The freshwater oligochaete Lumbriculus variegatus is tank cultured to provide organisms for aquatic habitat assessments and regeneration research and to produce a clean source of live food for aquarium fishes. Shredded paper is the typical substrate in small-scale culture of L variegants, however, the effort needed to separate large numbers of individuals from decomposing paper can be prohibitive. Burlap and nylon mesh materials were compared with paper as potential alternatives for reducing this effort. Production and the time needed to separate L. variegatus from substrate were compared for 8 weeks among cultures with burlap, mesh, and paper substrates. Cultures with paper increased in number and weight faster than those with burlap or mesh, but cultures using the alternative substrates also expanded their populations quickly. The time required to separate oligochaetes from substrate was initially longer with paper and became significantly longer at 6 weeks as the paper decomposed. Burlap frayed, but mesh exhibited no degradation. Elevated ammonia and nitrite concentrations may have suppressed production in mesh treatments throughout the study, and ammonia was lethal in paper treatments during the final 2 weeks. Slow initial production in burlap treatments may have been due 10 chemical applications to the fabric, which may limit the utility of burlap as a substrate. Culture systems that maintain adequate water quality could increase production from burlap and mesh substrates to levels observed with paper substrate. Mesh is recommended because it is nontoxic and nonbiodegradable and can significantly reduce the effort required to obtain oligochaetes and to maintain and monitor the cultures.