Aquaponics systems commonly involve raising freshwater fish because they can tolerate diverse water temperatures and pH…
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In the gardening world, earthworms are often recognized as some of the most efficient decomposers that nature provides. In fact, they help break down everything from fruit, vegetable scraps, and other decaying organic matter. In return, they produce worm castings, which can act as the perfect fertilizer for plants. But worms not only belong in the soil; they also happen to be a fantastic addition to an aquaponics setup since they can live in your grow bed. If you want your aquaponic garden to thrive, identifying the best worms for aquaponics should be high on your priority list.
When using worms for your system, it doesn’t mean you can just dig up dirt for a common earthworm. If you want the best worms for aquaponics, experts recommend getting red worms. Red worms are the most popularly used in these setups because of their efficiency at breaking down waste and their ability to survive in wet environments. Two of the most common types of redworms used in aquaponics are:
- Eisenia foetida
- Lumbricus rubellis
In this article, we will discuss these two types of red worms, as well as the importance of having composting worms in your aquaponics garden.
Eisenia fetida or more commonly known as red wigglers are reputed to be the best at composting. You can find these small, reddish-brown worms under a pile of leaves or under a stone eating only decaying matter. In your aquaponic media beds, these worms will help with the decomposition of fish waste as well as pests that could settle at the bottom of your crops.
When red wigglers find shelter under your grow beds, they are expected to break down the solids that accumulate in that zone. As a result, nutrients become more available for the crops. At the same time, these worms will reduce overall solid accumulation.
While you can find red wigglers in moist environments with organic matter, such as under logs or on livestock manure, unless you are an expert at identifying these in nature, it can be challenging to determine if they are the right kind for an aquaponics garden. That being said, make sure to obtain your red wigglers from a reputable worm farmer.
It can be hard to differentiate red wigglers from the Lumbricus rubellis or red earthworm. After all, both of them are redworms; they look somewhat similar in size (only red earthworms are a bit larger) and have the same habitat and feeding preferences. The red earthworms, however, are more known for their adaptability and productivity in cooler temperatures. But for this very reason, they can also be a real concern.
Red earthworms can be considered an invasive species in North America because they can damage native forests. Their tolerability to the cold and wet environments means they can thrive on the plant subterranean trash, which serves as a barrier to the surface roots of trees.
Unlike red wigglers and other types of worms, red earthworms can burrow deep and overwinter. Before you choose worms for aquaponics, know which type will be best suited for your area.
The Role of Worms in Aquaponics and Why You Need Them
Both types of redworms have been used for aquaponics. Whichever you choose, experts agree that you are doing more good than bad for your aquaponics system. In composting, worms are essential in breaking down scraps and then producing excellent fertilizer for your plants. Meanwhile, in aquaponics, the benefits of adding worms to your grow bed include:
- decomposition of fish waste
- cleaning of grow beds become less frequent
- Suppression of plant diseases, pests, and nematodes through the compost “tea”
- Mitigation of pathogens that can cause human diseases
- Extra feed for your fish
Decomposition of Fish Waste
As mentioned, worms are powerful decomposers that can help break down the solid fish waste that accumulates within the grow beds. Other than fish waste, these worms can also gobble up excess roots and other plant materials. These broken down waste turn into vermicompost, also known as worm poop.
In other articles, we’ve discussed the different zones in a media bed, which includes an area where worms are allowed to thrive. The presence of this organic-rich layer eliminates the need for a solid filter and regular cleaning of grow beds.
Suppression Of Plant Diseases
In a study by the Soil Ecology Lab at Ohio State University, it was found that when vermicompost gets soaked in oxygen-rich water (which happens in a flood and drain system), it produces a beneficial “tea,” which has been found to have several positive effects on plant growth. These effects include protecting plants from diseases, parasite infections, and pest infestations.
Mitigation of Human Pathogens
It turns out worms not only help protect plants from diseases and pests but can also produce antibacterial substances that can destroy human pathogens. In a study published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, worms can selectively interfere with pathogen growth.
Salmonella, Escherichia, Shigella, and Flexibacter populations were monitored during the experiment. Once worms are introduced, the levels of the bacteria were reduced, proving that the harmful pathogens have been eliminated.
In addition, an article that appeared in the Journal of Environmental Protection stated that earthworms, particularly E. Fetida, secrete fluids that act as “antibiotics” against harmful microorganisms, which in turn will render the soil sterile.
Extra Feed for Your Fish
Composting worms like red worms are prolific breeders. If you have them in your grow bed, they can reproduce very quickly, probably giving you a lot more than you actually need. If you have too many, you can pick some up and feed them to your fish – if you keep carnivorous fish, that is. Note that redworms are an excellent source of protein and can even be considered an ideal fishmeal replacement.
Conclusion: What Are The Best Worms for Aquaponics
There are thousands of earthworm species that can be of great help in gardening. But the best worms for aquaponics are the red worms, either E. fetida or L. rubellis. These worms perform excellently when breaking down the solid waste from fish that can accumulate at the bottom of your grow bed.
When worms are present, they help make nutrients more readily available for plants to take up. It also means you don’t have to clean up the grow bed regularly since they will take care of that task. More importantly, they can help your plants grow healthy. Adding worms to your aquaponics system can be one of the best things you can do to make your system thrive. If you plan on getting some, visit a reputable worm grower to get the right type of worm for your setup.