WORMS ARE WONDERFUL
I teach how to raise worms for composting, fertilizer and fun on a poor mans budget. Whatever you do, don't buy a bunch of expensive do-dads, worm trays, and plastic junk to raise your worms in, you don't need them and your worms won't care. Follow these simple instructions and you will have more worms and casting than you can use for next to nothing!
I am available to do complete presentations at your location, garden clubs etc. There is no better way to learn than see it done and participate in the process. If after you read this you have an interest in starting your own worm farm contact me for available dates and rates.
by: The Rolling Oaks worm guy - Ricky Charles Dodson
WHY WOULD I EVER WANT WORMS ?
Worms are the coolest critters on this planet. Everything they do for us is wonderful and what they do for our gardens is unbelievable. Worms eat, have babies and turn trash into the richest fertilizer on the planet, they loosen the soil, and add tons of enjoyment to those who raise them. If you raise any kind of plants you simply must have worms.
To give you an idea of how potent these little critters are consider this. If you compare the contents of the top soil on this planet to the same soil after being processed by red wigglers worms, the difference is staggering! Whatever soil you pick worms enhance it to the following magnitude. They double the calcium content. The magnesium level increases by two and a half times. The nitrates goes up by five times. The phosphorous level increases by seven times and the potassium level by a whopping eleven times. These are all elements that fertilizer companies spend millions to refine and bag up for sale. These elements are what your plant, be them vegetable, or flowers need for a healthy life. The process the companies use to achieve this is complicated, costly, and they use all sorts of chemicals to manufacture it. In most cases their process is not earth friendly and the finished process is not as pure and healthy for your plants, or you. Plus a lot of store bought fertilizers have other chemicals in them your plants really don't need at all. The worms do it as a natural course of living. They do it with ease and fast. It is what they were put here to do. They are like little machines that pump out these wonderful elements with every move they make, it's their job and they do it well, cheap, and seem to enjoy every second of their job. Once you get your original start of worms all you have to do is give them a little care and they give you give you back an abundance of this perfect blend of nutrients for your plants. They will multiply so fast you will always have an abundance of the perfect fertilizer on hand for your plants and within a short time enough for your friends as well. You will be able to sell worm starts to your friends and make a decent profit and have enough to release into your garden bed which will do amazing thing for your garden. They have no down side, everything they do is positive, profitable and healthy. The below is an overview of how to become a successful red worm farmer. It is easy and fun,
To raise worms you need a home for them. An old ice chest, 5 gallon bucket, or almost any free old container will work. It just need to be clean and chemical free. You will have to drill holes in the bottom and sides, so oxygen can get in and water can drain out. Some people drill big holes and less of them, some smaller holes and more of them. Depending on the size of the holes you might have to cover them with a fine mesh and gray tape them on to keep the worms from crawling out. Then you mix your bedding. I use one half Pete moss and one half composted manure, Rabbit, cow, goat, and horse is best. Do not use dog and cat poop. I use cow manure, because it's cheap and easy to get. The reason you don't use fresh poop is because most cow feed has fungicides in it to keep mushrooms from growing in it and keep the hippies out of their fields chasing their cows around. The fungicides can kill your worms fast. When you use composted manure the fungicides are burned off and made harmless to your worms and plants. Pete moss comes in a big plastic bag, one bag cost about $15.00 and will last a long time and make a lot of beds. The manure cost a few dollars a bag. Mix your Pete moss and manure together well, then add water. The Pete will soak up a lot of water, more than you might think. Let it sit a few days. This allows the manure to soak into the moss, creating an even mixture of food for your worms. When your mixture is correct you can squeeze a hand full and only a few drops of water will flow out. If it is to wet add more manure and moss until it's the rite consistency, to dry, add more water. Some people also add saw dust, but you have to be careful to not use wood that has been treated with chemicals, so I don't use it just in case. There are a lot of people who use shredded cord board, and or news paper as the bulk of their bedding. This works fine, your worms will eat it and turn it into castings. The main problem with this technique is paper products dry out fast. You have to really keep your eye on the moisture level of your bins, or they will dry out and your worms will die. The main question about using news paper is does the ink hurt the worms. Since news paper ink is made of carbon and oil it does not harm worms . Until a few years ago colored ink was made with chemicals that are not healthy for worms, but the government put a stop to that because of fear that kids would eat it and get sick. Now almost all news paper companies use chemicals to make their colored ink that are safe for kids and worms. As you research worm breading more you will find that different people do it differently. I encourage you to research and try different things. What I am telling you works for me and others I know, but it is not the only way. I line my bin with a layer of porous ground cover to keep them from crawling out of the air holes. Then fill you bin with about 6 inches of bedding. Place your worms on top and lightly cover with newspaper, and or cardboard. This blocks the light and helps keep the moisture in the bedding the proper consistency. They will burrow into their new home fast. There are some plastic bins on the market that stack. I have looked at these and do not believe they offer a proper living environment for you worms. They don't allow for enough bedding depth for the worms and the system is too expensive. In theory it might be a good idea, but I am all about doing it cheap and easy. They do work, but for ones I've seen the worms don't seem to multiply as fast and the spout they put in the bottom for drainage clogs up and does not drain properly. This causes a puddle of water in the bottom and any worm that winds up on the bottom drowns. A wood box, or old ice chest with the lid broke off works just fine. Now all you have to do is feed them, love them, play guitar for them some times, they like blue grass I've found, and split them every few months. This does not mean cutting them in half. Splitting will be explained in a moment.
Below, worms breading, a worm egg, and hatching egg.
Worms breed in a very cool way. All worms have both sex organs and can and do perform as both sexes. They have a collar near their head where they generate their eggs, which they make about every two weeks. The collar is the thicker band that forms when the worms get old enough to breed. When a worm is ready to mate, it secretes a hormone that tells the other worms it's looking for a partner. Two worms will find each other and position themselves in opposite directions. They link up close to the wide collar near their head. The collar is the female sex organ. The male sex organs are near the collar. The two worms secrete a slime that covers each of them. The worm develop their eggs in the collar. Each worm will release their sperm, which travels down a slot into the egg sack. After they separate the worms form a hard cocoon at the collar. The egg carrying worms then dispels the cocoon. After a few weeks it will hatch with between 2 and 20 babies, always in sets of two. Their tiny and no thicker than a thin wire and can be from one half inch to three inches long. As soon as they hatch there ready to start working for you making castings. In a few months your babies are old enough to have babies themselves. It is true that if a worm can't find a partner they can and will have sex with themselves, but it is a misnomer that they can impregnate themselves. It takes two to have babies, but one can tango.
FEEDING YOUR WORMS.
Worms are vegetarians for the most part, do not feed them meat, they won't eat it and it will rot and bring maggots. Some people think this is good so they can feed the maggots to their chickens. Worms hate maggots! If you want to raise maggots do it in a separate bin, Put old meat in there and maggots will appear. So will about a million fly's, so be ready. Worms love watermelon and all melon rind and cooked sweet potato skin more than anything I've found. They also will eat most other table scraps. Do not feed them eggs, although some people do feed them egg shells. If you choose to do this they must be pulverized. The only real reason to feed them egg shells is the calcium helps the worms in the process of grinding up the other food and bedding and turning them into castings. A few hands full of dirt will do the same thing. I don't feed my worms egg products mainly because years ago I dropped an egg in my front yard and it busted. Nothing would grow in that area for years. Never feed them dairy products and stay away from heavy acidic fruits like lemons and limes, although orange and grape fruit peels seem to be fine and little bits of cheese does not seem to hurt them. Worms have jaws that bite the food and tears it apart as they eat, but you want to make it as easy as possible for them to eat, so there are a few tricks that will make them love you. Your worms will eat almost all of your table scraps. If your left over are chunky put them in a micro safe bag and nuke them for a few minutes. Then swish and squeeze the bag and break the food down into a mush they can handle. They also eat cornmeal, but it can be pretty big grained, so I use a coffee grinder and turn it into a powder. I like to put the powder into a coke bottle about a third full and fill it with water. Then shake it and let it sit for a few days before I feed it to my worms. They love it! They also eat newspaper, although it has little food value it gives them the fiber they need to keep things moving, and cardboard. In fact cardboard can keep them alive because of the glue used in cardboard is made from horse hide, because it is processed it's OK for the worms and won't bring in maggots. By the way, their jaws are to small to bite you. In general it's a good idea to cover your beds with newspaper and cardboard anyway, this keeps the light out. When you feed, just lift the cover and place the food under it and on top of the bed. They also eat the manure you started with. That's why you start with it. This is important, they love used coffee grounds, never throw them away, if you don't have worms save them for mine! Allays put the food on the top of the bedding. If you bury it, they won't eat it and it can cause a condition in the soil that can kill your worms. Don't cover the entire surface of the bed with food. Leave space for them to hunt for their food and be able to get away from it without having to go underground. Remember a red worn can eat half it's weight in a day. That's why it's so important to start with good manure, as they burrow they pass it through them giving them the nutriments they need to survive and produce castings. The main reason I don't use just newspaper for bedding is if don't feed them enough table scraps they can survive on the manure. Cover the food with cardboard, newspaper, or a breathable light cover, so they won't have to decide to eat, or avoid the light. They will avoid the light and starve themselves. Some people bury the food just under the surface, this seems to work OK. Most people who keep their bins inside their house do this to keep the odder down. Either seems to work about the same, but if you bury the food, do not bury in deep. Red worms are top feeders. Night crawlers feed at a deeper level, but don't breed as fast, are harder to keep alive, and do not manufacture castings as fast. I do raise earth worms, but they are more suited for fish bait that fertilizer manufacturers.
One real important thing to remember is this. Worms eat food that is composting, or rotting. When you put you food in the bin they will start eating it as it decomposes. They start on the edges and work inwards. Don't worry if the food sits there a while looling untouched, that's normal. It will decay and the worms will eat it.
When you handle you worms keep them wet, a dry worm is a dead worm. Don't keep them out long, and use a spray bottle to mist them if you do. Light really hurts them, they hate it, too much sunlight will kill them. A few minutes or so is OK, but in general there is no reason to stress your worms out. Keep them happy and they will keep you happy.
Splitting Your Worms.
Splitting is what you do when they multiply to the point that there are to many in their house and when you are ready to harvest the castings. The adult worms don't like it when there are hundreds of babies bugging them. They won't eat as well, they won't have sex as much and they are just not happy. Splitting takes care of this by separating the adults from the babies and generally thinning out the heard. Also if the bin is too full they seem to know not to have more babies, and they won't grow as big and fast. By the way as a general rule if you want more worms let the number be higher, so they can find each other easy, if you want bigger worms thin them a bunch and feed them a lot. Red wigglers will only get a certain size no matter what you do to them. After a while you will get a feel for how they should look and know if they are not getting big enough.
To split your worms there are two ways. Some people move all the bedding to one side of the bin and fill the other side with fresh bedding. Then only feed the new side. After about a week most of your flock will have moved to the fresh side and you can scoop out the castings from that side. I prefer to gently dump my bin on plastic and hand separate them. This gives me an eyes on view of how many I have, how their doing and gives me some quality time with each of them, (so to speak). I will have two fresh bins ready to place them in as I cull them from the castings. When you have all your worms in their new bedding it's time to harvest the castings. Remember, your worms cannot survive in pure castings, you absolutely have to give them fresh bedding every few months or they will leave or die!
Most all of the dirt left over after splitting is castings. You can just use it as is, but where is the fun in that. Most people screen the castings into a casting bucket. What you will get is a fine, dark, rich, pure pile of castings that smells like pure nature. The screen will also filter out the un hatched eggs and worms you missed in the splitting. The eggs look almost exactly like pot seeds, not that you would know what they look like. There sort of yellow, orange and pear, or oval shaped. Put your eggs into the new baby bin and they will hatch
soon. If you split your bins every few months you will be crawling in worms before you know it. Here is a little trick that I use when I split my worms, or need to get some from the bin to sell, or give away. Remember I said they like melon rind? About three days before I need to harvest the worms I eat a watermelon and give my worms the rind. In just a few days about 50 percent of your worms, or more will come to the top to eat the fresh melon. You can just lift the rind and take out a hand full of pure worms with very little bedding. If you don't want tons of bins to deal with let them go in you garden, or sell them. If you put them in your garden they will stay around and mulltiply there. You should put some of your worms in your garden just as a general rule. They will burrow down and through the dirt leaving tunnels, and castings. Also they produce a slime that coats the walls of the tunnels. It hardens to keep the tunnel open. This slime is castings. The tunnels improves drainage and breaks up the soil. Generally you don't have to feed them in your garden, just use plenty of compost and manure.
WORM CASTING TEA
I love to turn my castings into worm castings tea. To do this just put a hand full of castings in a jug and add water. Shake it well and let it sit for a few days. This further breaks down the castings and lets your plants absorb it better. You can also spray it on you plants leaves, they love it. It will also keep almost all harmful critters like mites off and without harmful chemicals. When it rains it will wash it off to the ground and feed your plants. Win Win. Another neat way is to put your casting in an old sock. We all have stray socks. Tie a knot in it and drop it in a bucket of water, and you got casting tea. Very cool. I tie a string on the sock and tie the other end to a stick. Lay the stick across the top of the bucket and hand the sock about half way down in the bucket. Every now and then lift the sock up and let it drain, them drop it again to continue to soak. It's just like making tea with a tea bag. Leave your tea sock in the bucket for a few days, or a week. Afterwards, dump the used castings out on your garden, they will still be useful to your plants.
KEEPING YOUR WORMS HOME
If your worms get dissatisfied with their environment for some reason they will try to leave. Try switching from bluegrass to classical. They can crawl up the wall of anything and escape fast. They won't if you keep them happy, feed them rite, correct temperature, between 40 and 80 is best, but Texas weather won't kill them. Texas worms are tough. They won't leave in winter because they don't like the cold. You can totally prevent them from leaving by putting a small light over their bin. I use Christmas lights on a timer. If you do this you have to pay a little more attention to feeding them because you can starve them, remember they hate light more than anything, except hard rock and rap music. and remember they can't live in pure castings, so if you force them to stay you can kill them.
As hard as I've tried I can't get my worms to do tricks, but neither do my dogs. Maybe it's me. If you decide to raise worms though, I can promise you this, you will learn to love them and the time you spend with them. They will enhance your life, make your plants grow better, make you calmer and bring you closer to nature than anything I've ever found. People ask me if I go to church, I say yes I do, of course I'm talking about my worm bins. Your plants will love you for having them as well. By the way plants love guitar music too, but poetry seems to really be their thing.
Raising worms can really be a lot of fun and great for you garden and our environment. Think about this, if everyone had a worm bin or two, most all of the rotted food would not wind up in the city dump for the seagulls to eat. It would wind up in your garden. That would reduce the garbage in our dumps by millions of pounds. Once in the dump, it's useless to anyone. If you do get into worm breading, and I hope you do, you can always contact me with questions, I'll be happy to help you any way I can.
The last thing to mention here is if you want to raise worms for money you have to get enough worms of your own to start with. Your worms will double in number every three months, so if you have five pounds of worms, you can only sell five pounds in three months to keep your original breeding stock. If you have ten pounds of worms you could sell ten pounds every three months. If you really want to make money you need to let you flock grow to the amount you want to sell every three months. It's geometric. If you had one hundred pounds of worms you could have one hundred pounds to sell every three months. I sell my worms for 35.00 a pound, that can really add up fast. It's hard to do that though because your friends won't want to wait till you have a hundred pounds. You will have to figure out how to manage that one.
I will be adding more information here as I learn, or discover it. I am available to do presentations on raising worms for garden clubs, school, etc. Please contact me for information on availability and rates.