Manure as Worm Food…and More
Here is a rather lengthy email from Cher. She has some good questions, so I thought it would be helpful to post it (and respond to it) here:
Hi Bentley, I am very very new to this. Matter of fact just days. I live in AZ and The property we have is small and lots of rocks. Not good to have a garden when you have no soil ha!
Anyway I thought about raising some worms to sell as bait and if that didn’t go over very well I was still covered because I could use the compost /dirt. I have plans on hopefully growing some garden plants in tubs/buckets. So either way I felt like I couldn’t lose. By the way I have horses and I was reading on line that some grow their worms in horse manure. I do realize horse manure creates heat. And the worms do not like it too hot. So I was wondering what your thoughts were on that as far as using old manure etc or if you advise that at all since one place i read that the de worming medicine that you have used for your horse will come thru the manure and kill the worms. Even if it has been months since they have been de wormed?
I watched your simple but effective video of using two tubs for making a worm bin. Which by the way I did last night. I just don’t have the worms yet. You had advised to let set for 1-2 weeks. So another question here: if I go digging in the horse manure and I find worms can I use those? Or do you think it best to order right off some? Obviously i am trying to keep costs way down.
Oh another question ..sorry.. Can you freeze your scraps and then use them for food? Like right now I have my left over broccoli, coffee grounds and Cucumber peelings etc frozen in freezer…good idea or bad?
We have some pallets that My husband said he would help me make some ‘farms’ out of. But they are for outside. I have your tub bin worm farm in my kitchen right now. Oh I appreciate your sense of humor too. Anyway if you have time and want to answer my questions that would be great. Need all the help I can get.
I really like your approach/philosophy re: the start up of a potential worm business – it’s always a great idea to cover the bases and not put too much on the line before you’ve tested the waters. With that sort of attitude, and your current situation (owning horses etc), I think your chances of finding success are quite good!
Moving on to your questions…
Aged manure is pretty well the ‘ultimate’ worm food, so I definitely recommend using it – at least as far as large-scale, preferably open (no lid) systems go. i.e. I would definitely use caution when it comes to adding manure to small indoor worm bins – very important to make sure the material is really well-aged, since harmful gases (namely, ammonia) can be released during the decomposition of this material.
If I had horses (I WISH!), I would probably make a big outdoor pile of manure and bedding (straw etc) and just let it sit for awhile. I would continue to add new material, but likely only on one side. Eventually (maybe after a few weeks), I would add composting worms to the side with the oldest material.
Some of the craziest densities of composting worms I’ve ever seen have been in aged, outdoor manure heaps. As for the de-worming medication, it should get broken down as the manure composts/ages, so generally this shouldn’t be an issue by the time you add the worms. You can always test thing out on a small scale ahead of time just to be safe.
As for using worms already in your heaps – I’d only recommend relying on these IF you know for sure they are composting worms (eg Eisenia fetida). I’ve seen plenty of regular soil worms in old manure, so there is no guarantee that worms you find in your heaps are the right ones. If you DO see high densities of smallish, reddish worms, you are likely in luck!
Freezing food wastes is actually one of the best approaches to take – it greatly speeds up the decomposition process since it breaks down the structural integrity of tough plant (and other) materials, thus making the wastes far more accessible to microbes. Chuck these frozen wastes into your aged manure heap (once worms are established) in the middle of the summer and see what happens!
FEEDING FRENZY! (once they’ve thawed out, of course)
Hope this helps!