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Vermiculture, Live Earthworms For Goldfish

By Gary R. Hater

Using Earthworms for composting indoors is practical and odorless. Earthworms can be an excellent addition to the goldfish diet and are valuable for both growth and breeding.

I have tried culturing Red Wigglers (Eisenia Fetida) several times. After a little fine tuning, I got it right and have been keeping red Wigglers in my basement fish room for several years. If you decide to try this, I suggest you go with the expense of buying Red Wigglers online to prevent unwanted organisms, worms that get too big and live food that might be carrying residual pesticides, and metals. I bought the initial worm culture and worm farm on-line at Amazon, figures 1 & 2.

Figure 1 & 2: Live red Wigglers (Eisenia fetida) and Vermi Hut purchased on Amazon. The Vermi hut comes with a small bag of peat moss for a starting point.

I like the purchased worm container in figure 2 as it has little feet covers to prevent critters form entering the box (I have not needed this). Startup is simple- wet the peat moss and add the worms plus some shredded wet paper in the bottom tray. After the worm’s peat moss and shredded wet paper are in place, I cover the compartment I am working on with full sheets of dampened paper, junk mail or cardboard. This action keeps the humidity constant. After about two weeks at basement temperatures in the sixties (F) you will find some new worms. I then fall into a routine of adding material about once a week. These materials are included in Table 1, below.

Table 1:

Ingredients Added


Paper, Cardboard, Junk Mail

Wetted in fish tub

Lettuce or Veggie Clippings

Brown and not fresh is fine

Excess Water Plants

Duckweed, Water Lettuce, Hornwort, Etc

Egg Shells

Don't over due

Banana Peels

A favorite food

Corn Meal

Key ingredient, apply just a sprinkle

Potato Peels

Best if microwaved

Left-Over Starchy Foods (small Amounts)

Mashed Potatoes, Rice, Noodles, Etc

Spent Coffee Grounds

As much as you like with paper filter

Once the worms start reproducing, you can up the volume of material added. Banana peels in my system seem to be magical, they really like them. Corn meal and lettuce are also critical components, Figures 3 & 4

Figures 3, corn meal is added by sprinkling on the eating surface of the worm culture, about a heaping tablespoon per active tray.

Figure 4, lettuce trimmings form a head of lettuce or previously opened bags of lettuce that is off color or aged/ or out of date is perfect for the culture and it adds moisture.

Worm harvesting once the cultures gets mature is typically 25 to 50 worms once or twice a week. Harvesting is really very simple. The damp paper in each tray is peeled back so you can see the active worm working area, figures 5 & 6. Often there are big grouping of worms, while you can use a tweezer, but it is very easy to take two fingers and a thumb and pick them up and put them in a beaker. There is often a little compost on some of the worms. Next, just take a tweezer pick up the worm shake off the compost and put in the tank. The worms slowly sink to the bottom of the tank. Fish with great eyesight eat them before they make it to the bottom of the tank. Telescoped fish take a little longer to find them on the bottom of the tank.

Figure 5, worms with water lettuce and a sprinkle of corn meal.

Figure 6, see the banana peels paper towels, and water lettuce, notice the easily picked up little collection of worms.

Why Earthworms?

Earthworms that come from a recognized supplier are clean, disease and contaminant free. Using E. fetida allows you to grow live food for your adult fish that does not have to be resized and eliminates part or all the costs of frozen blood worm’s ad adult brine shrimp.

Long term users find that Earthworms provide the conditioning of adult fish that promotes breeding. The reason why this works for breeding is not fully understood but some hobbyists feel that the enzymes inside the Earth worms make the goldfish gut more efficient.

Another point is the low costs after the initial investment, a pound of corn meal every six-eight months is about $3.00. The worm compost (castings) is perfect for gardening. My fishroom is in the 60F’s during the winter and the 70F’s during the summer, this temperature range works very well. I have kept them in the dense shade outside in the summer, but temperature above 82F is hard on them. They also do not like temperatures below 50F. Some over-feeding of your is not detrimental to the fish as the worms survive for weeks in an aquarium. Earthworms as dry matter are 60-70% protein, 6-11% fat and 5-21% carbohydrates (

Once the fish are used to getting the worms routinely, they eat them whole and to not pick at them. Occasionally fish may spit them out and then retry if they have never had anything wiggle in their mouths.

Figures 7 & 8, below show some blue Philadelphia Veiltail stock being fed Earthworms

A few things not to do when culturing Earthworms;

· Never feed animal protein.

· Never add excess aquatic plants if there are diseases in the tanks or medications.

· Never feed dead fish and do not add old fish food.

· If the culture seems dry, add only a tiny amount of water, over wetting will kill the culture.

In summary, Earthworms are a great, odorless live food that is generally easy to culture. As long as they are kept in a good temperature range (50F-80F) the culture generates continuously. The worm castings or compost is great for terrestrial plants.

The Author:

Gary Hater is the Founder and first President of The Goldfish Council Inc., a 501(c)3 charity. He is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio where he resides with his wife, children and grandkids. Gary breeds numerous varieties of goldfish and has been culturing goldfish since 1980.

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1 Comment

Tri Tran
Tri Tran
Sep 17, 2023

Thank you, very helpful!

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