Volumes of material have been
written on the subject; earthworms are the unheralded soldiers of the
soil. Among the primary benefits of having earthworms in the soil are:
they aerate it, break it up for easier access by plant roots, help the
soil hold more water, clean up dead organic matter by eating it and
turning it into the world's best plant food, (whether natural or chemical),
they contain 60% protein and are raised as a very high grade animal
feed and much more. Then again, let us not forget, they make a lot of
Generally speaking, 2 lbs. of
earthworms will recycle 1 lb. of organic waste in 24 hours. In absolutely
ideal conditions of comfort and ground up, moist food, the herd will
recycle their own weight in wastes every 24 hours.
Earthworms can be fed all forms
of food waste, yard & garden waste, (plant and root material are
OK but not too much dirt), paper and cardboard too wet to recycle otherwise,
etc. Don't worry about how nasty some waste matter may seem to be, the
earthworms have strange tastes. In fact, they are at their highest level
of activity, consuming and procreating with glee when recycling cow
manure or sewage sludge.
Do not feed them; metals, foils,
plastics, chemicals, oils, solvents, insecticides, soaps, paint, etc.
Avoid all citrus products (oranges,lemons, limes, grapefruit), onions,
garlic cloves, extremely hot and heavily spiced foods, and high acid
foods. Also, avoid oleanders and other poisonous plants (if you are
unsure about a species, ask a nurseryman). Be careful of plants that
have been sprayed with insecticide.
The earthworms will need a little
help from you in the preparation of some of the materials. Be sure the
overall mix, (or any individual waste), is moist, about like a blueberry
muffin or sponge cake.
Avoid soaking or flooding the
food. Most food waste can be put directly onto the worm bed just as
it comes from the table. Just scatter it around the top of the bed.
Before feeding them, the waste
matter can be mixed together or not, whichever is easier for you. Chocolate
cake, watermelon and Chinese mustard topped with bread, beef, herring,
candy and banana peels make a scrumptious meal for the versatile little
creatures. Coffee grounds too, they love the grounds.
Grinding (via a blender or food
processor) or cutting things up to 1/4" size particles or smaller
will speed recycling time by up to 50%. Don't bother to bury the waste
since they will come up for it, plus, it is easier for you to see when
it is all recycled, and thus, feeding time again. Spread the material
around, but not too evenly, leave the little recyclers room to "pull
back" from the food when they feel like it. A loose coat of food
up to 2" high is OK.
With a two bin or single bin "through" system,
it is quite easy, you simply take the container with the accumulated
castings and pour them into a permanent storage container, directly
onto your garden soil, or both. With any other bin, the worm/casting
mix must go through a harvester to separate the worms from the castings.
There are many types of harvesters from a simple framed piece of 3/16" mesh
to motorized, drum type, large volume harvesters. For residential use,
a hand held mesh frame should suffice.
Bedding material for startup
and future re-starts can be; Canadian peat moss, soaked in water at
least 24 hours, (US peat is too tough & stringy), yard clippings,
dead leaves, wood shavings, newspaper (torn up and soaked in water).
Garden clippings should have "aged" beyond the green stage.
Any moistened organic material can be used for bedding. If you look
around, there is usually plenty nearby, inside or outside of your house.
Many people live within a short
driving distance from one type of livestock operation or another. Most
rabbit, horse, cattle, ostrich, etc. farmers will make some sort of
beneficial deal to get rid of their manure. Payment by you, if required,
has to be substantially lower than bagged manure at the nursery. Many
farmers will let you haul it off just to get rid of it.
Don't use green manure for bedding,
it has to be dried and composted. A few months in the outdoors usually
is sufficient. This goes for any pet poop as well. However, small amounts
of green poop can be placed on top of the worm bed if there is plenty
of room around it for the earthworms to escape the heat of decomposition.
The earthworms will nibble at the edges of the pile where the heat is
low, thereby reducing the amount of material daily.
Keep them at 55 to 70 deg. F.,
w/65 deg. being a good average temperature of the bedding. Mean humidity
should be 55%, and keep the earth worms out of the rain. They will drown
and/ or scatter all over under rainy or very humid conditions. Finally,
the pH of the bed should be as close to 6.5 as possible, with 7.0 and
6.0 being the upper & lower pH limits.
Write or phone your dealer right
away. A reputable producer will replace the stock without question.
If, however, the same customer, (out of dozens with no complaints),
says that his worms arrive dead, time after time, most dealers will
ask that the batch be returned for inspection.
Surprisingly, there is no odor
from the worm beds in spite of the highly odoriferous feed they receive.
A handful of earthworm compost held close to the nose smells like rich,
Fresh earthworm castings have
a unique clinging characteristic. However, any good hand cleaner, including
soap and warm water, will take it off. Light use of a soft scrub brush
will speed up the process.
Not at all hard, especially so
a small, residential sized bin for recycling kitchen waste. An average
of 5 to 10 minutes a day will do it. Obviously, the larger the worm
farm the more work involved. Nevertheless, one person can successfully
manage quite a large number of worms, up to at least 3,000,000. With
larger farms your level of technology and equipment will make a big
difference. If you are fully and state of the art equipped, one person
can manage up to 10,000,000 worms, (approx. 6 1/2 tons). Whether or
not you want to work that hard is another matter.
Faster than rabbits. 10 lbs.
of earthworms can become over two tons in two years. Naturally this
presupposes good living conditions and no loss of earthworms due to
ingesting toxic materials. The count of individual worms doesn't come
into it except for fishermen. The rest of us are mainly interested in
the work the earthworms do for us regarding agriculture and horticulture.