Worm Farming - A Guide
on How to Set Up for Worm Composting in 4 Months
farming or vermiculture, as it is also called, is done by gardeners who
keep earthworms to provide themselves with the rich vermicompost which
can be made in a matter of months.
The casts, or the manure that is produced by earthworms, is called
and the whole process is called vermicomposting
therefore is just a fancy word for worm farming
There are so many benefits to keeping earthworms, however you need to
make sure that you get the right species to do the job.
5 Benefits of Worm Farming
Earthworms in general, are
definitely a gardener's friend. They benefit the soil in so many ways.
they help build good soil through their
tunneling actions, aerating the soil as they go. However, it is not
just the aeration, they leave behind higher concentrations of nitrogen,
calcium, magnesium, and phosphates in the soil.
while they are burrowing around, they are eating and processing the
soil leaving behind these deposits of rich worm castings, that improve
soil in such a way that it maintains moisture for longer.
they are generated an endless supply of cheap compost
that is chemically-free, eco friendly and uses up biodegradable matter
that before you would have just thrown away.
using worm compost it suppresses
certain types of weeds that would grow if the compost were
compost also promotes better
root growth and structure, and is an excellent medium for
seedlings and seeds as it enhances germination and crop yields.
actually just deposits of processed soil that has passed through the
gut and out the
other end. This is enriched humus that has an almost zero pH level, and
it is this that is the pefect food for your vegetables and plants.
So, if you have always wanted to keep earthworms and have a go at worm
farming, but didn't know where to start, this guide is for you. I will
show you how easy
it is, and how you can have
this friable vermicompost within 4 short months that will help to grow
and improve the soil to the rest of your garden.
Vermicompost really is vital to
good soil. In
the previous article on Organic
one of the sections dealt with
soil and how important having healthy soil is to Organic Farming as a
healthy soil equates to healthy vegetables and cattle. One of the main
contributors to this process is the lowly earthworm through worm
However, more and
more people nowadays are realizing how useful this little animal is.
How to Set up a Simple Worm Farm
Many Worms do you Need to Start a Worm Farm?
you are probably wanting to know how many worms you should buy in
starting off your farm. Well, these little creatures will mulitply in
no time at all.
But there are some considerations to take into account,
- how much household garbage do you have that you could feed your
worms on a daily basis?
- Do you have a ready access to other
forms of food for them if needs be?
Earthworms make Good Compost in Worm Farming?
Rubellis Earthworms or Red Worms
Although there are
hundreds of different species of earthworms, there are about 4
main categories of earthworms:
The Native Nightcrawler
The African Nightcrawler
The Red Worm
is the large worm that you will see in your
especially after the rains have visited. They have a
of their body that seems to have a wider band. Although they may be
plentiful in your garden these are not good worms for your composting
The native nightcrawler
that is no good for your farms because it is a slow breeder and doesn't
like his habitat disturbed so a rather fussy worm that is best left
The African nightcrawler
is a close
relative and again is a slow breeder and not worth keeping.
are those that are well sought after by
fishermen and worm
farmers alike, therefore also known as the manure worm. Although there
are two types of red worms, the Lumbricus
is the worm you
want. It is able to consume large amounts of household garbage,
reproduces quickly and doesn't mind having his habitat disturbed from
time to time when you want to harvest the castings.
Although they are
not very large in size, adults only reaching 3 inches on average, which
is different to some of the other worms, like the African
whose average length is 5 inches, although can reach up to a foot in
length, these little manure worms reproduce every 7 days.
Some of the
slower breeds of earthworms only reproduce once every 2
. The red
worm is mature at 9 months
but can start
mating as early as 2 months
old and has a lifespan of 15 years
So you can see, that the
red worm is definitely the species to buy when setting up your new worm
farms. Not only will this be a good choice for your garden, but these
wrigglers are very popular with fishermen too, which is another
sideline that you can venture into in order to maximize profits.
Fishermen like them because they do not drown while in the water,
continue to wriggle to attract the fish whilst on the hooks and don't
loose their color either. However, with millions of wrigglers being
sold each week around the country, you will need to have a fairly large
population of worms first before you decide to set yourself up as a
supplier of bait to fishermen. Bags of worms are packaged
from the 100s
to the 1000s
depending on the type of demand.
How Much Space do
Earthworms Need for Worm Farming?
For each 500 g (1 pound)
of food waste
produced each week, you will need at least 30 cm squared (1 ft squared)
of composting bin space. Therefore choose the size of the composting
bin, or composting tumbler that is appropriate for your size family.
a benchmark for 2-3 people you should have composting bins measuring 60
x 60 x 30 cm stocked with 1 kg of worms.
What Containers to Use for Worm Farming
Worm bins can be either:
a note on wooden bins which are not as durable as the other 2, probably
lasting no more than 3 years due to the moisture content in the soil,
and they need to be made from wood that is untreated and not from
cedar, redwood or similar woods that have a heady smell.
How deep should a worm
have to look at the nature of these worms. They will live towards the
top half of the soil, therefore anything deeper than 12 inches will not
only be wasteful, but it can also cause your bins to smell due to too
much material and micro-organisms that will flourish in deep material
where there is no light and little oxygen.
Most small composting bins for
vermicompost use can be grouped into three categories:
This is an undivided container, a layer
of organic matter is
placed in the composting bin lining the bottom. Worms are then added
and organic matter for composting is added in a layer above the
bedding. Another layer is added on top of the organic matter and the
worms will start to compost the organic matter and bedding. This type
of bin is often used because it is small and easy to build. But it is
relatively difficult to harvest because all the materials and worms
must be emptied out when harvesting.
Continuous vertical flow
This is a series of trays are stacked
top of one another. The bottom tray is filled first, in a similar
fashion to the non-continuous bin, but is not harvested when it is
full. Instead, a thick layer of bedding is added on top and the tray
above is used for adding organic material.
Worms finish composting the
materials in the bottom tray and then migrate to the one above. When a
sufficient number of worms have migrated, the worm compost in the
bottom tray can be collected and should be relatively free of worms.
These bins provide an easier method of harvesting, as they do not all
have to be emptied out.
Continuous horizontal flow
This is a series of trays are lined
This method too relies on the earthworms migrating towards a food
source in order to ease the process of harvesting. The composting bin
is usually constructed to be similar to a non-continuous bin but is
longer and lies horizontally. It is divided in half, usually by a large
gage screen of chicken wire.
One half is used until it becomes full,
then the other half is filled with bedding and organic matter. In time,
the worms migrate to the side with the food and the compost can then be
collected. These bins are larger than a non-continuous system but still
small enough to be used for small-scale worm farming, with the added
advantage of being easier to harvest.
Placing your Worm Farm
So where should you place your worm bin?
Well, many people actually
like to keep their
bin inside, either in a garage, basement, kitchen or laundry area. I
don’t think that compost bins belong indoors at all.
Rather place the
bin in a sheltered area out of the sun. In winter, you
could move the
bin to the garage, or surround it with some form of shelter like hay
bales to keep the snow, rain and cold out.
Setting up the composting bin is easier
than you may think. All you need to start your worm farm are the
plastic bin with a lid to keep away
the flies and to cut down on odors while the matter is
However, your worms will need oxygen, so drill holes in the bottom of
the bin for ventilation and drainage and further help this process by
placing the bin on some bricks to elevate it off the ground.
some bedding in the bin for the
worms in the form of either shredded paper (that from a
shredder is perfect as it is really fine), peat moss or shredded
coconut hair (coir) that can be commercially bought. Do not use glossy
paper or magazines. This should not be more than about a fifth of your
bin space. Remember that the worms eat the bedding, so you need to
replenish this every few months.
to dampen the bedding. Make
sure that you don’t flood the composting bin with too much water. You
just want to make the bedding moist.
place your worms
into the bin. Make
sure that you do this on a sunny day and that the sun is shining into
the compost bin.
* Earthworms don’t like
the sun and they
immediately start digging down into their new home. If you don’t have
the sun shining for this exercise you may find that most of your worms
have crawled out of the bin and left for greener pastures! The worms
can be bought commercially, including over the Internet.
* Now cover with two handfuls of soil
to the bedding
in each bin to supply "roughage" for the
crushed eggshells provides not only roughage but also calcium for the
worms, and it lowers acidity in the bin. Powdered limestone will also
reduce the soil acidity, but don't use slaked or hydrated lime as this
will kill your worms. Now put the lid down on the
Feeding your Worms
There are two methods of
scraps to the bin when worm farming.
* Top feeding
is when food
scraps and biodegradable matter is placed directly on top of the
existing layer in a bin and then covered with another layer of bedding
and soil. This is repeated every time the bin is fed.
* Pocket feeding — a
top layer of
bedding is maintained and food is buried beneath by drilling down into
the bedding. The location of the food is changed each time, rotating
around the bin to give the worms time to decompose the food in the
previously fed pockets. The top layer of bedding is replaced when
pound of worms will eat about three
and one half pounds of food scraps a week.
If you add more
your worms can handle, anaerobic conditions will set in and cause the
soil to sour. Make sure that food scraps are always buried under the
avoid attracting flies and rodents.
do Earthworms Eat and How much do I Feed them?
The answer to this
answered question is not cut and dried. It really depends on what sort
of waste you are feeding your worms and in what condition they receive
If you are giving them waste from your kitchens that is high
in water then they will go through watermelon, for example a lot
quicker than they will go through uncooked pumpkin. However, if you
were to process that same waste and put it through a food processor or
blender, then your worms could process that far more quickly and then
could eat 3-4 times their body weight in one day.
However, as a rule
earthworms eat 1/3rd to 1/2 of their bodyweight in food, per day.
Therefore 2 lbs
of earthworms which amounts to about 4000 worms could eat their way
through 1lb food
per day. The bigger your
household, the more garbage you will
generate and therefore the bigger your worm farm could be.
Get your food scraps that
been saving up. The best scraps are fruit and vegetable
skins, apple cores etc. If you want to help your worms along, some of
those scraps could be liquidized in a blender to quicken the process.
Additions such as cow, sheep, pig or
is a bonus, but it
is not a necessity. If you keep rabbits then you should think of
keeping earthworms as rabbit manure is perfect for them as long as you
meet two conditions;
feed manure to the worms if the animals from which the manure comes
have been dewormed, as this will kill your worms.
Treat your rabbit manure first by sprinkling the droppings with
limestone powder for 24 hours. This neutralizes the acidity levels in
* Coffee grounds, tea
leaves and coffee filters can
all be fed to your worms.
is important to your worms as they are a good source of nitrogen.
However, the problem with adding meat to your bins is that it will
quickly spoil and smell. In order to minimize the smell, chop the meat
scraps up small, and mix them with sawdust before adding to the bins.
* Chicken mash should
be fed to your worms to give them a boost for both propagation and
fattening up if you are wanting to sell them off to fishermen. Just
sprinkle some chicken mash on top of the beds. You will soon know just
how much your worms will take down however, don't overfeed as the soil
can turn soil very quickly.
have shown that there is a correlation between food types and rates of
breeding. Food that is high in nitrogen results in faster breeding.
However, remember that the carbon:nitrogen ratio of foodstuffs in your
bins should be about 20:1 respectively.
What not to Feed
- In setting up your worm farm avoid
feeding the worms the following:
fats or dairy
onions and garlic, fish, bones, tobacco, or pet or human
much fat prevents the earthworms from
breathing properly as they
breathe through their skin.
- Also avoid using too many watermelon skins
as they really don’t have a lot of nutritional value for the earthworm
and they also disrupt the moisture levels of the compost.
- If your lawns
have been sprayed with any weed killer avoid feeding
these clippings to
Maintaining and Caring for your Worms
worms alone for the majority of the time. They don't
really like being disturbed.
Feeding them just once or twice a week is enough,
as long as you remember that the longer you have your worms the more
you will have, under the right conditions, and so you need to increase
the amount of food that you give them accordingly. However, never
When worm farming make
sure that you have
enough moisture in your bin, without it getting too wet.
This is because the earthworm breathes through its skin as previously
mentioned, and they need
moisture to survive. However, if the soil is too wet then you end up
with carbon dioxide in the soil instead, which will poison them.
sure that the compost is alkaline rather than acidic. Your worms will
be healthy when pH of the soil is between 6.8 and 7.2. This
ideal pH level will allow your worms to successfully digest
You should turn
the bin contents over to aerate the soil. Scarify the top 3-4 inches only and do this about every 3 weeks.
To keep the moisture in and to keep the light out,
a good way of doing
this is by using a damp piece of burlap and placing it on top of the
worm bins, or containers. Carpet underlay can also be used. Not only
are you keeping the light out, but you are also helping to insulate the
soil and protect it against extreme temperatures.
Finally, your earthworms need warm soil. 16º-25º C
So, in Summary Your
Earthworms Require 6 Things to Exist:
A dark place to live
If all requirements are met your worms
will live quite happily in their new environment and will also
procreate. Adult worms
produce three cocoons a week and each cocoon
will contain at least three baby worms and sometimes ten or more. Every
three months the worms should be harvested or separated from the
sure that your soil never smells
sour. If this happens it means that the soil is too wet.
If it smells
sour then add calcium carbonate, also known as garden lime – very
different to ordinary lime which will kill your worms, crushed egg
shells, dirt, sand, or more newspaper to soak up that excess moisture.
how wet should your compost be when
worm farming? -
About 75% moist. What exactly does this mean? I can already hear you
ask. Well, if you take a handful of matter and squeeze it hard you
should only get about a drop or two of liquid. This is just how your
worms like their environment and will be quite happy to stay.
No only will they be happy to stay they
will also multiply. If conditions are good, you will double your worm
population in six months. If the worms become crowded and you do not
remove any, then worms will slow down their reproduction.
Knowing When and How to Harvest the Vermicompost
for your Worm Farm
Smaller scale worm bins
in a variety of ways, and the length of time it takes for
to be completed really depends on a whole range of variables including
the size of the container to start off with. In all cases, harvesting
should begin when the bedding and consumed food has turned a rich dark
brown. It should be moist and crumbly, with a consistency of coffee
about six weeks, you will begin
to see worm castings (soil-like material that has moved through the
worms' digestive tracts).
Castings can boost plant growth, since
are rich in organic matter and the nutrients plants need to thrive, and
are pulsing with biological activity that will bring life to your soil
about 4 months it will be time to
separate the worms from the compost. If you have a non-continuous or
undivided container, it is more difficult to harvest the worms.
However, this situation is certainly not impossible.
Take the contents
and turn it upside-down on a piece of plastic such as a ground sheet or
a tarpaulin. Because the earthworms are photosensitive, if this is done
on a sunny day the worms will start burrowing down, and then it is easy
to start scraping the compost from the top, waiting in between for them
the move downwards. Wait
20-30 minutes before starting to scrape off
the top layer of compost.
If, however, you are the impatient
type, get yourself a fine meshed sieve, the type they use in
construction yards, if your compost heap is fairly large, or a large
household sieve will do. Sieve the compost until you have finely
granulated composted on one side, and your worms in the other to start
the process all over again.
Don’t be lazy and put the worms into
soil along with the compost. It’s not that the worms will damage your
plants in any way, but red worms are not worms that will survive for
any length of time in such soil. In nature, this type of worm lives in
mild climates in the leaves on the forest floor or in manure piles.
on the lookout for worm eggs. They
are lemon-shaped and about the size of a match head. They are shiny in
appearance, and are light brown in color. The eggs contain between two
and twenty baby worms. Although it is time consuming, you may want to
return the eggs to your bin so they can hatch and thrive.
Another way to harvest the compost
during worm farming is
to move the compost to one side of the box and add fresh bedding and
food to the other side. Then only bury food on the new side. In six
weeks, the worms will have migrated to the new bedding and you can
harvest the finished compost, and replace it with new bedding.
Worm Farming and How to use the Worm Casts
- You can use
your vermicompost straight
away or store it and use it later. It will be good for
about a year.
it into the top six inches of soil in your garden and around your trees
and plants. You can also use it as a top dressing on outdoor plants or
sprinkle it on your lawn like you would as if you were top-dressing.
Vermicompost makes great nutrient-rich mulch so is perfect for areas
that don’t get lots of rain for moisture retention.
you can safely mix
vermicompost with your potting soil. You can place the castings 1/4
inch down into the soil, and repeat every 2 months. Unfortunately, worm
castings can contain quite a bit of salt which is not a problem when
you add them to your garden, but when you add them to container plants
make sure that you water your plants well to wash away any excess salt
that might build up in the soil. Just make sure
that you have removed all worms and eggs from the compost as they will
not survive in an indoor pot.
- If you are planting new shrubs, roses, or
fruit trees in your gardens you can add a couple of
handfuls of worm castings to the bottom of your holes before planting.
- You can also make a "compost
tea" or liquid
feed to your plants with worm farming. An easy recipe is to
add two tablespoons of worm
compost to one quart of water and allow it to steep for a day, mixing
occasionally. Water your plants with this "tea" to give them a boost.
Of course you can make
worms too as long as you have some rotting material and lots of
bacteria bugs. But do you know the optimal carbon to nitrogen ratio for
our Simple Life to find out more about the ratio and
find other interesting worm composting links on the site, or just read
about their very interesting site on how they changed their lifestyles.
Common Pests and Problems with Worm Farming
Unfortunately, when you have food about you will attract insects that you don't want. The following are possible pests:
- Ants: use an organic pesticide to get rid of the ants as you don't want them anywhere near your worms
- Rats: partly compost any food in covered bins first, before adding them to the compost bins/beds
- Earwigs: scrunch up wet newspaper and use these as traps. Burn them the next day.
- Snakes: be wary of snakes who like the moist soil and will drastically reduce your worm population
make your property as fox-proof as possible, adding sensor security
lights, where you can and putting human hair in stockings and tying
them around the bins or beds
- The worms themselves are free of diseases, but if there is an acid build up in the soil, then they can die from a build up of gas from food they have ingested, resulting in their crops exploding.
- Some people have also experienced problems with mites, nematodes, and parasite protozoa.
- Keep your beds free from weeds and tree roots that will rob the soil of good nutrients. Line your beds with polythene sheeting to prevent this from happening.
conditions are not right, your worms will pack up and move elsewhere!
Wind, rain, temperature changes, lack of food, lack of moisture can all
result in your worms migrating to greener pastures. Install overhead lighting to prevent this, and keep conditions as optimal as possible.
RECOMMENDED BOOKS ON WORM FARMING
Looking for more Information on
Worm composting and Worm Farming?
For more information on how, as a dairy
farmer, you could make good use of all that cow manure. Have a look at
this fascinating video on commercial worm farming.
WORM FARMING VIDEOS
Large-scale worm casting production.
Worm Power Story
full Worm Power
video explaining production and usage of organic worm castings and
vermicompost for flowers, fruits and vegetables, and wine grapes.
for setting up a 'deluxe' Rubbermaid worm composting bin
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