Who Benefits from Worm Farming Worms have been a benefit to mankind and nature long before worm farming became well-known. Worms provide food for other animals, help create and maintain healthy soil and plants, enhance gardening efforts, provide fish bait, and help teach our children about pets and other valuable lessons. Worm farms are a part of natural science. A nature museum or a zoo would benefit from a small worm farm as a display and to help feed the animals kept there, as well as keeping the scenery bright and fresh because of the benefits to the earth. A petting zoo could make a worm farm part of their hands-on attraction. You might start a worm farm as a science project with a class or with your own child. It would also make a good FFA project. A small gardening club may want to invest in worm farming. A person who raises birds could start a worm farm or buy from a worm farm to provide treats for their birds. Pet shops could buy from worm farms to feed their fish or reptiles. Parents could benefit from a worm farm as a way to teach their young children about recycling, their first pets, compassion, the natural food chain, gardening, and about business. Worm farms are a way to help the economy by buying and selling. They provide a useful service by increasing the health of soil, they provide a useful product, and they encourage equipment sales. They increase the sales of the supplies needed to maintain the farms. They provide an extra income for the seller as well as jobs for any workers needed on the bigger farms. Catfish farms would benefit from worm farms by starting their own or buying from one for their fish food. Fishermen benefit from worm farms by using natural resources to fish to help keep down the sales of artificial lures, which cause extra trash along and in rivers, lakes, and ponds. People who run chicken houses would benefit from worm farms because of the large amounts of food the chickens need. So, who benefits from worm farms? We all can. Even if you never touch a worm, you still eat vegetables or fruit that come from the plants produced in the soil that worms helped make healthy! Gardeners have known the benefits for years because of the benefits to their compost piles and the results of their flower beds or vegetable gardens. Worm farms can help a person open up conversations, which creates more acquaintances and possible friendships. They can bring people together who are nature lovers, fishermen/women, gardeners, recyclers, teachers, and even business owners. People can learn to respect the hard-working little worms even if they never quite get over their squeamish reactions to them. Many worms are nature's friend. For those who aren't squeamish, worms can even be an exotic treat. They are well-known in other lands as a source of human food. Then again, many of us found out as children taking dares that eating a worm is a fun way to gross out our peers! Where to Find Worms for Worm Farming Setting up a worm farm requires three things. The first is an appropriate bin for containing the worms. The second is plenty of compost materials to keep the worms properly fed. The most important thing needed for a worm farm is, in fact, the worms. Learning where to find worms is the first step. It is important to note that worms collected from the garden in the wild should not be used in a worm farm. Various types of worms are available on the market specifically for worm farming. These worms are sold for traits that make them more desirable for composting or as live bait. An established worm farm can require a large number of worms to be efficient enough to compost enough material for a small family. Most small worm farms need to start out with at least 1000 worms. The first place to find worms for worm farming should be the local bait and tackle stores. These places typically sell a variety of worms that can be used for both composting and live bait. The Red Wiggler is known as being the best worm for composting and can usually be found in establishments such as these. The Internet provides a mass amount of options for purchasing just about any kind of worm to use in a worm farm. Red Wigglers, Night Crawlers, Florida Wigglers, egg capsules and even exotic breeds of worms can all be found. A simple search on any search engine will produce a number of opportunities and choices. Purchasing live animals online also means that shipping is something to take into consideration. Care has to be taken when collecting and packaging the specimens. Most worms ship well and with ease but shipping methods should be investigated. Simply ask the supplier what the rate of live arrival is and find out what their shipping methods are. The local garden centers have proven very helpful as a supply for worms. Typically they sell other supplies for worm farming as well. Depending on the geographical location, most garden centers have a full line of the various types of worms available for purchase. The staff is available to answer questions about worm farming for new beginners. If a specific type of worm is found to be unavailable at a garden center, an order can often be placed for particular varieties. A very commonly overlooked option for locating worms is other worm farmers. Worm farmers often have a surplus of worms and are more than willing to part with them. Some are willing to offer them up in exchange for taking them off their own hands while others will sell them for a low fee. Local worm farmers can often be found in the yellow pages under "worm" or "worm farms". This provides a great source as worm farmers are often more than willing to give tips and hints for a successful farm. Worm farming can be fun and rewarding. Knowing where to find good quality worms is essential in maintaining a successful farm. Once a worm farm is established, it may one day prove to be yet another outlet for those who are new to the worm farming world. Worm Farming with Mealworms Mealworms are scavengers. It doesn't necessarily make them a bad worm, but it does help to understand them. If you want to start a mealworm farm, you can find starters in damp, spoiled grain and grain products. Perhaps you have access to a grain bin of some sort, a grain processing plant, or can get infested cereal from a cereal factory. The dark mealworm is the species found throughout the United States. Anyone who has found them in their flour or corn meal would not consider them friends! But in this instance, you can turn an enemy into a friend and gain a profit from the experience. The trick to worm farming of any kind is to start small and work your way up. You have to learn your limits and gain experience, find a market for your mealworms, and become educated about your product. But anything worth having is worth working for. People have been known to use the mealworm as fish bait or food for their birds or reptiles. They're people food in some places! One interesting fact about mealworm farming is that powdery residues can build-up in the containers. This residue, also known as frass, contains mealworm eggs. You can separate this frass with a sifter of some sort once a month, keep it in a separate container, and feed it with raw pieces of potatoes or bran. It takes a month for the eggs to hatch. Females are capable of producing up to 500 eggs, but the adults only live a short time of 3 months at most. They get their fluids from wet fruits like apples or over-ripe bananas and vegetables such as the potato or carrot. They also lay eggs on these foods. You can keep them alive and dormant at temperatures over 40 degrees. They prefer warm environments of 80 degrees to grow and change. So, don't plan on them reproducing at the lower temperatures. Did you know you can eat mealworms raw and live? Ok, it's not your average meal, but it's healthy and is encouraged in other countries. If you want the benefits, but can't stomach the thought, maybe you could try baking them or turning them into flour to use in other recipes. Just spread them on a lightly greased baking sheet and cook for up to 3 hours at 200 degrees. They're done when brittle. Toss them into a blender or grinder until they resemble wheat germ. If nothing else, you could safely serve them to that irritating cousin just for a laugh. It can be your little secret! Meal worm farming is one of the cheapest worm farming you can enter. It's a great way to experiment and can be a safe way to feed your pets something natural and healthy. You could add the worms to your dog or cats diet by using the flour to make your own dog or cat food. Safe, natural, and healthy is the wave of the future. Worm Farming Predators It may seem ironic that the very animals you may produce your worms for would also be the predators you have to protect your worm farm from. If you just give the worms away to the predators, there isn't much point in trying to raise them for profit by selling them to the people or businesses that use them to feed the very same types of predators! You must keep other things from harming your worm farm, of course. One of those things is the medication residue that is left in the manure you may get from livestock farms to feed your worms. Allowing children unsupervised access to your worm farm could be hazardous for your worms. Improper drainage is not a good thing for your worm bins. Using contaminated water to keep your beds moist is harmful. Using paper or cardboard shreds that have come in contact with pesticides is another bad idea. But the predators can be fierce source of competition for any farm, including your worm farm. Many types of birds enjoy worms. Moles, hedgehogs, foxes, toads, snakes, beetles, leeches, slugs, and parasites all feed on worms. Parasites are another reason you have to be careful with the manure you feed your worms. Mites and cluster flies can be hazardous predators to your worms. Anything that is a threat to eating the food you feed your worms can be a danger as well. Worms are voracious eaters, so if they aren't fed enough, they'll suffer or try to leave your worm beds. If another predator is eating up the food they need, you could suffer a great loss even if they aren't interested in eating the worms. If you have raccoons in your area, this may present a problem since raccoons are known to be great at getting into containers and figuring out latches! There's nothing wrong with feeding birds even when you won't be making a profit from it. But you may want to encourage the birds to eat in other areas of your yard to distract them away from your worm beds. If you have to worry about the neighborhood in which you live or if you live close to a public area, you may want to protect your worms from another type of predator. Thieves who want free fishing worms could present a problem. Sometimes even living in the country isn't a guarantee that you won't have trespassers. So, make sure your access to the worm bins doesn't make it too easy for unwanted visitors of any kind! One way to protect your worm farm from predators is to invest in a shed that can be locked and is constructed to make unwanted access more of a challenge. Small birds can get into small places. If you can keep the floor clean, it helps guard against invasion as well. A concrete floor could be hosed off easily. You'll have more success at protecting your investment if you keep the container they are in off the floor by using something to provide legs of some sort that can also be set in a bowl of water. Worm Farming is a Fisherman's Friend Red worms, red wigglers, or manure worms are said to be best for composting. They're also known as fishing worms. You can find them in leaf litter, manure piles, and bait shops. The ability to produce fast makes these worms appealing for worm farmers and fishermen. You can start your red fishing-worm farm in a small, cheap plastic container such as a margarine dish or cool whip container. Start with a small collection, say....under a dozen, just to get a feel for the journey ahead and decide if you want to invest further. Add at least one big spoonful of dirt or compost, some thin strips of notebook paper or newspaper (not glossy), a cup of water (you want moisture, not soggy contents), fine sand or crumbled eggshells, and a little cereal or fruit. (The worms aren't as partial to citrus fruits because of the acid content.) You'll have to punch holes in the sides and the lid, at least a dozen in each. There must be oxygen flow and drainage. Worms can't survive without oxygen. And you may have noticed that they rise to the top of the ground after a hard rain. Your worms will eat many things that you would normally throw away. Almost any food scrap will do, but there are some that are discouraged. Meat scraps, citrus scraps, garlic, onion, and hot peppers or really spicy foods are not good choices. You should be careful about exposing your worms to pesticide residues used on food or contained in manures. Although the fishermen's friend will eat cardboard because it's a wood product, make sure the cardboard is not contaminated with any poisonous residues. You have to feed them at least three times a week. Bury the food under the bedding for the best results. You can check out bait shops to get an idea of how much to price your worms if you plan to sell them. You don't want to be too high or too low compared to other worms sold in the area for fishing bait. You can, of course, just grow them for your own fishing excursions. Also, consider the area where you live. If you live in a small area, there may not be enough market for a large worm farm to earn enough profit unless you sell over the internet or ship to other places. You want to make sure you don't invest too much too soon. If you live near a lake, you may do very well with your worm farm business. People do like convenience. Even avid fishermen can run out of bait or forget to buy it, although they may not like to readily admit it! There are plenty of people who prefer to use natural bait, too. Of course, this means customers will be knocking on your door on weekends and after normal work hours. So, you may do better to post your office away from your living area and make sure your hours are compatible, but not overwhelming for you. Post them plainly and large enough for those early rising fishermen/women to readily see them. Understanding the Anatomy of Worms Used in Worm Farming Worm farming is an excellent way to naturally compost waste without adding to the already full landfills. Vermicompost is produced as a result, providing a nutrient rich substance that greatly benefits gardens, crops and house plants. The worms kept in worm farms demand little to remain healthy, voracious eaters. Understanding the anatomy of these worms proves useful in understanding their needs. A worm's body is made up of 70-95 percent water. Worms therefore require a very moist environment that should be mimicked in the worm farm. When worms die, they often shrivel up and go unnoticed as the water content is lost at this point. These are cold blooded animals. Temperature should be maintained between 72 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit to assist the regulation of their body temperatures. Worm farms should be placed in a location that allows for this constant temperature, or bins that are insulated should be purchased. One focus of worm farming is to have worms that will reproduce easily. Worms are hermaphrodites, meaning they possess both male and female sex organs. Worm farmers must realize that although they are hermaphrodites, they cannot self-fertilize. A single worm cannot reproduce alone. A colony of many worms will result in larger numbers being produced. Worms used in worm farms are covered in a slimy mucus coating. This coating serves many purposes. The mucus helps the worms retain water. As their bodies are made up of a high percentage of water, an important step when worm farming is to be sure to provide adequate moisture levels in the bin. The worm will be able to hold in the required moisture level through this mucus coating. The worm's mucus coating is also a protector. As the worm borrows into soil and bedding, the mucus provides a slick coat protecting it from harmful substances that may reside there. The anatomy of the mouth of the worm is regarded as unique. In the worm, the mouth is called the Peristonium. Worms do not have teeth. Instead they have this mouth organ that is used for prying. Worm farmers should be aware that worms will be able to better compost food items that have been cut down into smaller pieces. Soaked paper and cardboard products will be more easily pried apart than hard, non-soaked pieces. Established worm farmers and those new to the hobby are often surprised to learn the life span of the worms that are commonly used in worm farming. The common lifespan of these worms is typically between 4 and 8 years. It has been reported that some worms have been known to live over 15 years. These are long lived creatures whose lives are most often cut short by accidents. The myth that worms can be cut in half and therefore produce two worms is false. Worm farmers should always be careful when searching for worms, replacing bedding or removing vermicompost. Sharp or hard tools are likely to injure a worm or even cause death. If provided a good diet, proper living conditions and a safe environment, worms can live long healthy lives. Healthy worms produce healthy compost that can be put to good use. Understanding the basics of the anatomy of these worms will aide in the understanding of how unique they are and how to address their needs. Feeding the Worms in a Worm Farm Naturally composting waste, providing an organic matter that enriches soil and even supplying hobbyists and fisherman with live bait. These are all reasons for worm farming. Taking care of the worms in a worm farm is typically quite easy but there some guidelines to follow. Proper feeding is important for the health of the worms, and therefore important for the health of the farm. Worms are fed a variety of food items, and nonfood items, for composting. Some food type items that can be offered are fruits, vegetables, greens, bread products, cereals, tea bags, coffee grounds and filters and egg shells. The worms will eat just about anything so it is imperative to know which foods are appropriate and why. Fruits and vegetables are easily composted by the worms. The important thing to remember when serving fruits and vegetables is the size of the portions. Fruit pieces should be cut down to 1/2 inch pieces or slices. Smaller pieces will be consumed more quickly. Food blended up with water will also help the worms find the food and consume it faster. Fruits and vegetables are highly nutritious. Worms that are fed an appropriate diet will in turn produce a nutrient rich substance that is beneficial to crops, gardens, flower beds and even indoor flower pots. Some nonfood items that can be offered to worms for composting are paper products, cotton rags, hair clippings, leaves and soaked cardboard. A pizza box that has been torn up and soaked is a wonderful treat for worms. When offering leaves to a worm farm, be careful to only use products that have never been treated with chemicals. For the safety of the worms, grass clipping and other yard clippings should be avoided incase chemicals have been used. Dog and cat droppings can be used in a worm farm with care. Cats and dogs that have been dewormed recently will still have the substance within their bodies. The medicine used for deworming can be excreted in the droppings. If fed to the worms, the droppings can kill the worms quickly. If a pet has been dewormed recently, avoid using the droppings in the worm farm. Care should also be taken when offering cat droppings from a litter box. Inorganic litters are unsafe for the worms. If your plan is to use the worms to compost the droppings, using a natural and organic litter will keep the worms happy. While there are many foods that can be offered readily, there are also those that should be avoided. Care should always be taken with items that have been treated with chemicals, medications or other substances that may prove harmful. Meats should not be offered to the worms in a worm farm. Being voracious eaters, the worms will gladly consume whatever meat is offered. The problem with meat is with the pests it will attract. Flies and maggots will be found in a worm farm that uses meat and the best way to eliminate these pests is to eliminate the use of meat. Citrus fruits, onions and garlic should not be used either. The worms appear to find the smell of these items offensive. Most worms will try to escape the bin to get away from the smell. Dairy products will also attract unwanted guests into the worm farm. Another problematic issue with serving dairy products is the foul smell that is emitted as it rots. Feeding worms is a pretty easy job. The key is to know which items are good and which are bad for the health of the worms. Another point to always remember is to not over feed. New worms should be fed in small amounts when they are becoming established within the farm. Once settled, the amount can be increased over time. Over feeding leads to problems such as foul smells and pests. Keep feeding down to a minimum, offering new food only when the old food supply is running low. Worms can eat over half their body weight in food per day. The worm population can double every few months. Overfeeding can cause a problem but keep an eye on the population as well to be sure that underfeeding isn't an issue. A well fed worm population is a happy worm population. Happy worms produce a lot of naturally composted, healthy castings for soil enrichment therefore keeping the worm farmer happy as well. Choosing the Right Worms for Worm Farming Worm farming is done for several reasons. Composting, the production of nutrient rich soil and providing live bait are three of the most common reasons for worm farming. Some worms do a better job at their duties than others so it is important to know how to choose the right worms for your worm farm. Composting is one common reason for worm farming. Worms are used to compost waste and discarded material naturally and without adding to the local landfills. To do this, the worms eat fruit and vegetable scraps, along with other compostable items such as paper products, leaves, cotton rags and egg shells. If composting is the primary reason for setting up a worm farm, choices should be made for the appropriate types of worms that are known as being the best for this option. The Red Wiggler, or Eisenia fetida, is reportedly the best worm for composting. These worms reproduce easily and are extremely hardy. The trait that makes them best as compost worms is their ravenous appetites. Because of their eagerness to devour anything edible, Red Wigglers produce a high quality substance resulting in a nutrient rich soil that is so desirable with worm farming. Perhaps raising worms for the purpose of providing live bait is the goal of a worm farm. Bait can be raised for personal use or even supplied to local fisherman through bait and tackle shops. The best worms for this purpose are the European Night Crawlers. These worms can be used for baiting fish in all types of conditions, even in saltwater. The European Nightcrawler is reported to be one of the hardiest fish available for worm farming. They can also be used as a live food source for other animals such as birds, reptiles, exotic pets and aquarium fish. They can be used in a composting type worm farm but work best as live food and bait. Night Crawlers are readily available and have similar care requirements as the Red Wigglers. Worms used for garden and lawn farming are typically available in sets of three different varieties of worms. The Red Wiggler and the Night Crawlers are often two of the types of worms in these sets. The third worm is usually Pheritema, or Florida Wiggler which are worms that burrow deep into the soil. Over 3000 varieties of worms exist. The worms mentioned here are the most commonly used and readily available on the market today. They can be found at various online distributors. Local worm farmers can be found through online directories or by looking up the topic in the local telephone book. Most types of worms are typically made available as adult worms, young worms and egg capsules. Typically sold by the pound, the number of worms per unit will vary depending on their age and size. Egg capsules yield a higher number of worms per unit once hatched. A worm farm will be most successful when the appropriate worm is chosen for the job at hand. While most worms will compost discarded items and waste and act as live bait, some have some small traits that make them the best choice for a worm farm with a particular purpose. Catalpa Worm Farming If you are from the southern portion of the United States, you may not know about catalpa worms, but chances are you've at least heard of them. Catalpa worms are not really worms, but they are lumped into the worm family anyway. Try telling the redneck fishermen these little buggers aren't worms! Catalpa worms are usually called "Catawba worms". Although it isn't likely you'll find many catalpa worm farms, this may be a very good reason you should start one of your own. It's a way to enlighten the public and provide something unique for consumers. Catalpa trees are the way to get Catalpa worms. So, a tree farm of catalpas is your first investment. Other things you may need to invest in are: sprinklers, wheelbarrows, shovels, rakes, containers, a business license, fertilizer for your tree crop, and advertising. Your catalpa trees are going to make quite a mess with litter, so you'll want to decide how to handle that as well. It's an idea to turn this litter into a profit. Toss it into your compost pile to help build up some valuable food for your trees. Sell it for seeds to others who may want to grow a tree. Use it to start campfires. One tree can provide a worm farmer with hundreds of worms. They're a hot commodity for southern fishermen. The fat worms draw catfish like crazy. Their juices are the enticement for the fish. They just can't seem to resist. The best way to use the worms is to break them, tear them, or cut them somehow to allow the juices to flow. Place them on your hook and put the hook as near to the bottom of your fishing hole as possible. This keeps the juices close to the bait instead of allowing it to float down and away, which causes the fish to also go down and away to chase after the juice instead of the bait! If you invest in a freezer, you can also freeze the worms to sell out of season. The caterpillar stage only lasts about three weeks. You can buy a starter tree from the Arbor Foundation for $9. If you're lucky enough to have a relative or friend who has a tree, you can try growing your own from the seed pods that hang from the limbs. Your best bet for starting the worms is to harvest eggs from a tree that is already established and attach them to your own tree. The caterpillars emerge in the spring, so you'll want to attach them in February or March. You could try ordering the catalpa sphinx moth yourself from an insect source of some kind. This is what the catalpa worm evolves into, so obviously it would lay the eggs to start more! The downside to catalpa worms is their ability to devour leaves. All species of the catalpa tree are subject and can be host trees. You'll have to guard against small wasps and parasites that can destroy your worms. Advertising Your Worm Farm Advertising can be the most expensive part of many small businesses. But without the proper advertisement, your business will struggle. Although word of mouth is and will continue to be one of the best sources of advertising for a worm farm or any business or service, you must consider other options as well. Air time for radio stations can be expensive, as can newspaper or magazine advertisements. You may be limited in how often you can invest in either one. Start-up costs can be demanding in any business. The sign for your worm farm business should be colorful, easy to read, informative, large enough to readily notice, and in the right place to be seen easily. Although a plain, small sign can still work, it is the bigger and more attractive one that will draw more interest. Think about it from the consumer viewpoint. If you saw a small, plain, black and white sign on one side of the street, and a big, colorful, sign on the other side of the street.......which one would be more likely to snag your interest? You want to be welcoming to the public with your advertisement. Another means of advertising your worm farm is flyers or bulletins. Many people will make up a huge stack of them and place them on every car they see until they run out. But you want to get the most out of every cent you invest in your advertising. So, before you run out and start shoving those flyers under windshield wipers, consider placement. Is the mom shopping with her two year old child in the toy store as likely to buy your fishing worms or your fertilizer as the person shopping in the hardware store or sports store? Grocery stores, Laundromats, your local Wal Mart, convenience stores, and even large construction businesses may be better places to distribute your flyers. You could ask store owners about posting your flyers in their windows. Try the local video stores, flower shops, and so on. You could consider holding a demonstration about the benefits of your worm farm at the local library. They have story times and guests visit during the summer months to entertain the children. These children have parents and grandparents who garden and fish and own reptiles or birds who might need worms. Be sure to hand out color pages or bookmarks or something similar with a small bit of information for your business, including your phone number. Magnetic signs that attach to the sides of vehicles have become more popular in advertising. There are thrift newspapers that have lower cost advertising. A booth at your local farmer's market or in the local flea market may help get your worm farm noticeable with the public. Make sure you check out your tax laws and your business license requirements for your area. Even if you have your worm farm at your house, you may be required to get a permit to sell your worms or the things you are able to produce because of your worms (like the tea, compost, fertilizers, etc.). A Different Kind of Worm Farm Worm farms are in effect in different states all over the United States. Because of the interest in recycling and the eco-system, these farms make sense. Landfills get less bagged waste, crops are improved, other animals are fed a natural food, and the worms provide natural bait for fishing. Worm farms can provide many things besides worms. Worm gifts, worm candy, worm flour, worm breads, worm cookies, books, dvds, cute worm songs on cds, worm-related toys, fertilizer teas, compost, potting soil, cupped fishing bait, and hands-on activities for youngsters are some ideas. Worm farming is technically known as vermiculture. It can be a lucrative business, but it is not a way to make a lot of money quickly. It takes patience, education, money, space, and marketing skills. You can't just toss a handful of worms in your yard and expect them to go to work and make you rich! If you want a different kind of worm farm, you first would want to research the other worm farms that are in the market. If you make your worm farm unique and fun, you'll draw families. Families spend money on souvenir type items and knick knacks as memoirs of their adventures. Kids like games. Maybe you could create some playground equipment for your little visitors with designs that are based on worms. Demonstrations can make your worm farm different. You can make your worm bins decorative as well to help maintain public interest. People like "eye candy". Things that are brightly colored and designed catch the eye. A person dressed in a worm suit to chat with the children would be a fun addition to make your worm farm different. A small worm farm museum would be interesting for school groups to visit, which would increase public interest and make your worm farm different. You might want to figure out how to have a worm festival on your worm farm. Provided you have enough room for parking and someone to direct traffic, this could provide advertisement and fun for you and for your visitors. Worm contests such as who can eat the most worm cookies or design the best worm poster, the most creative worm art made with playdoh, or races in worm shaped cars are some ideas. Educational benefits exist as well. Your worm farm can be used as a way to enlighten the public on how important the worm is to our natural environment. It can teach people about other worms besides the earthworm and the worms that cause harm. If you want a different kind of worm farm, it takes a good imagination and some ingenuity. Creating interest and a public need is a good way to succeed. It also means you'll have to stay "on-your-toes" to maintain that interest. Of course, it means more of an investment, too. But in the business world, it takes money to make money. You just have to "worm" your way into the public eye and get noticed! Odds and Ends to Note About Worm Farming For the beginner, worm farming can either seem like a simple adventure or something totally foreign to them. Some people have never been brave enough to hold a worm, not to mention making a whole farm of them! So, let's explore some interesting odds and ends about worm farming. Compost worms and earthworms are not the same. Earthworms loosen the soil. Compost worms eat the mulch layer of soil. Grub worms are not really worms at all. They're larvae from the June bugs that are pests to people in the southern parts of the United States. Catalpa worms are not really worms either. They're caterpillars from a moth species that are known to infest the Catalpa tree. Red worms are popular as fishing bait. Tomato horn worms sound like little monsters, but they're actually edible worms. Witchetty grub worms are served in restaurants as barbecued appetizers in Australia. Palm grubs are prepared by frying in hot pepper and salt. (Kinda makes you want to ask what the new dish is before you eat in a strange place, huh?) If you soak an earthworm overnight, it will purge the soil from them. Odds are that the end result of many dishes served in other countries could be quite tasty. But most worm farming in America is done for other purposes. New word of the day is vermicomposting! It sounds really smart and sophisticated, but it only means composting with worms. Worms are great little workers for your compost bin and can enrich the end result. This means you have better luck with that green thumb you've been trying so hard to encourage! You can build a worm bin out of wood, plastic, concrete, an old bucket, or an old bathtub. If you really want an odd bin, create one out of an old toilet! You just knew you were saving it for something, didn't you? The only problem with having strange bins is that you need to create a drain. You can't let your worm dirt get too soggy. They rise to the top of the ground after a rain for a reason, you know. Drainage creates another benefit of your worm farm called worm tea. No, you don't drink it. That would be far too odd and might end with a sick stomach. You don't serve it to your worms either. Although it does create a cute picture to imagine them sitting at a tiny table, holding their tiny little tea cups and wearing tiny little straw floppy hats! Did you know you can feed your worms vacuum cleaner dust? Although you may want to ensure that you didn't just fog the house for bugs before you vacuumed. Worm farming can be as expensive or as low-cost as you choose to make it. How much does it cost to start a worm farm? Well, that's up to you. How fancy you think you need it? How large do you want to make it? What type of worms do you want to start with? How much space will you have for new growth? How much money do you have available for the adventure? What type of advertising do you want to do if it is a business venture? Whatever your choices are, odds are that you'll end up learning something valuable! The History of Worms and Worm Farming When many of us think of worms, we think of the few pink earthworms that hang out in the garden, strolling through the soil and showing their faces after a heavy rain. We don't often stop to think about the history involved in these legless creatures. Some people even put these guys to work for profit and natural soil care through a process known as worm farming. So how long have worms really been around? To take a look at the history of worm farming, we have to go way back before the age of man. Worms have been around almost since the beginning of time. Even in the age of the dinosaurs, earthworms worked hard breaking down excrement and waste. Their job was to produce a substance more useful to the soil. In turn, the level of fertility of the soil would remain high promoting a better rate of growth. From 51 and 30 B.C., the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra VII realized the importance the worms played in the fertilization of the Nile. The export of worms from Egypt was then banned and became a crime punishable by death. For this reason, the Nile has been reported to contain the most fertile soil in the world even today. Many years later, Charles Darwin published "The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Actions of Worms with Observations on their Habits" in 1881. He mentions here that the plough was one of the best inventions made by man. It changed the lives of farmers everywhere. The worm however, has been doing the same job long before man although later they were once regarded as a pest. It was thought that worms destroyed plant life, chewing through the roots of crops. In reality, the worms plough through the Earth carrying water and air beneath the soil aerating and fertilizing it. Darwin continued to study earthworms, their habits and their benefits to man for over forty years. He even went so far as to label these crawlers as one of the most important creatures on earth. During the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s chemistry was discovered and Darwin's studies were cast aside. Worm farming as a natural method for ploughing was ignored. Instead, man-made products were used for the job for a quicker more efficient way of producing a larger yield of growth. Chemists produced fertilizers that increased the growth of crops. These fertilizers also damaged the soil, requiring even more fertilizers to continue to produce this increased growth yield. Other chemicals such as pest sprays and poisons have caused the decrease in the population of earthworms in the soil, thereby causing a fall in the fertility of the soil. Because of the availability and ease of use, fertilizers and pesticides have been primarily used in crops across the world. However, some farmers began to culture their own worms on a smaller scale. Worm farming, or vermiculture, is the use of earthworms to aerate soil and change organic matter into compost. It only became a commercial process in the 1970s. Worm farmers experience fluctuations in production and revenue depending on market requirements and demand. While commercial worm farmers still exist and function efficiently, many individuals have begun to establish their own methods of farming worms. This has been made easier through readily available worm farming supplies and equipment to encourage a more natural way of producing well fertilized soil and for composting waste. The views about worms and how they effect the environment have changed dramatically over the years. Whether they're held sacred or regarded as nasty slimy critters, worms have proved to be hardy and beneficial enough to last this long; they're probably going to hang around for many years to come.
What is the HOTBIN?
The HOTBIN is the compost bin for people serious about composting and reducing the amount of waste they send to landfill. HOTBIN is a hot aerobic composting bin, reaching temperatures of 40-60°c breaking down all food and garden waste into compost in just 30-90 days.
The obvious difference between HOT and cold composting is the temperature, which affects the rate of compost production and the ability to compost difficult food waste such as bones and kill off weed seeds, pathogens, fly eggs and larvae.
Science between HOT and Cold Composting
HOT composting operates at a temperature between 40-60°c in comparison to less than 20°c for cold composting. HOT composting is 32 times faster than traditional cold composting methods based on the Arrhenius equation, commonly known as the Q10 formula, a formula for the temperature dependence of reaction rates. In HOT composting, this equation relates to the temperature variation of thermally induced reactions, a generalisation which concludes that reaction speed doubles with every 10°c increase in temperature.
So based on an average UK temperature of 10°c an open/outdoor cold compost heap typically takes 12-24 months to compost, but when HOTBIN is operating at 60°c it will take just 12-24 days!
k= rate of constant chemical reaction on the absolute temperature T (in Kelvin).
A=prefactor | Ea=activation energy (per mole) | R=universal gas constant
How High Temperature is Reached: Understanding Bacteria
Aerobic composting is reliant upon supplying plenty of oxygen to the decomposition process and promoting the necessary bacterial activity responsible for the breakdown of waste into compost.
For bacteria to perform effectively, they require:
- Food - the activity of bacteria digesting waste produces the required heat
- Water – required for bacteria to grow and aid digestion
- Oxygen – prevents excess water and waste becoming a putrid, sloppy mess
- Warmth – bacteria operates happiest at 40-60°c –but they stop working at 75°c
The bacterial speed of heat release depends on the individual digestibility of the waste. This is affected by what goes in, what size and how much. For example digestion and release of heat can be fast, e.g. from plant material or slower for lignin (wood). [waste table]
Without oxygen, the production of methane (2 4 times more potent than Green House Gases) will occur and compost will not be produced effectively. The most efficient way of ensuring sufficient oxygenation to the waste is by creating Free Airspaces.
So What Are Free Airspaces?
Free Airspace (FAS) is the sum of all the gaps around and between particles though which air can circulate. When particles are able to create a ‘self-supporting structure’, the gaps and spaces are maintained for long periods. Aerobic compost heaps such as the HOTBIN rely on aeration via buoyancy air flow which in turn is reliant on retaining around 20-30% 'free air space’ (FAS).
Turning a heap will produce bacterial growth for short periods of time however if there are no self-supporting particles in the turned waste the heap will quickly collapse restricting airflow once again.
Conversely, if the heap has self-supporting particles, no turning is needed the HOTBIN achieves this using a bulking agent (composted wood chip) to maintain FAS. The bulking agent should be added each time new chopped waste is added to the HOTBIN to ensure buoyant air flow through the waste, which in turn allows the bacteria to digest the material effectively without the need for turning or tumbling.
HOTBIN – Insulation by Expanded Polypropylene
The HOTBIN is manufactured from expanded polypropylene, a durable material chosen for its unbeatable insulation properties which when the bin is running at its optimum temperature retains heat for longer and keeps the bacteria working effectively.
Polypropylene is the same plastic material used to make garden chairs and tables however the key difference is that the material comes in bead form which is then expanded, so the HOTBIN is actually about 98% air!
To put the insulation properties of the HOTBIN into perspective, consider for example that you would need 5 railway sleepers in thickness, or 600m thick walls of polyethylene to achieve the same insulation benefits (measured in U value).
Garden Organic Review
We firmly believe in the HOTBIN which is why we had Garden Organic test it for its ease of use, effectiveness and quality of compost produced in their research field at Ryton Gardens. The tests were a huge success.
Garden Organic highlighted that during the trials there was little odour associated with the HOTBIN, virtually no flies and no problems with rodents, all major concerns when adding food waste to a compost bin. Garden Organic was satisfied that because the HOTBIN’s temperatures could be maintained, it could provide significant sanitisation of waste that includes cooked food.
Jane Griffiths, Sustainable Waste Manager at Garden Organic, Ryton who tested the HOTBIN against a leading competitor said, “The HOTBIN processed a very challenging food waste mix into compost after 90 days. During the trial we were really impressed that when checking the temperature it read 60°C when the outside temperature was around 10°C.”