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.
Thanks Cher

Hi Cher,
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!

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  1. Cher doesnt say where in arizonia she lives. Some parts reach 115 degrees in the summer, which will be quite hot inside the pile and other places get snow for skiing. It makes a difference where she lives. In a 115 degree day she will have to make sure she can cool them down.

    • Mike
    • February 27, 2009


    I am the unpaid hired help for my son’s wild boar farm. It’s been a very cold winter this year and every second day I rack up the boar dung and pile up in an already used pen.

    Although it is frozen rock-hard, I’m looking forward to pre-composting it in some pallet bins. ‘Wormers’ are strange…

    Hope the worms are just as hungry for this stuff.

    Just came back from Growing Power in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. If you get a chance to check out the vermicomposting workshops, do it! You will not be disappointed.

    Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

    • cher
    • March 2, 2009

    Mike, you live in cold area and I live the hot part. But I would apprecite any update on your pallet bins. I will be starting mine here in a few weeks. I will be using the horse manure and intersting to see how they like the boar poo ;-]

    • John Augenstein
    • March 3, 2009

    I live in Eastern New Mexico (That’s Melrose if you want to look it up on a map.) in an area considered to be high plains desert. I’m currently raising both red wrigglers (eisenia fetida) and european nightcrawlers (eisenia hortensis) which are not really nightcrawlers but a composting redworm like the wrigglers but bigger. If you’re contemplating fishing bait, the euros would be a better bet. There’s a lot of stats and opinions out there about one breed being better or easier or faster propigating than the other but I’m not seeing it. The wrigglers tend to stay a little closer to the surface than the euros. If the bin starts to go bad (usually a result of over feeding or over wetting) wrigglers tend to go down to escape and usually a lot of them die, euros try to escape upward to get out of the bin, tub, or whatever, and a lot of them die. If they’re happy in the bin they both stay put and do very well. Regarding food. I save produce, apple peels and cores, cantalope, squash, cucumbers, broccoli, etc., in 1 gal. freezer bags and keep them in the freezer. On an as needed basis I thaw a bag, puree it in a blender with a couple of egg shells, pour the sloppy mess into 3 gal. plastic pail, add about a handful of peat moss and then start adding dried coffee grounds and mixing until the moisture level is about the same as the worm bin. I’m not fortunate enough to have the availability of horse manure. If I had the manure it would replace the peat moss and dried coffee grounds. Keep any wet coffee grounds on with the frozen kitchen scraps because worms really like coffee grounds. Let the pail sit with a cover over it for about two days before starting to feed to let the bacteria get a good start. Surface feed about 1/2 cup divided into about three glops and check the bin daily until they have disappeared, then feed again and repeat the process. If you get to a point where the food disappears in one day, double the amount you’re feeding.
    This is the system I’ve worked out and it works very well for me,but please bear in mind that worms are very versitile little critters and there are a lot of different systems being successfully used by a lot of different people. There’s more ways to grow a worm than there are to skin a cat. John

  2. I liked your article and I agree with you about the Euro Nightcrawlers. I bury my food when i feed them, If you leave it on top, dont it smell? I agree with you about more ways to grow worms than skin a cat. How do you know your worms love coffee grounds? Did they tell you? That was a joke. Some say worms dont eat eggshells. Some say there are between 600 and 800 red worms to the pound. ive seen a pound that should have had 3000. Thats why I take the time to count mine when I sell them. It takes a lot more time. Last Sunday i counted 3500 worms in five hours.

  3. Hi Cher,
    I have one quick comment. Now you have two businesses, one being worms and the other being compost. The worms will turn your horse manure into black gold and you can bag it and sell it to feed stores and plant stores with your own label.

    • cher
    • March 4, 2009

    Hi John, thanks for the info. Especially on the other type of worm and the feeding . Like I have said I appreciate any info I can get as this stage. The Beginning! ha ha…
    Do your temps get as high as 110 which it can get here in AZ where i live? What do you use for a bin for outside? I have been saving and freezing my ‘veggies” in my refrigerator freezer. But I want to do this outside in some pallet bins so I think I am going to invest in a used freezer to hold my stuff until i can get some pallet bins going. I am soooooo new to this and My idea to use the horse manure mixed with veggies in outside bins is what I am planning on doing here soon. But not quite sure as size of outside pallet bins i need to make. If i use a full size pallet for one of the 4 sides will that make it too deep or will it help kept the worms cooler this hot summer? Or should I cut pallet in half to use for the side which will make the bed shallower? Any ideas are appreciated for a pallet outside worm bin. Sometimes We can get pallets that the boards are real close maybe just an inch between.
    Thanks Cher

    • John Augenstein
    • March 5, 2009

    I have no experience with pallet bins. I grow all my worms in big round plastic tubs with rope handles purchased from Lowe’s. At the moment I have four tubs active. I lay down three pieces of 1″ x 1″ wood (usually pine) spacers in the bottom, lay down a cut to fit circle of 1/8″ mesh hardware cloth on them, fill with about 3″ of soaked and wrung out peat moss (If I pick up a single hand full and squeeze as hard as I can with the one hand, I should get about 2 or 3 drops of water.) I then add the worms, cut a black plastic circle
    of garden plastic about 1″ diameter smaller than the tub and lay over it and throw a plastic tarp over the whole thing. I put 2 x 4 pieces across the tub on the floor and stack another tub on top. The tarp then goes over the stack. I let the worms adjust to their new environment for four days, then start feeding.
    I’ve never had a problem with lack of oxygen or things going anaerobic as long as I don’t overfeed.
    Temperatures here seldom exceed 100 Deg. F and I keep my bins in the garage. During the hot part of the summer I monitor bin temperatures. If the bin reaches 85 deg I pull the black plastic circles and tarps which increases evaporation cooling. During this period of time I use a spray bottle to replace the moisture daily.
    I got into worms before I found this website or I would probably be using Rubbermaid tubs.
    The gentle-person from Berwick Worm farm asked “How do you know your worms love coffee grounds? Did they tell you?” in a humorous fashion. I must answer in the same spirit of levity. I did not mean to imply that there was any kind of improper emotional relationship going on between my worms and my coffee grounds, however, about 30 days after I started adding coffee grounds I noticed a drastic increase in the number of baby worms. I interpereted that to mean there’s a whole lot more love in my worm bins now than before. Enough. John

    • cher
    • March 6, 2009

    Hey John…thanks again for all info..I am digesting it all ;-].
    Question: in your comment #4 you mentioned putting egg shells in the blender….are those raw egg shells? It is just because I read somewhere that raw was not good so I boiled mine and ground them up to add to my bin. If raw it must be ok because you said your worms are doing fine. Speaking of worms I just got my first batch yesterday am(i did say i was new at this;-}….anyway they looked pretty sorry when they came and I watered and added to my lovely bin that has been waiting for 10 days. THANKs TO BENTLY’S IDEA! They are now looking alive and crawling around. I am trying to let them settle and not keep looking at them ha ha. Anyway it begins………….

    • John Augenstein
    • March 7, 2009

    Regarding egg shells. I don’t know of any particular reason why raw egg shells would be bad for worms but I microwave my shells untill they start to darken in spots. They actually get hot enough to begin scorching the paper plates I cook them on. This makes them more brittle and they break down into much smaller particles during the blender operation. Egg shells assist in preventing the bin from going too acid, provide trace calcium to the soil for plant growth wherever you use the compost and I have read in several locations including some published academic studies that finely ground egg shells aid the worms in food digestion by providing grit in their craw to help break down food before it passes on into their gut. Congradulations on the receipt of your herd and welcome to the wondreful world of worms. John

    • Cher Farley
    • May 29, 2009

    Hi ..letting everyone know my worms are doing great…I only feed horse manure. Much easier than veggies. They are in the shade and in a wooden box. They were on the porch in a plastic bin but here in Az it was getting too hot. The box is cool and i water everyday and so far they are doing awesome. Started with 2 lbs in the bigger wooden box and 1/2 lb in the smaller wooden box. I really want to see how many worms i have now. Been at it since march but i kinda hate to mess with them yet. I know there are a lot more and they are lively because when i lift up the wet newspaper i have on top of the manure there are a bunch of worms that go darting back in the manure. Cheap entertainment ha ha.

    • Roman
    • July 24, 2009

    How long does the horse manure have to age before I can feed it to my worms? I have an endless supply and it would be great to use it up. Thanks, roman

    • Cher
    • July 24, 2009

    Well I would say at least a few weeks at least where it has lost that”hot” look and not real green. If you have a pile i would only get the top part even the pile has been there for just a couple of weeks. Usually it is still too hot under the pile unless it has sit there for a long time. Needs to be spread out or just use the top part of the pile where the air and sun has hit it. There is a area in the corral where my horses walk on it all the time between cleanings and they keep it broke down and that seems to be dried out and loses the fresh look. Kinda looks like old grass look.That is what I usually get. Well hope that helps.

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