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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

Hey Todd,
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):

Eisenia fetida
# of viable hatchlings per cocoon – 3.3
Time to Maturity – 85-149 days

Eisenia hortensis
# of viable hatchlings per cocoon – 1.1
Time to Maturity – 97-214 days


From Dominguez (2004):

Eisenia fetida
# of viable hatchlings per cocoon – 2.5-3.8
Time to Maturity – 28-30 days
Life cycle – 45-51 days
Hatching viability – 73-80%

Eisenia hortensis
# 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!
:shock:

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!
8)


REFERENCES
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.

Written by Bentley on October 24th, 2008 with 21 comments.
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21 comments

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Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Rich A.
#1. October 24th, 2008, at 3:14 PM.

That must be 329 pounds, not tons. A ton is 2000 pounds, the weight of a small car.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Bentley
#2. October 24th, 2008, at 3:37 PM.

My thoughts exactly, Rich. Perhaps Todd will stop by and clarify.
8)

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com matt
#3. October 24th, 2008, at 5:45 PM.

I have researched this several times and I think the castings market is VERY small and already very saturated as well as the bait business. I am sure that someone will disagree but that was my conclusion.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Bentley
#4. October 24th, 2008, at 6:15 PM.

Hi Matt,
You are likely correct, but I would argue that a big part of developing a successful castings business would involve marketing and educating the public. I definitely wouldn’t say that the minimal demand for castings is due to people simply not wanting it – I think it’s more a matter of not knowing what they are missing out on!
;-)

It’s one of the cool things about vermicomposting in general – while it has certainly become more popular over the years, there are still SO many people out there who really don’t know about it. It’s new territory, and will involve some legwork to make significant progress – but with some serious dedication to getting the word out, I think it has the potential to be extremely rewarding.

Anyway – just my 2 cents!
8)

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Todd
#5. October 25th, 2008, at 1:03 AM.

Greetings to all,
Thanks for all the feed back… Yea I, myself thought 329tons was alot of crap so I went back to the old drawing board. Researching all my previous reading a found the site where my info was coming from and they do say 329TONS in a year. However, they are speaking a start up of 2.5lbs of worms approx. 2,200. Still seems to be alot of poop. Any way all is new to me and I hope with your help I can turn a soon to be hobby into some kind of business. My wife and I are starting a produce stand at our home this spring, having our field also certified as organic. I figured that with no bait stores in our immediate area this would also be an opportunity to sell some worms, crickets and minows. By the way, any one out there know where to get cheap worm cups? You guys are great….Any help on this most exciting venture will be greatly appreciated….Thanks again to all and GOD BLESS you….oh yea I almost forgot here’s the info I recieved:

{“Starting out with our smallest commercial package, you would get 2,250 Breeders that each lay an average of 1.75 cocoons every 2 weeks with 2 baby worms in each cocoon.
If you hatched every worm cocoon that was laid, at the end of one year, you would have 4,977,000 worms and 329 Tons of worm castings in your operation. (Due to control factors, we do not recommend that you hatch all of these cocoons, but this is what could be done if one had the time and money to do it!”}
vermiculture.com

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com vermiman
#6. October 25th, 2008, at 3:44 PM.

Todd,

In a well tended worm bin you can double population every two to three months. You may also see times when you don’t see a double or times when the population quadruples. There are many variables that effect the population expansion rate. Some are:

types of food
quantity of food (are the worms fed enough or fed too much)
****Overfeeding the worms can cause the bedding to become too wet for the worms. If they are not fed enough, they may survive but the population expansion rate could be drastically reduced.
types of bedding
****Some beddings decompose faster than others.
wetness of bedding (not too wet or too dry)
****Sometimes my worms tend to like their bedding on the wetter side of normal.
PH balance(too much acid kills the worms)

My 2 cents: A comfortable well fed worm makes more baby worms.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Sherry
#7. October 26th, 2008, at 1:14 PM.

I believe that under IDEAL conditions, worms can double their population in about 3 months. But how do we really know what the ideal is? It’s a lot of trial and error to get to that point, IMO.

Too wet is much more favourable to the worms than too dry bedding. Worms can’t survive without moisture, and we strive to make the bin not too wet for them. However, I did have one bin that was too wet once, and that’s where the majority of my worms were……lolling around in the excess moisture and muck.

As far as the castings, Bentley is absolutely right. For the most part, people are uneducated on the benefits of the castings. I spoke with a local nursery, and they tried selling castings one year, and they just sat on the shelf. There was little if any interest in it. So they don’t want to stock it any more.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Patricia
#8. October 27th, 2008, at 3:54 AM.

Sherry, you are so right about people being uneducated about castings. I try and go from the perspective of how I have been able to stop buying all the fertilizers and chemicals I used to use in my yards and garden. I have also saved alot of money on my disposal bill by composting. castings have been a great donation for raffles and fairs. castings kind of compare to vinegar and all its uses. I even use vinegar to kill weeds but along that same line,, can the clippings that have been sprayed with vinegar go into the compost bin without harming the worms? TIA Patricia

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Bob Packard
#9. October 29th, 2008, at 1:20 AM.

Todd & Bentley
I’d like to add a little here. Starting a worm business is no different than starting any business. Research, planning, executing, marketing, getting product and selling. Who is the competition, what do they sell, how much do they charge, who are the customers? Are you willing to do all of those things by yourself? Do you have sufficient startup funds for inventory, bins, food, shipping materials, etc?

Do you know enough about worms to convince your customers to trust you? Can you deliver what you say you can? There is a market for castings, but can you get, package and deliver them competively. In my case the competition is cheaper chemical fertilzer, so alot of customer education is necessary. Are you prepared for that? Todd I’ve accomplished some of this in a short period of time because I didn’t need the money, I’m retired and can devote as much time as I care to and I’ve had some very good teachers and mentors. If they read this they know who they are.

I thank all of them and say good luck to you Todd. I hope it all works out for you.

Thanks Bentley for letting me share.

Bob, The Windy Worm

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Bentley
#10. October 31st, 2008, at 4:19 PM.

Patricia – I’m sure a moderate amount of vinegar left on materials going into the worm bin should be totally fine.

Bob – thanks for chiming in! You’ve highlighted some really important things. What you may find is that if you start a business like this in a relaxed/fun frame of mind and you “don’t need the money”, it can be surprising how quickly it takes off.

Definitely not a “if you build it, they will come” sorta business – as mentioned multiple times above, getting the word out is really important.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Bill Hartlin
#11. February 7th, 2009, at 4:31 PM.

Received your prompt answers to my two questions & I thank you for that.
I received a gift certificate to buy a pound of red worms for Xmas. That has twiged my interest in Red Worms which has led me to your blog.

I live in Ont Ca, in growing zone 4 and of course it gets cold here in the winter time. I say that because I am concerned about living worms in my basement. Especially when my wife thinks they will get as big as snakes ha ha.

One thing we have to remember is that worms are a living thing,& when I take on the responsibility of feeding them & providing the proper living conditions we cannot treat them like a neglected pet.

Only if I can find a local bait shop to buy the extra worms will I start composting with worms, because it is toooo cold here to put them in my garden.

Bill

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Bentley
#12. February 9th, 2009, at 5:38 PM.

Hi Bill,
I assume you are talking about Ontario, Canada (there is also an Ontario, California) based on your growing zone. I guess you weren’t aware of the fact that I too hail from Ontario (the cold one, that is – haha). You should check out my winter worm composting posts for some ideas re: keeping beds active outside all winter long. Here is a link to my latest update:
http://www.redwormcomposting.com/large-scale-vermicomposting/winter-worm-composting-02-09-09/

You may also want to check out my Canadian site:
http://www.wormcomposting.ca/

As for putting composting worms in your garden – I would definitely only recommend this if you set up a zone very rich in organic matter. I set up vermicomposting trenches in my gardens last year and this seemed to work very well!

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Bill Hartlin
#13. February 13th, 2009, at 5:51 PM.

Gd Day;

Thanks for telling me about the other Ontario. I went to Hollywood one time & ended up in southern Flordia hehe.

I have found a bait shop that will take any extra worms, so I ordered from PEI has I had a gift cert.$50 for one pound.(wow)

I am told and have read that red worms will live up to 3 years, but not according to the above.

Would you mind telling me how much I should charge for a doz worms &how should I pack them?

Bill

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Bentley
#14. February 24th, 2009, at 2:49 PM.

Hi Bill,
Really sorry for the delay replying Bill. To reach me more directly, I highly recommend you simply email me: bentley @ redwormcomposting.com (no spaces).
I’m not a bait dealer myself, so not sure what to suggest in that department.
Peat moss is generally a good packing material. I personally prefer to have a bit more ‘life’ in my shipping bags, so I include some compost as well.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com scott
#15. March 4th, 2009, at 10:32 PM.

don’t know if there’s any difference, or how much, but the bait worms sold as (redworms?) in western Michigan,USA last summer were in quanities of (30) for $3.69… again, in U.S. dollars. Got to where it was cheaper to buy the fish dinner :0 …. between myself and my two boys….. they’re fishing fools…

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Dave
#16. August 19th, 2009, at 10:50 PM.

Are there any companys that just broker worms and or castings that are willing to buy worms and castings in large quantities

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com erika brown
#17. January 21st, 2010, at 12:50 AM.

Hi my name is erika. I am trying to start my first business and i was considering worm farming. I know absolutely NOTHING about this business or worms period! what would be the best type of worms to farm? I am also short on funds. I have about $1000 but that’s about all I can give right now. Do you know of any programs out there that are low cost but also show you how to get started and keep it going? I am doing research but am still a little bit clueless and would like to hear from those who are already in this field. Thank you in advance for your help!

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Bentley
#18. January 22nd, 2010, at 7:07 PM.

Hi Erika,
I am actually in the process of working on a project very similar to what you are looking for. Hoping to launch sometime early in the spring. Feel free to email me for more details.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Tiffany Awsumb
#19. May 26th, 2013, at 7:05 PM.

Hello~
My daughter Athena has been wanting to start a worm business. We are in the research and business plan stage. I appreciate reading the information you have on your site. It helps a ton!

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com LindaHarrison
#20. March 28th, 2014, at 4:25 PM.

I am extremely interested in developing a worm business. I am finding you much pay your dues. If you don’t make any mistakes then how can you help those that do. my first run was a disaster. But a very good learning experience. Now for round 2. Slow down, and be patient. There is a lot on the internet. Some true and helpful, some very not so true. Hook up with people who have years of experience and are willing to share their personal knowledge. This is not an over night success business. It can take months to actually get things off the ground. Work hard, study, read, and don’t be afraid to fall short of a success. Nothing is a failure if you learn a valuable lesson.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Dexter
#21. April 10th, 2014, at 1:58 PM.

Hi does any one have and example of a vermicomposting business plan ?

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