Warning science content. May cause involuntary loss of conciseness known as sleepiness!
Worms are greatly outnumbered even in their own home. In the bin with them they are countless numbers of microorganisms. How many you may ask, countless billions to hundreds of billions in a mere handful of compost is common (Miller and Gardiner 2001). These microorganisms consist of micro plant life such as algae and fungi and countless bacteria . Not only is the number of microorganisms astounding but the shear variety is amazing. Most of the microorganisms that commonly occur in average soils have yet to be named or studied.
Algae, like plants, consume CO2 and release oxygen in a process known as photosynthesis. During photosynthesis the CO2 is restructured with hydrogen from water to produce starches, fats, and sugars. Because photosynthesis requires light algae are only active in the upper layers of compost where light is available. When algae die they are decomposed by fungi and are now a food source to the other creatures in the compost including worms.
The fungi kingdom consist of molds, mushrooms, yeast and a few others. They do not utilize light to produce energy and therefore may occupy all levels of a compost bin. Since they cannot use light to produce energy they must consume oxygen and decompose carbon into carbon dioxide to produce energy. Hence fungus help decomposition whereas algae do not. The vast majority of fungus are harmless and many produce substances beneficial to man such as antibiotics and also the interesting flavor of blue cheese. Fungus also help change nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium into forms usable by plants (Pollock and Griffiths 2005). In-fact without microorganisms life on earth would quickly cease because of a lack of CO2 (Surber 2009).* See note at bottom
Bacteria though are the real movers in all of this. Bacteria can double in number as little as 30 minutes! Bacteria play an extremely important role in converting gasses that are toxic and unusable to plants into more stable and useful solids. Bacteria are classified as aerobic, requires oxygen to live, or anaerobic, does not require oxygen. Because worms need air anaerobic bacteria should not be found in large quantities in a worm bin. Aerobic bacteria use oxygen to convert nitrites into nitrates. This is good because nitrites are toxic to plants and worms (Miller and Gardiner 2001). This is another reason it is so important to have good aeration in the worm bed. Also it is important to not add to much nitrogen to a bin at once because the bacteria will consume the oxygen quicker then it can be replaced. At this point the harmful nitrites will build up inside the bin.
Actual bacteria viewed under a microscope at 50,000x magnification
Well if you made it this far thank you for reading this. If you enjoyed it you may consider yourself an official “Worm-Book Worm”
*Plants have a voracious appetite for CO2 and would quickly consume all available. Then when the plants die they would just lay there without decomposing and lock up that CO2. Most botanist agree that CO2 is the limiting factor for plant growth.