Starting a Worm Farming Business
Here are some interesting questions from Todd:
I live in north GA. and i am just starting out i have been sold on
the “red worms” since seeking this endevor however, i am now
considering the European night crawlers. what is your reccomendation?
i want to raise these worms for resale to bait stores and garden
centers for the castings…how many are in a pound and waht is the
yield and reprpduction time for the night crawlers….i was told the
red worms (1lb) appor 1,000 worms can produce quickly and approx. 329
tons of castings in a yr…which is the best way to start a bed? in a
ground pit or 10gal buckets?…..thanks for your advice
I am glad to hear that you have been ‘sold’ on the potential of Red Worms. Hopefully you haven’t been lured into investing large sums of money in a ‘turn-key’ worm business however.
When I am asked to provide advice regarding the start-up for your own worm business, I always recommend 1) Taking your time (don’t drop everything to pursue it), 2) Start small, 3) Research, research, research!
My advice is that UNLESS you do a LOT of research (potential markets, worm science, general vermicomposting etc), have a rock-solid business plan, and a large quantity of money you can afford to lose (ie it won’t result in people showing up at your door to break your knee caps), you should start this type of business on a part-time basis. It is always a good idea to see if you’ll enjoy it on a serious hobby level, before going hog-wild building your worm farming empire. I’m amazed how many people – who have never even set up worm bin before – think they’d like to get into the worm farming business – there’s nothing wrong with that of course, but at least try it out to see what you think.
A part-time worm farming business can be a LOT of fun! It’s like a hobby you get paid for. You don’t need to stress about bringing in enough to pay all your bills (or pay off the loan sharks – haha), and you can gradually teach yourself about the industry and the potential markets you are thinking about tackling. It ALSO provides you with the time needed to build up your own massive population of worms, rather than having to buy hundreds or even thousands of pounds of worms from someone else.
Ok – back to your questions. If you are looking for a worm that is very easy to care for and that breeds like crazy, I’d definitely recommend Red Worms (Eisenia fetida). European Nightcrawlers (Eisenia hortensis) are great worms as well (and it’s a good idea to start breeding them too), but you almost certainly won’t be able to build your population as quickly as you could with Reds. Just to provide you with some perspective, here is some data (based on averages) provided by two renowned vermicomposting researchers:
From Edwards (1988):
# of viable hatchlings per cocoon – 3.3
Time to Maturity – 85-149 days
# of viable hatchlings per cocoon – 1.1
Time to Maturity – 97-214 days
From Dominguez (2004):
# of viable hatchlings per cocoon – 2.5-3.8
Time to Maturity – 28-30 days
Life cycle – 45-51 days
Hatching viability – 73-80%
# of viable hatchlings per cocoon – 1.1
Time to Maturity – 65 days
Life cycle – 100-150 days
Hatching viability – 20%
The differences between the two studies, while certainly interesting, are not as important (for the purpose of my illustration here) as the consistent difference between the two species.
As for the number of worms in a pound – that totally depends on the size of the worms, of course. Industry averages tend to be in the range of 1000 Reds per pound and 300 Euros per pound. Just for fun I recently started testing this out myself. I seem to have smaller and larger Red Worm varieties (from two difference sources), so I tested both of these out, along with Euros. I found that 500 of the smaller Reds and 200 of the larger Reds made up 1/4 lb (suggesting that 2000 of the smaller worms and 800 of the larger worms would weigh 1 lb). I also found that 400 of my Euros made 1 lb (my current Euros ARE somewhat smaller than the ones I’ve had previously so this makes sense). I definitely need to do more counts to come up with a reliable average, but I found the results quite interesting!
As for 1 lb of worms being capable of producing 329 tons of castings per year, that definitely sounds like a pretty major stretch to me. Obviously, if you treat them right you can end up with a LOT more than 1 lb by the time that year has passed, but 329 tons is a LOT of castings!
The best way to get started, in my humble opinion, is to simply put together a few worm bins. This will introduce you to the process of vermicomposting, and provide you with some idea of what you might be getting yourself into!
Anyway – hope this helps!
Dominguez, J. 2004. State-of-the-art and and new perspectives on vermicomposting research. In: “Earthworm Ecology”. Edwards, C.A. (ed). CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp. 401-424.
Edwards, C.A. 1988. Breakdown of animal, vegetable and industrial organic wastes by earthworms. In: “Earthworms in waste and environmental management”. Edwards, C.A. & Neuhauser, E.F. (eds). SPB Academic Publishing Co, The Hague, pp. 21-31.