Worm farming - almost everything you need to know.

auntiejude

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I've had a dozen messages asking for my advice on worm farming, so I thought I'd post it here for everyone to refer to. Please feel free to quote or link on any post about feeding and worm farming!

This is my quick guide to setting up and maintaining a small worm farm for feeding axies or other caudates:

  1. Get a large plastic tub - about 25L should do, preferably with opaque sides. It needs a lid to stop the worms escaping.
  2. Take a pin, a candle and a pair of pliers, hold the pin in the pliers and hold it in the candle flame to heat it up. Make tiny holes in the tub lid to allow air in and out.
  3. Get some soil. It needs to be untreated compost or soil - plain topsoil, organic compost etc. You'll need about 10-15L to start, then some more for occasional top ups.
  4. Get some worms - you'll need about 50 to start for one or two axies. Depending on where you live you may be able to buy some at bait shops, pet stores, organic farming suppliers or on line. Any type of earthworm (annelid) will be fine - look for names such as nightcrawlers, red wrigglers, tiger worms, lobworms or scientific names such as dendrobaena, lumbricus or eisenia. You could also try catching your own from your garden or any patch of clean land where chemicals are not used - see below on catching worms.
  5. Put the compost in the tub, add the worms. You might need to add a LITTLE water if it's warm where you live, but generally you don't need to add any extra water.
  6. Cook some potatoes. Any potatoes will do - you don't even need to peel them, you can use old sprouting ones, slightly soft ones, and green ones. Slice them about 1/4 inch thick and boil them until cooked. Crush or mash them with nothing added and lay a thin layer on the top of your worm tub.
  7. Leave your worm farm somewhere dark - in an outhouse, in a cupboard, under a tarp etc. You just want to stop too much sunshine and heat getting to your tub.
  8. Feed your worms when they have eaten all of the last batch of food. You can feed them cooked potatoes or cooked vegetable scraps - especially root vegetable peelings, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli or other or brassica leaves. Avoid fruit, it tends to go mouldy or vinegary. Worms can also be fed grains such as oats.
  9. If your worm farm becomes too wet remove some of the wet soil, retrieve the worms, and replace the soil with dry compost. The removed soil will be good for your garden. You could also replace the lid with cotton material held in place by a sturdy elastic band - this would allow for moisture evaporation and prevent the worms escaping.
  10. Worms breed very easily - they are hermaphroditic so you don't need to worry about males and females. I would suggest you try and keep the biggest worms with a breeding saddle (thick pale ring) as your breeding stock, and use the medium sized sub-adults as food. If you end up with an overcrowded bucket you can start a 2nd one, sell some worms, or release them for a healthy garden.
Catching worms requires a combination of appropriate weather and luck. Try an evening after a damp rainy day, not too cold. Find a patch of bare ground that is chemical free, and place some cooked potato slices, wet cardboard or wet newspaper on it.
After about 30 minutes check under the potatoes/card/paper - there will be a wealth of bugs and creepy crawlies under there - collect the worms. Put the potatoes/card/paper back and check again in another 30 minutes. If you have no luck try again another evening, or try another area.


In the UK the 2 most popular on-line worm suppliers are:
Yorkshire Worms
Worms Direct
If you are outside the UK and have good supplier for worms please post a link or recommendation.


If your axies refuse worms it may be because of the bitter self defense excretions or because the worm is just too mobile. A quick and easy way to get around this is to blanche the worms before feeding:
Take the clean worm and put it in a cup. Pour a very small amount of boiling water over the worm - literally just a splash, then immediately cool it with cold water. This will quickly kill the worm, and prevent it wriggling and excreting its defensive goo. It also keeps the worm fresh and nutritious.

You can also use this if you are a bit squeamish about feeding live worms to your pets.


If your worms are too big for your axies, or if your axies are still very small you can cut the worms up. Use a pair of scissors rather than a knife, it's much easier.


I hope that answers most of your questions - if you want to ask anything else please do - I'll do my best to give you a concise answer.
 
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Elise

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I'm so glad you decided to do this!

One thing I'm having problems with is determining which worms have a breeding saddle so I can avoid those. Could you take some picture examples of different ones you would use and ones that you would leave in the bin?

There also may be an issue with white mites. Right now they are not invasive but in case that changes, how do you deal with various pests?

I've tried offering potatoes when I saw auntiejude recommend them earlier and they get eaten pretty fast! The other thing they seem to go crazy for is apple cores.
 

auntiejude

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Mites like damp soil and starchy conditions - you can try truning over the compost in your bin to aerate the soil and dry it out a little, and cut the feeding down a bit - let the womrs finish waht food they have, then feed them a little less but more often. You can also dry your worm bin out a little with a cotton cloth lids as described.

The other method for removing some of the mites is to catch them - mites LOVE melons and cucumbers. Stick a piece of cucumber cut lengthwise or slice of melon in your worm bin for 24 hours, then fish it our with all the mites clinging to it and dispose of it.

Picture of worm with a pale chunky saddle at the top:

And no saddle:


Hope that helps!
 
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Elise

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Are you saying the breeding saddle is the area in red or green?
 

auntiejude

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Red.
The saddle is full of eggs, hence the puffy appearance.
 
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Elise

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Well now I feel silly. All the descriptions I've read were overly detailed yet vague leading me to think it was something less obvious. They should just refer to it as the obvious ring some worms have.
 

auntiejude

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All the descriptions I've read were overly detailed yet vague leading me to think it was something less obvious. They should just refer to it as the obvious ring some worms have.
And thats exactly why we have this forum - to explain in laymans terms what you need to know, that in scientific terms seems very complicted.
 
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Elise

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And thats exactly why we have this forum - to explain in laymans terms what you need to know, that in scientific terms seems very complicted.
For the forum in general, I agree. However in my defense, the general writings on composting have been less science and more euphemistic.
 

arrowwood

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Does anyone know what the spot circled in green is? I just saw this on one of my Canadian nightcrawlers and wondered if it were some sort of parasite!
 

Niels D

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I've got a thriving worm farm, but I mainly feed them soaked rabbit pellets with some chicken pellets for the calcium. Give some coffee grindings and vegetable waste now and then, but mainly rabbit pellets. The worm tub holds a white worm and a black sprin tail culture at the same time.

Nice thread!
 

auntiejude

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I've got a thriving worm farm, but I mainly feed them soaked rabbit pellets with some chicken pellets for the calcium. Give some coffee grindings and vegetable waste now and then, but mainly rabbit pellets. The worm tub holds a white worm and a black sprin tail culture at the same time.

Nice thread!
Whatever works! I have also read that you can use chicken feed and coffee.
Thanks for your input.
 

zombieaddict

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I haven't actually started a worm farm yet but I plan to soon. I read that you can use shredded newspaper instead of dirt in the tub. Do you have any thoughts or tips for going that route AuntieJude?

Also, can I just skip the heating a pin to poke holes process and use a really small drill bit to make the holes? How many holes should I make? Closer to a dozen or so or should the lid be as speckled as a Dalmatian?
 

ChrisMaggs

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For those in the UK, Sainsburys Café give you free coffee grinds if you ask.

Chris

Sent from my LT30p using Tapatalk
 

auntiejude

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I haven't actually started a worm farm yet but I plan to soon. I read that you can use shredded newspaper instead of dirt in the tub. Do you have any thoughts or tips for going that route AuntieJude?
Yes you can add shredded paper or card to your bin, but I would recommend a mixture rather than paper/card exclusively. The probem with paper is that it tends to get a bit mouldy when it gets damp, but the traditional way of composting uses a mixture of soil, 'greens' (veg, grass cuttings etc) and 'browns' (paper, card, eggshells, coffe etc)

Also, can I just skip the heating a pin to poke holes process and use a really small drill bit to make the holes? How many holes should I make? Closer to a dozen or so or should the lid be as speckled as a Dalmatian?
Yes, but the holes need to be small enough to stop worms escaping - baby worms are about 1mm wide so a 0.8mm bit would suffice. As many holes as you feel is neccessary for your environment - a warm environment will need fewer holes as air circulates more easily and you need to try and keep moisture in. And remember that you can always make more holes, but it's hard to to fill them in!
 

Azhael

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If you use newspaper/cardboard, mix it with at least a few handfuls of compost and let it mature for a couple of weeks minimum before you add the worms. Otherwise you´ll have high mortality and scapees, or at least that´s what happened to me in the past. If you let it mature, you should have no problems.
 

Mark

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Any type of earthworm (annelid) will be fine - look for names such as nightcrawlers, red wrigglers, tiger worms, lobworms or scientific names such as dendrobaena, lumbricus or eisenia.
You won't be able to breed Lumbricus terrestris aka lobworm or night crawler in a worm bin. Even if you managed to create the correct conditions the reproductive rate is far too slow to be of use. Lumbricus sold in bait stores are wild collected and need to be kept in the fridge if being stored for any length of time.

For culturing you want to stick with Dendrobaena.
 

auntiejude

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You won't be able to breed Lumbricus terrestris aka lobworm or night crawler in a worm bin.
Thank you Mark. That would explain why my axies got through the lobworms before they could breed then!
I've had great success with dendrobaena/eisenia though.
 

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Eisenia (aka red wigglers, tiger worms) can be cultured easily too.

A handful of dirt supplies both beneficial bacteria and sand for the worm's crop.

Wormwoman.com is where I got mine. They are very helpful and will answer questions and help with problems over the phone
 

auntiejude

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Is there a reason someone wouldn't want one with eggs in its saddle?
No, they are you 'breeding stock', and if you feed all of those to your pets you'll run out quite quickly. They are fine nutritionally.
 
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