 species of soldier flies worldwide.

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Adult Soldier Fly with Larva

Mites are the one of the most common invertebrates found in compost. They have eight leg-like jointed appendages. Some can be seen with the naked eye and others are microscopic. Some can be seen hitching rides on the back of other faster moving invertebrates such as worms, millipedes and beetles. Some species eat fungi, yet others are predators and feed on nematodes, eggs, insect larvae and other mites and springtails. Some are both free living and parasitic. One very common compost mite is globular in appearance, with bristling hairs on its back and red-orange in color. Most mites are not harmful to you, your worms, or your plants. Brown predatory mites are very rarely found in worm bins.

Conditions That Can Lead To Mite Infestation

1. Too much water - Bedding that is too wet creates conditions that are more favorable to mites than worms. Avoid excessively wet beds by improving drainage, and turning bedding frequently.

2. Overfeeding - Too much food can cause an accumulation of fermented feed and heat up worm beds plus lower the pH of the beds. Adjust feeding schedules so that all feed is consumed within a few days. Modify feeding schedules as the seasons (and temperatures) change because worms consume less food in colder temperatures. Maintain beds around a neutral pH 7.

3. Excessively wet or fleshy feed - Vegetables with a high moisture content, pulp from juicing, or blenderized waste can cause high mite populations in worm beds. Limit the use of such feed, and if high mite populations are discovered, discontinue the use of this feed until mite populations are under control.

4 ways to reduce mite populations

1. Uncover the worm beds and expose them to sunlight for several hours to allow bedding to dry a bit. Reduce the amount of water and feed.

2. Place pieces of watermelon or cantaloupe rind or potato slices on top of the worm beds. Mites are attracted to the sweetness of the rinds or peels and will accumulate on them. The rinds or peels can then be removed and dropped in water or buried.

3. Heavily water, but do not flood, the worm beds. Mites will move to the surface, and worms will stay below the surface. Use a hand-held propane torch to scorch the top of the bed and kill the mites. This procedure may be repeated several times, at three day intervals, if needed.

4. Make a 'powder puff' out of an old white cotton sock and fill with powdered, agricultural sulfur..lightly dust surface of bins....you might try a mist bottle of red cider vinegar and lightly mist the surface.

Remember that mites are a common invertebrate in vermicomposting systems. You only need to take action if their numbers overtake your system.

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Sow Bugs (wood louse) are fat bodied crustaceans with delicate plate like gills along the lower surface of their abdomens which must be kept moist. They move slowly, grazing on decaying vegetation.

They are beneficial in the bin but can harm young plants.

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Ants

Ants feed on fungi, seeds, sweets, scraps, other insects and sometimes other ants. Compost provides some of these foods and it also provides shelter for nests and hills. Ants may benefit the compost heap by moving minerals especially phosphorus and potassium around by bringing fungi and other organisms into their nests. The presence of ants is an indication of dry bedding. Moisten the bedding a bit and most ants will find some place else to live. If your bin has legs, place the legs in a can of water that has had a drop of dish soap placed in it to reduce the surface tension of the water so the ants can't walk across the water.

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The notorious Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopis invicta), the American South's "ant from hell," was accidentally introduced into the port of Mobile, Alabama, sometime in the 1930's. Its native range is northern Argentina and southern Brazil, and the first immigrant colonies probably made their ways north as stowaways on cargo ships. The species then spread throughout the southern United States and California, where today its vast populations of fiercely stinging workers make it a major pest.

They can and quickly do latch onto your flesh with barbed mandibles and sting repeatedly, pivoting in tiny circles until you, the victim can repel them or dies. The venom burns like a hot match and causes tiny blisters that persist for days if left untreated or for weeks of scratched or infected. They can quickly destroy your worm populations.

Fire Ant Control
Mix equal parts of sugar, flour and boric acid or borax - sprinkle around the house and yard and watch the ants eat and haul it off to their queens... in a few days you will see little brown balls where the ants USED TO BE...it's the now-deceased queen and her entire now-deceased colony balled around here... they come up out of the ground and die. READ THE BORAX/BORIC ACID LABELS CAREFULLY and be careful with children and pets.

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Fruit Fly Larvae

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Adult Fruit Fly

FRUIT FLIES:

A Fruit Fly is about one third the size of the housefly. Adults have red eyes and yellow-brown bodies. Life cycle from egg to adult is approximately 10 days. Eggs are laid near or on top of fermenting materials, such as decaying fruit and vegetable matter. They are attracted to any area where moisture has accumulated. Flies are natural organisms in any decomposition system.

Always keep 3 to 4 inches of shredded moist newspaper on top of your worm bin to make it difficult for the female flies to lay eggs in the food waste.

To prevent fruit fly infestations you can freeze or microwave your food waste prior to placing in your bin. This destroys eggs and larvae that live on the peels. Allow the material to reach room temperature prior to feeding to worms.

To reduce existing fruit fly populations you can use a trap or find some beneficial nematodes from your local garden center and add them to the bin.

Fruit Fly Traps
Simple bait traps made using a small pop bottle or fruit juice bottle can be effective against the adults. Two drops of soap to break surface tension is mixed with fruit juice, beer, or apple cider as an attractant. Fruit flies are attracted to the fruit juice and become trapped when they land to lay eggs. The trap can be even more effective by placing saran wrap over the mouth of the bottle and punching holes in the center of the saran wrap with a needle. The holes are made just big enough for the fruit fly to enter. The flies will be attracted by the juice, enter through the holes but cannot find their way out.

Beneficial Nematodes

Beneficial Nematodes are parasitic on fruit fly and fungus gnat larvae. Beneficial nematodes do not harm worms, birds, plants or the environment. They can be bought at most garden centers or on the web. Beneficial nematodes are microscopic and live below the soil surface. When they come in contact with a pest they attack and release a bacteria that kills the host within 48 hours.

Beneficial Nematodes are some of the most useful pest controls to come along in years, because if an insect spends part of its life cycle in the soil (lots of them do), predator nematodes want to kill them - it's as simple as that. Looking like microscopic "worms", predator nematodes attack and kill more than 250 different insects, including fleas, thrips, fungus gnats, even ones as large as cutworms. After invading the insect body (through mouth or anal openings), they go on to reproduce on the remains, migrating back to the soil when nothing but a shell is left. Predator nematodes attack only insects, too - never plants, earthworms, or other soil creatures, and they're unrelated to pest nematodes. But if it's an insect spending time in the soil, they zoom in for the kill.

Beneficial nematodes are so small and economical that they're sold by the package of one million, which treats up to 3000 square feet of growing area (24 million per acre). Nematodes come packaged on a small piece of "sponge" that's rinsed out in water, then watered into the soil using a watering can, sprayed on with a garden sprayer (no, the pressure doesn't hurt them - they go through the nozzles fine), fertilizer-injector or siphon feeder - it doesn't matter. Nematodes live and reproduce in any moist soil media, including rockwool, as long as they find insects to feed on. Although predator nematodes live for a few months, for best results make repeat applications every 4-6 weeks throughout the period when your target pest(s) are present to keep a high concentration in the soil. (Every 2 weeks for rockwool and other artificial soil media.) Nematodes will store dormant in the refrigerator 2-3 months before use, so it's easy to keep some on hand. Soil temperatures below the low 50's bring on dormancy, too, so a soil thermometer is useful for timing applications.

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Land Planarian

Nightmare Worm !
Land planarians (flat worms) devour earthworms, slugs, insect larvae, and are cannibalistic.

Because land planarians are photo-negative during daylight hours and require high humidity, they are found in dark, cool, moist areas. Land planarians are rare in rural sites. Movement and feeding occur at night. High humidity is essential to survival. They can survive desiccation only if water loss does not exceed 45 percent of their body weight. Land planarians are most abundant in spring and fall. These pests are thought to primarily be distributed by tropical plants.

Planarians are a predator that you will want to remove and destroy every time you see one. They have been known to do great harm to worm growers.

*Images used with permission. Entomology and Nematology Dept., University of Florida; photographer P. M. Choate

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