Raising Earthworms Makes Sense For Gardeners.

My Earthworm farm is not a commercial operation, it is geared toward eliminating the household kitchen waste and providing fertilizer for the garden, indeed we have achieved zero kitchen waste. I have been actively farming them for over 5 years, there is a learning curve in the beginning. I had a few false starts because of my inexperience; I started with the idea worms live in the dirt so it should be easy. Dig a hole line it with plastic, fill with dirt, moisten it and add a few containers of fishing worms. After several that did not work out I needed to research and learn.

A photo of a bin I had used for several years as an Earthworm Colony habitat.

I decided to purchase a commercially available Vermiculture bin; I chose the “Worm Factory 360.” I have since retired that unit, I would like to pass it on to someone engaging in the first stages of farming. It was a good way to start for someone with no knowledge as I had at the time, the unit included everything I needed to establish the 360. I found it to be an excellent learning device, perfect for a school setting as well. It came with a informative guide explaining the process in an understandable and usable format. I have no financial interest in the Worm Factory 360, nor do they sponsor me in any way.

An important aspect for us to keep in mind is the Earthworms castings are manure, the feces is created from what they eat. As with many processes what goes in affects what comes out. It’s important to understand a bit about their digestive tract, an Earthworm is at it basics an intestinal tract covered with skin. They have no lungs, oxygen is absorbed through the Moist skin. They have no stomach, the worms literally eat their way through the habitat leaving in their wake a trail of castings. They have no teeth or jutting jaws, indeed no bones in their bodies. To take food in they push the pharynx out of the mouth opening wide to take in the food. The prostomium is a flap on the outside of the mouth used to grasp and pull food into the pharynx. It then enters the Gizzard (like a birds) which requires mineral dust (birds use small stones). From the Gizzard the food continues through the intestinal system.

The Earthworms literally eat their way through the habitat, this photo is of a raised bed garden box directly after I prepared it for planting this past spring.

When dealing with the Worm farm, whether it is a small operation or a commercial well established setup attention must be paid to protecting our selves. The chose of foods fed to them dictate what level of protection we need, it is quite different for farms that feed all organic vegetables to those feeding feces and meat. Worms are able to process a wide variety of organics. Feces produced by meat eating animals is more prone to establishing Pathogens. Worm tea, and the solid castings produced in that habitat should not be used on vegetables, use on lawns and non edible plants is fine. We must protect ourselves with vinyl gloves, safety glasses, and shoes with toes, I wear my respirator as well because of health issues I have. If open cuts, blisters, or sores are present be cautious not to contaminate those areas and after working on the colony wash with hot soap and water. Composting toilets are a good example of the dangers present; if the farmer deals with the castings unprotected. Feces from Horses, Cattle, and Sheep and other browsing animals do not present this danger. However if the worms are fed them be certain the animals have not been de-wormed within the previous 30 days, if they have been the manure will kill the entire colony.

A paint strainer bag with one pint of castings placed in a bucket of water with an aquarium air pump circulating the water is the method I use to make the castings into Worm Tea; a natural nitrogen rich liquid fertilizer.
The Tea being brewed, the lid has been removed. Aerated for 24 hours or longer it must be used within 4 days after the air is stopped.

Castings produced by Worms fed organic material only are not as prone to Pathogens however the Personal Protective Equipment should still be used. We need to remember at all times the castings are manure, it is no different than any other animal. It makes no difference that the Earthworms are relatively small they still produce a bin full of manure weighing 50 pounds or more.

A few precautions should not deter anyone’s interest in the ecologically positive activity, my opinion is everyone should have at least one Colony. With a minimum of protection Vermiculture is safe, each of us develops during the learning curve the level we need to remain safe. Starting small assisted with research a size-able Colony can be realized within the first year.

Earthworms are raised in all of my raised beds as well.

Vermiculture is one of my passions, It’s an activity that the more I learn the more there is to learn. If you have questions feel free to ask in the comments.

Jacques Lebec Natural Self Reliance

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