Earthworms: Selecting and Growing Worms for Fishing, Composting or Gardening

Growing earthworms might seem like the easiest sort of farming in the world. All you need to do is put a box in one corner of your kitchen, add some dirt, kitchen scraps, a few lawn trimmings and you are all ready to go, right? Not so fast, there, future farmer. There are approximately 2,700 different kinds of earthworm – and those are just the ones we know about. They come in sizes ranging from nearly microscopic to one found in South Africa that was 22 feet long. To become a successful worm farmer, you will need to focus on the purpose for your worms, select the best worms for the job, and learn the habits of your sort of earthworm. Clearly, you do not want one that will grow to be the size of an anaconda, but even ruling out the constraints of size, there are variations in earthworms. Some are better than others for certain purposes. If you find these cold-blooded wigglers fascinating, or if you want to cash in on their value in your garden read on.

Photo credit: Sustainable sanitation via Foter.com / CC BY

Kinds of Earthworms:

There are three main types of earthworm, the anecics, the epigeics, and the endogeics, or the ones that come up out of the earth, the ones that live on the surface of the earth and the ones that live deep within the earth. The anecics have vertical burrows, and while they feed on surface litter, they live underground. The epigeics live on litter, and their short digestive time encourages beneficial microorganisms in the soil. The endogeics dine primarily upon dirt and live underground. To add to the importance of knowing your worms and selecting the right one, some like to be cold, some like to be warm – but none of them like to get dried out or drowned in too much water. Like different plants, different earthworms have different habitat needs, so it is important to know what kind of worm you have and its dining and living preferences. The best worms for composting or gardening are those that like to eat surface litter.

Domesticated Earthworms:

Domesticated earthworms are breeds of worms that have been bred for human purposes. The three main purposes for growing earthworms is as fishing bait, for composting or to improve soil for agricultural applications.

European night crawlers (Eisenia hortensis) are often a good choice for growing worms to sell for bait. They are a large worm that holds up well on a hook. More than that, they aren’t as sensitive to cold as African Night Crawlers or as sensitive to heat as Canadian Night Crawlers. They qualify as a top layer feeder, munching happily on coffee grounds, grass clippings, and scraps for leafy vegetables or potato peelings. They don’t mind living close together, and breed well in captivity. They do all right as a compost earthworm, although they aren’t quite as efficient as some other breeds.

Red Wiggler Worms (Eisenia Fetida) are the ideal compost worm. They are a surface feeder, so they will not be continuously diving for the bottom of your container. They are voracious, quickly going through a wide variety of food stuffs. One pound of red worms will eat half a pound of foodstuffs in one day. They are also prolific breeders, and they can be used as fish bait – but that isn’t where they shine. They don’t migrate, and they don’t need to burrow deep. Keep them fed, lightly moist and reasonably warm and they will produce lovely worm castings that will help the fertility of your garden or your flower pots.

Garden earthworms can be either eisenia hortensis or eisenia fetida, depending upon your local. In fact, one of the best ways to have worms in your garden is to entice them with yummy worm food – by any other name, compost. Earthworms love a good eatery as well as any other living creature. If you develop a good environment for them, they will move right in. However, if your new garden or landscape area has been created by importing dirt, sod and other landscaping materials, there might not be any worms nearby to entice. In that case, prepare a well-composted bed and gently seed it with worms. Use a trowel to dig a shallow hole, introduce a pinch of worms and cover the area with a protective mulch to prevent the local birds from having a feast before your worms get over the shock of moving and establish their new homes.

Maintaining Your Worms

Worms are living creatures. Like most living things, they require optimum conditions to do their best. If your worms are part of your outdoor garden and compost, this might mean simply using organic gardening methods to promote an environment where they can happily multiply. If you are maintaining an indoor worm farm, however, you will need to be a little more active in maintaining the colony.

Preparing a Box

The first step is to prepare a home for your worm colony. If they will be a kitchen helper, this means setting up a container. Worm farms are available to buy or you can create your own using two stackable storage tubs. Drill small aeration holes around the top of one box, and a few tiny drain holes in the bottom. These should be very small holes because your worms might decide to go exploring and slide out the bottom of the box. Place some sort of spacer in the bottom tub – cut-off milk cartons, a couple of bricks – anything that will hold the top box up off the bottom of the second box. Next, add bedding. This can be shredded newspaper (no toxic inks, please!), cardboard, peat moss, shredded coconut husks or similar materials. Add a tiny bit of garden dirt, a spoonful or two of fine sand or similar material.

Photo credit: Earthwormsinfo via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Feeding

Feeding your earthworms is a lot like feeding a compost heap . Fruit and vegetable scraps are wonderful. Coffee grounds, eggshells, tea leaves and similar organics are also good. Avoid meat, fats, sugary sweets and salty foods like potato chips. Meat will attract mice and similar pests, and salt can hurt your soft-bodied little friends. Use citrus and onion skins in moderation. Scatter the food goodies in the top layer of the worm bedding.

Dividing Your Worm Colony & Removing Castings

After about thirty days, your worm colony should start to expand. Eventually, their population will be too large for their container. That is when you will want to harvest their castings and possibly sell, give away or divide off worms to make another worm farm. An easy removal method is to put their food in a mesh bag. When the worms go to the bag for their next meal, they will remain inside the bag. It can be gently lifted out, and the worms along with it. The castings can then be used in container gardening or incorporated into the vegetable garden. The worm colony can also be divided, some of them going back into the original container with new bedding, while others are used for other purposes.

I hope you have enjoyed this article about earthworms, and that it will give you some ideas about how to grow your own. Please like the article if you find it useful, and share it with your gardening friends or even with youngsters who are looking for science experiments. Leave your comments below – we are always glad to hear from you.

James G. Craig
 

James G. Craig is a gardening enthusiast who splits his spare time between growing vegetables, preening his flower gardens, and blogging about his experiences at the Gardener Corner.

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