even cheaper worm keeping

Discussion in 'Breeding, Raising, Feeding and Caring for Animals' started by songbird, Dec 5, 2014.

  1. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    as it is now frozen season here and i have a few more moments i can pontificate or wander around a topic a bit. : ) i'm not really talking about worm breeding here either that is a whole different perspective and worth it's own topic.

    i'm glad that people even consider keeping a worm compost bin going and learn about such interesting creatures, but when someone puts a post like:

    https://permaculturenews.org/2014/11/15/low-cost-worm-farm-tractors-small-spaces/

    up on the "other" site it makes me go, "Hmmm?"

    it's not really that low cost when you start adding up the costs of those large bins and the various materials the person lists that go inside, laundry basket? or like some folks that get into those towers with the various chambers. extra expenses not really needed.

    what if the alternatives included "dirt cheap or free" instead? more simple?

    like, do you really need that large of a container to keep worms?

    so far my own experiences say that worms will do fine even in small containers as long as they do not freeze, bake or dry out. too small and they won't breed quickly, but is that an issue for most people once they have enough to handle their normal waste stream? not likely...

    so to simplify, forget the liners, the drilling of holes, etc., put the worms in a bucket, put in some food scraps, cover with damp shredded paper or other scraps, even use some dirt and earthworms if you'd like. for the top, keep it covered with an old t-shirt held on by a some string or old elastic. i use the rubber rings that come in the covers of the plastic pails that i get for free.

    the only real troubles are to make sure to keep some wet things out until they've dried because that actually does help them break down faster once they are added to the bins. and this avoids much of the "leachate" having to have to drain off the bottom. the bottom of the bucket may smell swampy if you dig down in there to bury things but the worms live there just fine. that just tells you that you can dry things out a little more before adding them.

    when the bucket gets full you can start another one and then when you have two you can tote them to the garden and use most of them under any new plantings. keep some of the worms back for the next round because most of the worms you put into the garden will die. that is a simple fact that some worms do not transplant well, but any of their tiny ones or cocoons may do ok in their new surroundings... and then some will crawl away.

    i've been using this simple bucket system for four years now and it has cost me about $30 total and that was because i bought worms when i started (during a very dry spell when i couldn't find a single worm out in the gardens or in the ditches) and i bought mesh fabric and elastic to use over the buckets instead of old t-shirts.

    composting worms have their needs and do well up top in the more organic material layers, but if you add dirt and earthworms below (it does make the bucket heavier, but i just compensate by not filling the bucket very full anyways) the dirt will soak up some of the liquid from above, you'll learn to adjust things as you add. when i add things that might be smelly or moldy they are better buried down deeply. never smell 'em and the worms take care of it. things up top like shredded paper scraps and dried veggies get turned into garden goodies. the worms inhabit every layer of the bucket. must keep it covered well because after they reach a certain population count they'll start looking elsewhere during the night. some folks use lightbulbs over their worm bins to keep the worms from wandering at night but i do not as i think just having a good cover will save the energy and keeps the worms in place.

    meat scraps, bones and fat. all ok in small amounts, under some dirt and with earth worms you will not notice it at all. i keep bins here in my room and do not ever smell them unless i'm digging in there to put stuff in or when i dump the bucket out each spring. stirring the buckets from time to time to make sure all the stuff at the bottom gets digested doesn't hurt, but the worms will get to it eventually anyways, so why do extra work?

    same with leachate, why put holes in a good container and then have to deal with the liquid if you can simplify your input process (chop and dry takes me only a few moments and a few trays sitting out until they dry -- we don't have fruit fly problems here, all the doors/windows are screened), or even left outdoors on sunny days to dry, they're done quickly and then can be stored dry until i have enough to add all at once to several buckets.

    is this different than most of what people write about and publish as worm composting? yep. but it is both cheap and it works, so worth exploring if you have the inclination. : )
     
  2. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    That's a good post as to why not to be afraid about getting into worm composting or thinking that cost is something holding you back from efficiently managing your kitchen waste.

    I know people think it's expensive because they go to Bunnings (our local hardware conglomerate in dominating the market, importing cheap crap and jacking the prices up when everyone has gone out of business) and see a Worm tower or similar for over $100 and worms for $50. I assume that's why people like Brian (who now only posts in one bloody thread) made his venture into the world of worms.

    But, I would advocate spending money and designing systems that automate or efficiently remove stages of worm composting, leachate included. Spend to your budget obviously, but good vermiculture is so good that it warrants the largest system you can afford or can design into your area. Of course, keep it simple like yours, Brian's plastic tubs, bathtubs or windrows to keep the costs down.

    I gifted some worms to a lady that is now composting in, last I heard, 5 bathtubs all from one donation. I could see 3 full-sized tubs in my future if I ever expanded my nursery.
     
  3. Bryant RedHawk

    Bryant RedHawk Junior Member

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    Really good post Songbird, thank you for that information. I have toured a commercial fishing worm farm that grows both the night crawler and red wiggler worms here in Arkansas, USA.
    The worm farm raises some where on the order of 14 million worms to ship monthly, they keep 40 worm beds working year round, each bed is 300 feet long by 10 feet wide. The operation was mind boggling to me.

    They actually grow them in ditches (as opposed to any sort of bin) that are lined with several layers of landscape cloth to keep the worms where they want them to be. These are filled with compostable materials but no covers are used to keep them from moving away from their bed. They harvest the worms by sifting the compost mechanically.

    I've been thinking a lot about the way the do their operation and have decided to do a scaled down model of their operation on my land. This means I won't have any bin cost and the worst thing will be separating the worms from the finished compost when I need to use it. I do plan on fencing in the area that I plan to use this "in ground" method and I should be able to post a report on how well this works in small scale by the end of this summer.

    My trench will be around 1 meter deep since that is about as deep as the soil is on top of the bed rock. I had noticed on the tour that they did lay down several layers of cardboard on top of the landscape cloth. They told me that they didn't have to worry much about any of the worms going AWOL from their trenches.
     
  4. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    Bryant and SOP thanks for the comments. i always enjoy talking about worms and what i've learned over the past several years.

    i think one of the easiest large scale systems for continual production of worm castings is using the raised table with a mesh bottom and a breaker bar whcih goes through and cuts the bottom off at a regular interval. no sorting of worms required as they move to the top where the food is (using composting worms of the top feeder sorts). as the material flow is from top to bottom and is gravity fed the costs of moving can be reduced. only have to put feed on top and take of processed materials below. could be fairly automated if needed (but i like to keep things simple).

    when you talk about trenches and stuff then you are going to be digging and moving materials from lower to higher and that takes time/energy. i would not be in favor of that method if i could find another way instead. are you worried about extreme temperatures or something to put them down in the ground? would straw bales work instead for edges (or some other material that could be taken away when you need to remove materials)?

    note that if you make a hot compost pile it will cook/kill/discourage the worms. worm composting is different than composting.

    i think the important understanding is to figure out what you are wanting to do as breeding worms for sale is a different process and goal than using worms for composting on the small scale.

    that said, i probably have a few hundred thousand worms here in the bins by the time spring comes around, i cut the population by about 2/3rds when i take the bins into the gardens, keeping a reserve source back just in case a particular bin seems to need some more (it hasn't happened yet). i gave up sorting or counting them years ago.
     
  5. Bryant RedHawk

    Bryant RedHawk Junior Member

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    Hi Songbird, I really like the way you do your vermiculture. I like the idea of using bales instead of digging a trench. I hate disturbing soil for any reason.

    In my situation I'm just going to let the worms do composting, no hot piles for them. Since I already have a hot composting area that I use for manure composting only, and as you say that would only kill the worms and that is not what I want. I already use straw bales to grow some of my crops and as the beginnings of some swales on my north facing slope. I was thinking of setting up future garden beds to use as the worm beds. That way I don't have to do any moving of anything except to fill the future garden beds with the stuff for the worms to use. When done I'll just move some of the worms to a newly set up bed for them to go to work there. On my land the predominate worm is the red composting worm or red wiggler, so most likely all I will need to do is give them a wonderful place to live and they will go there on their own.

    The place I toured raises worms for fish bait. It was interesting and gave me some ideas I had not thought about previously. I'm not looking to get into selling worms, just making lots of castings and improving the soil.

    What do you think? Am I on a worth while track of thinking? I'm very new to raising worms, I've read a lot but I have not gotten into actual vermiculture at this time.

    My expertise is in Horticulture, Chemistry, Biology and Soil Improvement using holistic management and no-till methods. I am already working on soil improvements with cover cropping and will be introducing grazing next year.
     
  6. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    i might be missing something here, but it seems to me that it makes more sense to get the gardens going right from the start. sure it doesn't hurt to start by adding some organic material to an area and let the worms do their thing, but i don't see any reason to wait.
     
  7. Terra

    Terra Moderator

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    Ive posted this before my Dirt Cheap worm house , might appeal to some , roll out old fence mesh / cyclone (what its called here ) make one tied off loop , then lay plastic on the mesh and keep rolling so you end up with one layer of wire inside the plastic and a few layers of wire on the outside .

    Down side is liquid is lost sheets of roof iron could be used underneath to catch and direct liquid into a container . I have several of these scattered around the food garden , most need repair due to a naughty Labrador pup but still work ok .

    Surprising how much finished product I can get rid of I couldn't exist with a couple of bathtubs. When I need to use the product a thin layer of horse manure on top brings them up ,I can shift a lot of worms to a new home easy . I just set up a second one right alongside and let the first dry out and the worms shift themselves

    In Freeze over areas obviously more challenging to keep you worms going year round , ideas that come to mind are recycled old wheelbarrows , bathtubs on wheels
     

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  8. Mirrabooka

    Mirrabooka Junior Member

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    Hi Terra,
    Some say horse manure contains wormicides that will impact on numbers when added to a worm farm. Your experience?
     
  9. Mirrabooka

    Mirrabooka Junior Member

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    Hi Brian,
    Your observation of the commercial operation raises several ideas and some questions....
    If composting worms don't migrate into soil, why do they line their trench to retain the worms?
    How is the critter issue (rats, mice, birds, lizards, etc) managed?
    Should we all be building "worm farm Swales" to feed our fruit trees, without the need to ever harvest the worm castings?
     
  10. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    Forum member here (Briansworms) solved that by dosing worms directly and in greater concentration. They didn't die so it could very well be a fallacy.
     
  11. Terra

    Terra Moderator

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    I don't use fresh horse manure so chemical residue is unlikely I get trailer loads when the pasture is dry and short , throw it in a pile and get it as required , and I remember brains trial results as well .

    I have a mixture of earth and compost worms in my setups if they dry out the worms go down and soon turn up if its wet and feed availiable not a perfect world for them but suits my busy life and the compost worms certainly don't die on the surface .

    My next place will have Worm swales I think they are a great idea , have a couple of refuges for them in dry times .
     
  12. briansworms

    briansworms Junior Member

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    OK you have my attention. About the time this thread started l was unable to load the forum for about 5 weeks.
    Firstly as SOP said wormicides are a fallacy. Urine in manure will Kill your worms. If sawdust is present then chances are it is stable manure thus mostly soaked with urine. Flush it thoughly with water then use it. You can test a sample in a worm bed and if they move in overnight, it is safe to use.

    Fresh manure is OK to use if it is not too deep. If l find it heating up as l did a week ago l remove the cover mat and dig a hole in the centre. I leave it or a couple of days and then fill the hole and cover. A telltale sign was my Africans just put in fresh manure were out on the edges of the bed.

    Let the worms eat out the bedding and add fresh bedding to the top. If your bin is full and you need to remove the worms or old castings, just dig out one end and put it on top of the other end. Fill the space with fresh manure/bedding. Allow a couple of days then remove it along with the worms in it. Fill it again and if there is enough worms out of the old castings after another couple of days remove the old castings. Return the first lot of manure and your done.

    Keeping up good bedding will keep your worms in prime condition. Remember they will self regulate their breeding to the available space and conditions. If you see them going off heat , no swollen clittellum, getting smaller then remove half your worms

    Have to finish tomorrow
     
  13. Bryant RedHawk

    Bryant RedHawk Junior Member

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    Sorry Songbird, I failed to mention the reason for the wait.

    We are building this farm for our retirement and currently are not living on the farm. Since we only have weekends to get things done on the farm, we develop what we can when we can. The land is mostly forest with a home site that had been deserted for 7 years prior to our purchasing the land. We are still clearing what had grown up during those seven years and as we go, we define the areas that are going to be used for different things such as the chicken coop and pen, the goat house and browsing areas, the guinea hog house and grazing pastures, the rabbit hutches and runs, gardens for healing herbs, cooking herbs and other gardens. Nothing is being mono cultured.

    With our limited time to develop at this point, we have the ability to define large areas that will be worked in the future, we are on a five year plan of getting everything the way it will need to be. We are also hoping to be able to move onto the farm later this year. This is dependent on finances, which have been hit pretty hard by the Un-affordable Health Care Act and my current doctor bills that we are paying off as we can.

    Those are the reasons that we aren't utilizing plots as we start making them. We are using some of them, since we can plant and leave alone lots of vegie gardens, but for most of them, we first have to do some clearing of overgrowth and then plant. This is taking more time than we first thought as the wild blackberries and sumac are rampant on the original home site part of the land. The root systems of these volunteer plants is quite extensive, we are only taking out what won't rot and die. Some of the areas, like where we are going to be planting our orchards, have a different soil than other areas. It's more of a process for us until we are living there, when we can work on the property in the evenings and so get things in order faster than just working on it on weekends.
     
  14. Bryant RedHawk

    Bryant RedHawk Junior Member

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    Hi Terra, I love your worm house and will be building several of those as soon as I can.

    Hi Brian, thank you for the tips, I visit your site about once a month too.

    I'm really looking forward to getting into vermiculture as an addition to the farm.
     
  15. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    Bryant,

    don't get me started on the ACA/docs/insurance/govt/etc... i could rant for days...

    take care of yourself.

    thanks for the clarification of goals/conditions. good that you can work ahead of yourself and have a longer term plan as you do.

    we have some sumac here we've been battling for years. it grows in the north hedge so i do not seriously go after it, but when it starts trying to spread out into the surrounding gardens then i beat it up again. the best thing i could do would be to go through with loppers about once a month and cut everything down that i can reach. that ways it cannot store much energy for new growth. it is a challenge to get to all of it though, the hedge is not thinned or maintained much. the rabbits have helped some the past few winters by eating all of the bark off some of them. i wish they would get them all. we both react badly to it, so i have to be very careful with any contact with the plants when i trim it.
     
  16. briansworms

    briansworms Junior Member

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    Bryant you only visit my site once a month???? Is that all lol?
    Worm farming is simple is you take care of the basic needs of the worms. Bedding, food and moisture. It is breeding season at my house at the moment. Due to having no work lately I have had the time to put into my farms. The results speak for themselves. The worms are growing fast and some look like worms on steroids after a few weeks. All I have done is fresh bedding and some chick starter crumbs soaked in water. The turn around in the Africans is amazing now they are the dominant worm, well the only worm in the beds. The Reds would out number them and thus taking up space in the beds. The problem is keeping the Reds out of the beds. They can come in the manure so it is a constant battle to check and remove any I find. Then if they have mated and layed cocoons then the Africans need to be removed one at a time to fresh bedding.

    Had a lady today who wanted to put worms in her soil to improve it. I told her she would be wasting her time throwing in 1 or 2 thousand worms as they will spread too thin to breed effectively Start a worm farm first to control the breeding and then add castings and worms to the soil on a regular basis. I haven't got the sale yet but she said she would call by next Monday. I tell people the best way to get their gardens full of worms but some wont listen
     
  17. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    Brian, worms bred in certain conditions are not usually going to do that well when transported and put into different conditions, i think the red wriggler composting worms are an exception and likely the other surface dwellers are ok too, but the soil workers are more likely closely connected to their soils. the cocoons and youngsters have a much better chance of adjusting.

    i always tell people that to improve their garden worm populations the best thing they can do is keep the soil organic matter content up, keep some cover on it as much as possible and to use local species found in their area. they want to buy my worms but most of them are not suitable and will die off in poor soil or in the cold of our winters.

    i am now experimenting with the natives to see how they do in captivity. they are staying alive and i see some cocoons, but i don't know how many as i don't want to disturb them too often until i have a larger population.
     
  18. Bryant RedHawk

    Bryant RedHawk Junior Member

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    My main reason to set up a worm farm is to increase the numbers and perhaps be able to take some with us when we go fishing. I have only found red wigglers so far on our land so those will be the ones that I will be increasing the numbers of. I was thinking that if I start with what ever I find when I plant the two pear trees, then I can monitor how well they reproduce. We recently planted two trees and while digging the holes we turned up about 50 worms in each of them. Will that be enough for a start? or should I think about going and buying some? I have access to plenty of plain cardboard and leaves are everywhere. I have two large tree tubs (30 gal) that I was going to screen the drain holes and fill with the bedding materials for start up. Is that going to be good enough? I have access (at the bait shop) to giant earth worms, would it be a good idea to add a setup for these at the start or after I have the wigglers going strong? I get it that they need to be in separate spaces, and I can do that easily enough.

    I learned a long time ago that when you have experts willing to talk to you, listen well and do accordingly. You always have better success that way.
     
  19. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    if the giant worms are the common night crawlers then, no, they are not easily raised in captiivity. i've already done that experiment. you need several cubic meters of relatively undisturbed soil for them to do well. i let mine go into the gardens after a few months.

    when i started my worm bins years ago, i could not find any worms anywhere on our property, even the bottoms of the ditches were barren. it was a pretty dry spell. so i did what you say, went to the bait store and bought a container of worms and some night-crawlers. the worms were called Belgian worms. they are composting worms for sure. they do not seem to survive our winter freezes and i don't find them in the gardens.

    so to get back to your question, from those 30 worms and 12 night crawlers within three months i had 26 adult worms and about 200 little ones that i could find and the 12 crawlers survived but i let them go (only one cocoon was ever found from them). now i have about 200,000 worms in the bins at max and about 50,000 min (depending upon timing and how many i dump out in the gardens in the spring). i don't count 'em out any longer that is for sure.

    my native earth worm species bin hasn't been going long enough that i want to take it apart and count, but i know they have been breeding some. i hope i can do an inspection in the next month or so and see if i can get a rough count. the problem with that is that i didn't keep track of how many adults i put in there as i was adding them at various times as i came across them when digging in the gardens. i'm guessing i started with about 50.

    for starting two large tubs it may take a while at 50 each, instead i would start one and build up that population first from 100. i think that will go more quickly. bedding materials can be about any organic material as long as it is kept damp. composted manure is probably the best for them, but i use shredded paper and cardboard all the time without problems, but i do mix in dirt and chopped/dried veggie scraps as they become available. the dirt component should be left out if you are using only wrigglers (the bin will be much lighter to move too : ) ).

    as a p.s. i do find night crawlers out in the gardens/patches now once in a while. i don't know if they are the same ones i let go. takes several years to get them from tiny to adult size.
     
  20. Bryant RedHawk

    Bryant RedHawk Junior Member

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    alrighty then, I'll just start up one tub and build slowly from there. I'm fairly sure that the worms in the ground here will work just fine. I know the worm farm would be glad to sell me some of theirs (they grow the same red wiggler I have naturally on my homestead) if I find I need them. They supply all the local area bait shops including the bait shop I use.
     

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