Packaging Worms for Sale

This msg comes from Chris, the worm-counting teacher ( and yet another e-mail bounce victim!) 😯

Our special education classroom has a pretty large
vermicomposting system in place. We have 5 large plastic sinks full
of worms and compost over 600 pounds of cafeteria waste over the
school year. One of the projects we have (besides composting and
bottling up the worm leachate) is selling our redworms for fishing
bait at a local gas station. Our problem is… after we count and
package our worms into a styrofoam container something happens to the
worms.

1. They stretch out and come to the top of the container.
2. They look as though they are “bleeding out” and soon die.

We have tried the following:

1. De-chlorinate the water we use to moisten the packaging dirt.
2. Use the dirt the worms are living in without adding any liquid.
3. Refridgerate the worms.
4. Don’t refrigerate the worms
5. Use distilled water when moistening the packaging dirt.

What is the best packaging material ?
Are the worms that sensitive to change of environment? How do the
bait producers figure this all out?

Help. I appreciate your suggestions. I have students who count on
the worms for their “jobs” during the school day.

Hi Chris,
Sorry to hear about your worms!
Your project sounds fantastic – getting kids involved with worm composting is awesome, but it’s even better when you can teach them about running a business at the same time.
8)

I wonder if you styrofoam containers might contain something harmful? Have you tried cardboard cartons instead? I would imagine there would be some available from the food industry (portable soup bowls etc). A worm farming friend uses something like this for bait worm ‘cups’.

You mentioned using moistened ‘worm dirt’ as a bedding material – this may also be the cause of your problems. Worm castings are fantastic for your garden, but it’s important to remember that the material is a worm waste product, so it can be toxic in high concentrations – especially if it is water-logged (can go anaerobic). Not sure how much water you are adding, but just figured this might be a possibility.

You might try keeping them in well-washed peat most (it tends to be really acidic so it’s good to wash it in a mesh bag before use) – this is a standard material for the bait industry. It is NOT the most environmentally friendly option however – coconut coir might be a better choice (but costs more).
You can mix in some of your worm dirt or some very well-aged manure (should have an earthy odour) to add a little ‘biology’ into the mix as well.

All in all, worms are pretty tough creatures, so I suspect there is something specific causing their demise. I would imagine that over the years bait farmers have learned how to keep worms alive the longest via a lot of trial and error!
8)

Anyway, I hope this helps!

Bentley

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Comments

  1. Hi Chris

    I am Bentley’s worm farmer friend that uses the paper hot soup cup for selling my worms to the Fisherman,
    I am pretty sure your styrofoam containers are not the problem, these type of containers are used still by almost all bait shops, except myself and a few others using the paper cups
    How about air flow, is there air holes in the lid? What are you mixing in with the packaging material as a food source? if any!
    Just before you see the worms starting to die, is there an anarobic smell? Like Bentley said, earthy smell is needed! To keep the worms healthy.
    Good composted material for the packaging is a great bedding and food source for the worms,in the bait cups, if you try this and they are still dying, It is not the bedding material, you will need to go back to what I said before, (no air) maybe the container is toxic to the worms.

    Keep use in the loop!! we will figure this one out!!

    Jeff

    • Chris Gagne
    • June 3, 2008

    Thanks for your suggestions. I think we needed a food source. Were they crawling out of the bedding looking for food? We like to use things around the school so we are going to try shredded paper (that our students shred), and sawdust (from the woods room) moistened with distilled water. What do you think? We will keep using the styrofoam with holes poked (we did remember the air holes) until we run out but will look into paper when we have to order more.

    Also, we refridgerate them for a few days before we have enough to take over to the gas station. How long should they last in a fridge? And should they be crawling out of the bedding to the top of the container?

    Thanks again
    Chris

  2. Hi Chris

    I don’t think they are crawling out of the bedding looking for food! It is something else, I think! Because they were coming out of the bedding to the top of the cup, I was almost sure it was air they were needing! if there is air holes, it is something else that is making them die.
    Maybe it is the Styrofoam!! Are you located in Canada? I could send you a few of the paper cups I use for my worms, If they are still dying, then there is something wrong with your packaging material!
    At the Moment I would not be going to the woodworking shop and getting the saw dust, if there is ceder saw dust or any treated wood saw dust this will also kill your worms,
    I use composted cow manure and peat moss as my material in the cups, where as the manure is the food source, I soak it bedding over night, then I use it in the cups, it lasts for weeks, again you squeez out most of the water, so the bedding is nice and damp, not wet!
    Coconut Coir, is OK, but it dries out alot quicker then the peat/manure material. do you have a farm close to your school, where you could get some nice composted manure?

    hope this helps a little.

    • Jason
    • June 4, 2008

    Couple of thoughts: Worms don’t like light, and styrofoam lets through a lot of light. It’s probably dark in the fridge – but not sure if they are out.

    Why not add a tablepoon of used coffee grinds to each container? Worms love grinds, it will look better than ripped up newspaper, and won’t smell bad.

    • Chris
    • June 4, 2008

    Thanks for the comments. I found out our sawdust is not treated wood and no cedar. I have thought of the light and the styrofoam especially the lids – this could be part of the problem but I usually keep them in the fridge. However, do the worms really eat while they are in the fridge? They are so slow it doesn’t seem as though they are eating. (and keeping them fat for the fishermen is important) I may need to try a new container. So far, the sawdust/paper combination is working. (with them in the fridge) I will try a container or two and leave them out and see what happens. We definately have the coffee grounds. That is a good idea.

  3. Keeping them in the fridge too long could be bad too, the air that comes out of the fridge is very dry. The refrigeration process takes most of the moisture out of the air. You could probably tell this was the problem if the worms were getting smaller after you leave them in for a while (since they would be dehydrating).

  4. Hmm.. distilled water… is it common to use distilled water near worms? It has been a while since I’ve been in a biology class… so this is a wild guess (and admittedly perhaps based just an old urban myth about distilled water)

    It seems like it could be dangerous getting your earth worms near distilled water ( depending on how their skin is structured)…It seems like having liquid high in nutrients on the inside of their skin membrane and very pure water on the other side of the membrane might cause either water to enter the worm or nutrients to leave the worm? Reading your description of the worms “bleeding out” sorta made me think of this… nutrients being sucked out of the worm by the distilled water it was put near.

    Btw, about the urban myth I think I read somewhere that for humans at least drinking distilled water doesn’t cause the wrong nutrients to be sucked out of the body as it passes since we have semi-permeable membranes that only allow desired nutrients to pass in the correct direction through.

    • Fumblina
    • June 9, 2008

    Just a comment about the distilled water… we drink distilled water not live in it so it adds to our hydration levels. Bathing in water for prolonged periods of time dehydrated the skin (prune fingertips!), but doesn’t have a significant effect on our overall water level. However I am guessing worms have a different surface area to mass ratio so that could be different for them.

    On the other hand I seem to remember that worms enjoy a 80%humidity level which is certainly outside of my comfort zone so maybe hydration is completely irrelevant.

    My worms are happy in a pretty mucky environment and any pure water (rain) that gets added to my bin quickly becomes less than pure. I don’t see that using distilled water would be of any benefit* or harm to the worms unless they were in a particularly sterile environment. And if they are in a sterile environment then thats more likely to be your problem.

    *although de-chlorinating it might be a good plan

    You could look at is testing pH level.. also something useful for the science lessons? 🙂

  5. Not sure if this might help answer the styrofoam issue or not. However, the styrofoam material is made of a polymer very much like plastic but with a focus on light weight containment. Actually invented by DOW chemicals its proper name is polystyrene foam and is made using unique hydro carbons from fossil fuels (oil). As are all plastic derivatives. However, the use of polystyrene as a long term bin concept might introduce chemical imbalances into the vermicomposting envrionment slowing the process of creating mesophilic culture which is one of the bacteria’s that makes the soil come alive during composting. This would not be present in the polymer structure used to create a typical plastic like the popular rough neck style we use in vermicomposting. The slower the mesophilic culture develops the worse or the longer it will take for the material to do their work. Not just the worm, but the soil itself in how the compost gets formed. This is why styrofoam has limited applications and is unfit for long term storage and is so easy to break. Its just a weak bad version of plastic with a specific intent. I don’t think vermicomposting and it could even get along well, and I would think the worms would always want to run away from this type of construction for their environment. Hope that helps a bit.

    • joesph
    • April 8, 2013

    Hey do you know where to get worm containers. I’ve looked on the internet but i can’t find it. Can you help me find some websites so i can sell my worms?:)

    • Bentley
    • April 11, 2013

    Hey Joseph,
    What I’ve found works great for composting worms is a breathable bag, inside a typical shipping box (brown corrugated cardboard) with newsprint as padding around the bags.
    I get all my supplies from Uline (bags are called “cloth parts bags”)

    • Adam
    • May 31, 2013

    Hi I want to sell worms in my yard and I was wondering where I could find some little containers, and how many should I sell in one container?

    • MARK
    • July 29, 2013

    I FOUND OUT THE HARD WAY….. IF YOU LET YOUR WORMS OR CRAWLERS SIT IN THEIR TUBS WITH AN ACCUMULATION OF THEIR CASTINGS FOR VERY LONG, THEY WILL TURN TO MUSH RATHER QUICKLY. THIS WILL ALSO HAPPEN IF YOUR WORMS DONT HAVE GOOD AIR FLOW (FLOW, NOT JUST SUPPLY). BAIT AND TACKLE SHOPS HAVE SPECIAL COMPARTMENTS WITHIN THEIR FRIDGES OR OFTEN THEY HAVE A SPECIAL FRIDGE MADE SO THAT THE MOISTURE CONDENSES IN A TRAY SO THE MOISTURE LEVELS DONT DROP BELOW SPECIFIC %.

    DAMP/MOISTENED PEAT MOSS WORKS THE BEST FROM WHAT I HAVE FOUND HERE IN NORTH CAROLINA.

    ALSO, MAKE SURE YOUR BINS HAVE SOME SAND ADDED TO THEM OR THE WORMS WILL TAKE HEAVY CASUALTIES, VERY QUICKLY AS THEY NEED SAND TO DIGEST WHAT THEY CONSUME… IF YOU HAVENT BEEN USING SAND IN THE BINS WHILE RAISING THEM AND THEN SHIP IN CONTAINERS W/O ENOUGH AIR FLOW, THEY WILL LIKELY BECOME DOA’S DUE TO THE CHANGE/STRESS.

    WORMS ARE PRETTY TOUGH FOR THE MOST PART BUT WHEN WE CONFINE THEM INTO BINS, THERE ARE SEVERAL ELEMENTS THAT ARE NONEXISTENT THAT ALWAYS EXIST IN NATURAL WORM BEDS (OTHER INSECTS THAT FEED ON THE CASTINGS WHICH MAY BE HOW THE AMMONIA LEVELS ARE SO LOW IN NATURAL BEDS BUT IN BINS THE AMMONIA LEVELS ARE ALWAYS PRETTY HIGH IN COMPARISON).

    • Diana Powell
    • February 22, 2014

    I had sold nightcrawlers last year but seem to have had the same problem with the worms becoming slow and seeimg very week as though they were going to die, at that point I would let them go back from where I got them. Some of them even started to disolve into nothing. I found this out because some of them were in bunched up melting like til they were completely gone, at that time I was using Frabrill worm bedding and I think that is what the problem was though I used it before and it seemed to work well but I used a distilled water from walmart any other distilled water seemed to make them melt quicker. I was wanting to know the best way to keep them for long term or if you even could as I would like to use their composting for my future garden that will be indoors. I was also very concerned with how they are gotten from the ground, I get them with a friend and I think the way they are pulled out of the ground might very well harm them. I think the best way to get them is if they are already mostly all the way out of the ground from it raining so bad because there is no damage then done but to pick them up. My friend says to pull them out or to hold them til you feel them letting up or (hard to put this into words) they feel you can pull them easily without breaking them in half. It seems when they are squeezed til you can feel that you can easily pull them out of the ground that it creates lumping on them which I think might of been the cause of them dying, I really need to know about this because worms are a very important part of everything natural happening in life and I don’t want to harm them and that has had me wondering for a while. I also had thought of using sand but wasn’t sure and if you do use sand how much to how much dirt and should you bake the sand to sterilize it? Another issue that bothered me was the dirt I use the dirt from which I find them but I have basically strained it due to finding bugs of such and thought that might also be a possibility of them dying, Please help, I would really enjoy having a worm farm. thanks..

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