Vermiculture; Raising Earthworms.

What is Vermiculture? It’s the 35 cent word for Earthworm farming, raising worms in an environment created by the farmer enabling us to take advantage of the many advantages they offer us.

For those interested in embarking towards the goal of zero waste this may be a logical starting point. There are two choices, Composting hot or cold, or Composting while raising Earthworms.

Worms don’t need much attention but they do require * a cool dark quiet location. * A well maintained Habitat. * A safe, secure enclosure * Food * Moisture and Oxygen.

Secure Worm colony totes.

A enclosure must be decided on first. Choices may be purchased commercially as well as constructing them at home. I have used several types, the first one known by the the trade name “Worm Factory 360”. I had made several attempts previous to purchasing this model most of my attempts started with the mindset of “Well worms live in the dirt I’ll buy some fishing worms, dig a hole then set them in it.”

There is a lot wrong with that mindset, the first one is worms do not live in dirt. Red Wigglers, which are the best for composting, live in the layer between the completely composted organic material and the completely composted mulch. We must copy that in our colonies, the enclosures are important.

There are numerous ways to build one if that is the desired path to take. Some use old sinks, bathtubs, even chest of drawers. Fabric bags, Plastic Pipe, or old water troughs work well. The initial expense does not need to be applied for through a bank.

Many Vermiculturist opt for a less expensive yet easily obtainable choice, Plastic Tote bins. Just like the ones Walmart or any big box outfit sells, other than beginning with the 360 for those who are a bit Leary, I would recommend plastic totes.

Drill a series of 1/4 inch holes 2 inches from the top and bottom on two inch centers for air.

The bins need holes drilled in them to prepare for use raising worms. Holes are needed 2 inches from the bottom spaced on 2 inch centers to match the top.

The photo above is the hole pattern I use when initially constructing a bin. It’s important to note the holes drilled in the bottom and top must consist of the same number to assure a proper air flow. I chose a minimum of 20 holes set in the same pattern, this bin has more than that but it is of no concern. The holes must be no larger than 1/4 inch (6.35 mm), 5/16 inch is OK larger is not recommended. Mice, lizards and other small animals are able to squeeze into larger holes, it happened to me I lost an entire colony but the mice were fat and happy. Holes drilled 2 inches from the bottom on the sides spaced 2 inches apart provide more air, a matching set is drilled 2 inches from the top on the vertical as well. After the lid is drilled the bin is ready to set up to accept the worms. Bedding must be obtained, it is found everywhere.

Pictured above is a bin I have retired, as is visible the plastic began to deteriorate, it is no longer safe for the Red Wigglers. Bedding may consist of most organic material, this box is full of leaves, shredded cardboard, and shredded paper all standard bedding materials. This is what is called “Carbon” in the Vermiculture world. Flowers, leaves from any tree except Eucalyptus may be used, Ice Plant, Straw, Vegetable plant leaves, Coir, and Peat Moss plus many other materials may be employed. I add Potato Peelings in the bedding as well, it dries out much like leaves, the worms will eat it in due course.

Setting up the bin for the introduction of the Red Worms is fairly simple. Locate the box in a cool spot out of direct sunlight or breezes. Cut a piece of cardboard to fit snugly covering the entire bottom, this is to block the worms from escaping into the low rimmed pan or extra bin lid set beneath the box to capture moisture. Spread 1 inch of compost (organic) either purchased or from your composter, covering the cardboard on the bottom. At one end place 1/2 pound of worm food. There is no trick to this, I will talk about food next, after placing two or three carrots in the freezer overnight let them thaw. After cutting them or rendering them down with a blender place the Carrots on one end of the bin. In a bucket of water, or a deep sink, wet enough bedding to cover the cardboard 1 inch thick. On top of that spread dry bedding 1 inch deep and allow it to sit for one week until the worms arrive. When they do it is important to place them on top of the bedding, they will be balled up due to stress, do not untangle them. Lay the ball on top of the bedding, close the lid, and leave them alone for one week. Be prepared to feed them and add moisture to the bedding.

Prepared bedding, shredded paper, cardboard and newsprint above, bedding including leaves on the bottom.

What does Worm food consist of? Almost any vegetable, plant, fruit, or melon. Among their favorite foods are: Black Bananas, Pumpkin, Avocados, Green Beans, all squash, Egg shells, Potatoes, Oatmeal/Cornmeal, and all Fruits. Many websites have lists of what not to feed them, I have come across a few food items they won’t eat; Onions, Hot Peppers, and Bones. Some foods I will not feed them, a rule of thumb with raising Worms is the quality of castings depends upon what they are fed, in other words we reap what we sow. I don’t feed them scat of any kind for a number of reasons the first is I won’t use the castings on vegetables due to introduction of pathogens. Meat eating animals scat promotes the formation of disease in the soil, we don’t want it to touch our vegetables. I don’t feed them meat for the same reason, no oil or grease, nothing with salt in it as that will dry them out. I stay away from hard items as well, they will eat a Turnip but boil them until they are soft or freeze them overnight. By cooking or freezing hard vegetables the fibers in them break down softening them to make eating easier for our toothless buddies.

I grow Pumpkins year round to feed the Earthworms. They are cut into quarters, the seeds removed then frozen overnight to break down the fibers.

On a final note; When choosing bins it is perfectly fine to use previously used containers. However wash them well with soap and hot water, then triple rinse them following with an inspection. We’re looking for spots that may be contaminated with oil, wax, grease, or a multitude of other materials. Insecticides will kill the worms, oil will cover their bodies rendering breathing impossible for them. Worms do not have lungs they aspirate through their skin; oils block the pores suffocating them.

Jacques Lebec Zero Waste

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