Worm Farming

Sex in the Cellar

Worms. Wonderful worms. Nature’s composters, fertilizers and soil aerators. I grow them for my garden because Colorado's soil is alkaline junk. It has very little organic material to hold moisture, compacts easily from heavy clay, and is generally worse than pitiful.

The idea is to start with a small handful of worms and encourage them to make lots of baby worms. Being hermaphrodites they’re very prolific. The more the merrier!

More is Better

I grow red-wigglers, a small voracious garbage-eating worm and their larger cousin the European night-crawler. When I bought them at a local vermiculture establishment, knowing absolutely nothing about raising worms they assured me red-wigglers and European night-crawlers play nicely together. Happily, I’ve never heard any fights coming from their bin.

The worms live in the cellar where it’s not too hot and not too cold, but just right. As my ‘hive’ has increased in number, their worm bin gets bigger. They live in a large, darkly colored, plastic bin. Beware, if you use a clear or opaque bin, be prepared to purchase lots of tiny sunglasses and listen to a chorus of whining, “It’s too bright! Turn out the light! Woe is me!”

You can buy worms on the internet, or find a friend who grows worms and see if he or she will share, but don’t count on it, because the more you have the better for your gardens. My worms are not big ol’ fishing crawlers. Growing up in Maine, we found New England night-crawlers at night. As kids we would creep barefoot across a wet lawn with flashlights, my older brother hissing in my ear, “Ssshhhh!!!” I’d point the flashlight toward the worm holes, crouching ever so slowly and shoot my arm out like a striking snake. Whap! The palm of my hand stung for hours. Sometimes I managed to connect with the six inch long, slimy worm before it zipped back down its hole, and proudly drop it into our tin can. The next day we’d skewer them–cringe— onto a fishing hook hoping to entice a big, fat bass.

So, can you successfully grow plain old fishing worms? I have absolutely no idea. I suppose so. If you do, please let me know how it goes.

Now, as an oldish woman, I’m rather sentimental about my worm ‘babies.’ I don’t hit them. I speak to them softly and feed them like toddlers. I make sure they’re not too dry, not too wet. I go through great effort to not squash a translucent baby stuck on my rubber gloves. I’m very particular about my worms. I only give away starter worms, to a few people who convince me they’d be good stewards of them. I’m considering an adoption application form and background check. As I said, I care about my worms.

If you’d like to read my worm stories, my next blog posting will be March 28, 2013.

YouTube Video

The Holy Bin   

Posted on March 29, 2013

First, you gotta get a bin.

A three or four gallon sized plastic bin will house a small handful of starter worms. Drill holes in the top and bottom of the bin about the size of your little finger. This gives the worms air and allows it to drain. My worm bin rests on two-by-fours on top of an old bin lid. (see YouTube video Making a Worm Bin )

I think the liquid that collects is worm pee and I’m told it makes awesome fertilizer, but it evaporates quite fast. There is no odor, except perhaps a slight sour smell if I let it get too wet, usually from overfeeding. I wonder if the worms boast to the cat that their pee doesn’t stink. Perhaps I anthropomorphize all my worms too much?

Then you gotta make their bed comfy, but they don’t sleep much.

Old cardboard boxes with tape and labels removed work wonderfully. Cardboard egg cartons are good bedding material too. Wet the cardboard and tear it into giant hand-sized chunks, gently wringing out the excess water as you go.  I add dry leaves when I have them. (Warning about raked up leaves: Avoid dog poop, pine cones and poisonous leaves.) Alternate dry newspaper torn in long strips or leaves with more wet cardboard until you have filled the bin, lasagna style.

Sprinkle the bedding with water until it feels damp, not wet. The idea is to not drown the worms or dry them out.

All this fibrous bedding will be turned into worm shit . . . er . . . castings. It’s rich, worm egg laden, precious stuff that plants love. Check out prices for worm castings on the internet. Wow!


Next month— Bon Appetite! How to feed your worms.

 Bon Appetite Worms!

Posted on April 18, 2013

I use worms to compost because gardening in Colorado’s heavy clay soil can be an exercise in frustration. At first, I was reduced to head-shaking, eye-blinking puzzlement on how to make things grow in Western alkaline soil. I’m from ‘back East’ and missed Maine’s dark, friable soil, forgetting my impatience with the garden being too wet, plagued with voracious slugs.

My attempt to compost in the dry, sunny West started with a modest pile of manure, to which I regularly added scraps of vegetable matter. It required frequent turning and watering. Dry, petrified chunks of old cabbages and carrot ends tempered my dreams of rich compost. Next, I bought an expensive black composting barrel with a turn handle that broke within the first month. It wasn’t composting anyway and thankfully the store took it back. So . . . the worms.

I save vegetable kitchen waste, not stuff that would rot and smell, no meat scraps, chicken skins or sour milk. I toss into gallon sized plastic bag wilted lettuce, old crackers, cabbage leaves, coffee grounds, asparagus stems, egg shells and such, then store the bag in the fridge. (I’m not a fan of compost bucket decor in the kitchen attracting fruit flies.) When the bag is full, I throw it in the freezer and start a new bag until I have seven or eight frozen.

An old friend once groused that her husband was a fussy eater.”He’s got toddler tastes,” she complained. So do worms. They won’t eat lemons, jalapeños, onion skins. I’ve known them to avoid tomatoes too. Too sour I suppose. I imagine them squealing, “ewwww!”

You DON’T have to grind their food! I grind their food to encourage the worms to produce lots of babies. One could simply toss fresh vegetable scraps into the bin and not be bothered with grinding. Freezing breaks down the vegetable bits and makes it easier for them to eat. My household generates more vegetable waste than my worms could handle if added it to their bin in chunks and peels, and I hate to throw excess away.

The worms adore sweet melon rinds, so I don’t grind them. I lay a rind flesh-side down in the bin and day later find a solid mass of wriggling worms that seem to be rudely pushing and shoving each other out of the way. I think every single worm in the bin rises to party on melon!

Grinding worm food was difficult using a blender. Both the blender and my patience were overworked.

Next, I tried the food processor, using the grater blade. The blade got jammed with fiber. I tried an old hand driven meat grinder, but it was messy and slow. The whole process was too laborious.

Until one day I put the largest blade in the food processor and dropped in thawed veggies, and I had fast processing of all those thawed scraps. I scoop the processed food into quart sized plastic bags and freeze it. Voila! Perfect no-fuss-worm-mush.

I feed my worms about once a month. If you overfeed the bin gets too wet and sour smelling, if you underfeed they’ll not reproduce quickly. I’ve added strips of dry newspaper to soak up the excess moisture.

All this makes me ponder. At which end is the worm’s mouth?  I think the ground up egg shells might make for strong bones and teeth if they had them. Perhaps the calcium makes for strong worm eggs. They DO lay eggs or cocoons, the babies are inside. These come from the other end? I don’t suppose they sit on their eggs.

Does the caffeine from the coffee grounds I give them keep them awake? My inquiring ( and quite possibly weird ) mind wants to know. Okay. . . I’ll stop right there.