October 2008

Storing Worm Cocoons

Hey folks – sorry it’s been such a quiet week! Busy busy! With the cold weather on it’s way, I’m trying to get my outdoor worm beds in good shape, and my indoor worm populations up. More on all that fairly soon.

Anyway…here is a question from Chris:

I do not raise worms as of yet. I do have compost piles and
as a result I have worms. I was screening some compost and I have a
lot of what I think is worm cocoons. What do I need to do to store the
cocoons if I would like to try and hatch them? I do not want to leave
them with the screened compost because I will be storing it until I
start seedlings for spring. Thanks. I am trying to learn how to raise
worms and your site has really helped.

Hi Chris,
If the objects you found are straw coloured, look like tiny lemons, and don’t try to crawl away when you hold them in your hand (haha) – there’s a good chance they are worm cocoons.

Storing cocoons is very easy – in fact it is a lot like storing compost. As long as you don’t let them dry out and you provide them with some oxygen they should be viable for quite some time. I’ve actually heard an account of earthworm cocoons being hatched after 30 years!

Getting your cocoons to hatch shouldn’t be hard either. I would concentrate a bunch of cocoons in a small, opaque container with air holes. Before you add them, simply fill the container with unfinished compost material from your compost piles. Make sure it is relatively moist, but not wet. You may also want to try adding a single apple core, or some other small amount of fruit waste. As this decomposes it may stimulate some of the cocoons to hatch and you should find young worms feeding on these materials before too long.

Hope this helps!

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Black Soldier Fly Larvae – Revisited

You may recall the interesting slew of comments that erupted after I innocently posted a ‘Share Board’ article about a DIY Black Soldier Fly larvae bin. Aside from including some much-needed drama (just trying to keep everyone on their toes – haha!), the thread also contained lots of great information. I started communicating with Dr. Paul Oliver (who left some great comments) via email and he shared some documents/presentations he has put together re: BSF larvae. He suggested I make them available here on the site for anyone interested in this stuff (I realize this is not vermicomposting, but hey it’s nice to change things up once in awhile!).

Taking things one step further, I offered to convert one of his presentations into a video – which as you can see, has been included above. Unfortunately I needed to go fairly quicky at times in order to ensure that I stayed under 10 min – I learned the hard way that anything over would be rejected (my first attempt was 13 min).

If you want the PDF version of the video you can find it >>HERE<<. If you want something a bit smaller, below I have included a link to a nice short summary (4 pages) of this info. I mentioned above that this is “not vermicomposting”, but interestingly enough, Dr. Oliver feels that BSFL and composting worms can work together to process wastes extremely effectively (as you’ll see in the presentation an document below).

>> Bioconversion of Putrescent Wastes <<

In an effort to really live on the edge, I’ve decided to add a new BSFL category to the blog. Not sure how often I’ll write about this topic, but I figured even the posts so far have been worthy of their own category.

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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!

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.

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Worm Bin Bedding

Here are a couple questions from Marc:

I just started a worm bin per your video instructions. So far so good. Well, it’s only been a few days. But I do have a question. Once I’ve done the original bedding, moistened everything, added food scraps, let it stew for a week, and added the worms… is there any reason to add more bedding materials? Do I just keep adding kitchen waste and no more bedding?

Here’s another question, how small of a bin have you attempted? I have friends interested but space is an issue. Is three gallons too small?

Thanks, I really like the site.

Thanks Marc!
These are good questions.
Firstly, let’s talk about bedding. These materials – typically a carbon-rich and absorbent – are really important in a typical ‘worm bin’ vermicomposting system since they absorb excess moisture, help to balance the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, increase air flow, and help to create a safe habitat matrix for the worms.

In my humble option, it’s not a bad idea to add a small handful of new bedding every time you add wet food wastes to your bin, and on a fairly regular basis in general. If you stop adding them altogether you will notice that conditions start to get really soggy in the bin, and/or there will be lots of liquid down in the reservoir (if you’ve made the ‘deluxe’ bin). Your system may also start to stink due the increased moisture content and reduced air flow.

As for creating a small worm bin – I say go for it! The bins I made in my YouTube videos (deluxe and basic) are actually very small systems – likely in the 3 gallon range. You definitely need to be careful with the amount of food you add to small systems however, since you can end up overfeeding them quite easily. Other than that, the same basic principles (of vermicomposting) apply.

Hope this helps!

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Different Kinds of Lime

I’ve decided to include two reader questions here since they are somewhat related.

Our first question comes from Hibou:

I’ve read that a bit of lime is very good for garden soil. Is it good for my vermicompost bin? If so, which type? Wikipedia tells me that “agricultural lime is” mainly calcium carbonate (CaCO3). However, the lime I’ve got my hands on is “slaked lime,” i.e. calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2), the by-product of acetylene gas. Thus it’s mixed with a bit of calcium carbide (CaC2) as well. What do you think? Will my worms appreciate it?
Thank you,

Hi Hibou – I’m really glad you wrote in with this question since this is an important topic to talk about. Firstly, yes you can certainly add lime to your worm bin in moderate amounts to help keep the pH balanced somewhat and provide a source of calcium for the worms. Is it vitally important to do so? Definitely not – composting worms actually tend to prefer a somewhat more acidic environment (similar to the one they are used to in their ‘natural’ habitats such as compost heaps etc), so you really don’t need to get hung up on the pH issue. That being said, if you ARE giving your worms a lot of acidic foods such as tomatoes or juicer waste (citrus etc), you will more than likely need to provide at least a little lime supplementation. One thing I definitely DON’T recommend you do is wait until your bin goes ‘sour’, then try to rectify the situation by dumping lots of lime in – you’ll more than likely just end up making matters worse for yourself. Rapid shifts in pH can wreak havoc on your bin ecosystem, and ultimately your worms.

Ok – now on to the different types of lime. This is REALLY important since there are a variety of different materials called “lime”. You want your lime to be CaCO3 – 95% or higher. One exception is ‘dolomitic lime’ which basically has a 50:50 ratio of CaCO3 and MgCO3 – it is ok as well. You definitely DO NOT want ‘hyrdrated lime’, ‘builders lime’, or ‘slaked lime’ (all similar) since these can be caustic and thus not worm-friendly.

Hopefully you have not added your slaked lime to your bin yet! Your worms will definitely not appreciate it.

Next, we have a question from Nick:

Are seashells (Calcium carbonate and chetin) OK to use in my
bedding, instead of eggshells or limestone? I live close to a beach full of seashells, and would be criminal not to take advantage of the millions of seashells washed ashore every day. Hopefully, there will be no adverse effects on my red Wigglers. I am a beginer in vermicomposting and would feel really bad, if I inadvertently harmed the breaders.

Hi Nick,
I am a big fan of slow-release sources of CaCO3, so I would give a big thumbs-up for seashells. I use eggshells myself, but I suspect seashells (that have been washed with fresh water to avoid adding salt to your bin, and perhaps crushed with a hammer) would provide a similar source of calcium. Moderation would be important, as always – you certainly don’t want a worm bin full of sea shell shards (try saying that 3 times fast!!), as these would likely be quite abrasive.

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Get Yer Worm Inn – Step Right Up

Hey, guess what – this is my 200th blog post! Whoohoo.
Unfortunately I don’t have anything overly captivating for you, but maybe I can plan something fancy for when I hit 500 (if I haven’t retired before then – haha).

I just wanted to let everyone know that my Worm Inn sales page is finally live. If you think you might be interested in buying one be sure to check it out. Rumor has it they make a pretty interesting and unique Christmas gift!

I’m sad to say that Robyn no longer carries the camo design (the sweet, badboy I’ve now got hanging in my basement), but she mentioned potentially bringing back some form of camo if people show interest. Speaking of my Worm Inn – as mentioned in my last post (on this topic), I’ll really be putting my system to the test. I will be introducing 3 lbs of Red Worms to the system, and will certainly keep everyone posted on how that works out for me.

[tags]worm inn, worm bin, flow through, continuous- flow, red worms, red wigglers, composting worms, vermicomposting, worm composting[/tags]

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Worm Poop – Up Close and Personal

Have you ever wondered what it looks like when worm castings are created?


Well you should watch this video anyway. It’s pretty wild!

This video was created by elementary school teacher Ric Johnson, and the students at Rostrata Primary School (in Perth, Australia). Ric contacted me a little while ago to let me know about the video, which was simply posted on his site in regular video file format. I urged Ric to upload the video to YouTube and he happily obliged.

I recommend you check out Ric’s webpage as well: Johnno’s Science

[tags]worm poop, worm castings, vermicompost, compost, vermicast, vermicomposting, red worms, red wigglers, earthworms, composting worms, compost worms[/tags]

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