How To Breed, Raise, and Maintain A 100-Pound Stock of Worms in a Single Room
(Due to the length of what is to follow, this article is being developed, and presented in a number of installments. Rest stops provided courtesy of… “The Worm Guy!” All gardeners extremely welcome. A NOTE RELATIVE TO THE YEAR 2014: It is right about here, as we continue on in our exploration of the series of articles which I wrote back in my university days, that all you modern readers of the series get to partake of an additional several years of experience that I have managed to accumulate since I first put pen to paper, or finger to keypad I guess. You also get to be reminded once again, that the methods and procedures outlined in this particular series of articles (easy to spot which posts I`m referring to simply by looking for the hu..mun..gous title prefacing each installment) are NOT to be used on your regular red worm stocks, unless you are planning to open some kind of morbid tribute to Mr. King`s best-selling novel “Pet Cemetery“. (Please stand while the little worm bugler attempts to play “Taps“, which is rather difficult considering the little fella`s lack of suitable appendages with which to manipulate the keys.) Anyway, as I was saying, the information you want for raising your red worms in a regular manner can be found either in one of the other articles I have published on this Blog, in one that I have yet to get up and running, or, of course, in any one of countless other worm pages scattered throughout cyberspace, the Public Library System, or many other places in this big wonderful world we live in. Just not in this particular series of articles, which I wrote for a specific purpose (which will be, and parts already have been, made clear), at a specific time in my life. So, with all that out of the way, let us continue.
S..o..o..o….the time has come to jump ahead to the heart of the matter. As I stated earlier, the materials we covered in parts 1 and 2 are important in order to understand the particulars of what is to come, and now there is another point that must be made. A quick point to be sure, but one that is certainly significant!
The concept of raising worms for your own personal use as fishing bait, or vermicomposting, etc., and the concept of raising worms for sale to other people, for whatever use they have in mind, are two entirely different ideas, and require two completely different methods. You could certainly do both at the same time, but to achieve top efficiency and productivity at the least possible cost (in both money and time), the two batches of worms will have to be maintained in very different manners. The system I am outlining in this series of articles is designed as a method of raising and maintaining a large population of worms, in a minimal amount of space, with the purpose of resale in mind. If this is what you are after, then take a tip from me and tuck any books you already possess on the art of raising red worms on a very high shelf, since much of what is to follow will be in total disagreement with what you have already been reading.
To be really, really clear about what the problem is here, consider the following: space; room; area; acreage; square feet; size; etc. If you are still a little unclear as to what I am saying, reconsider what we discussed when we spoke about how many worms it took to make up a pound, and how much area you needed in order to house that pound of worms.
To help you to better understand what I’m getting at, let’s look at my current situation (remember the time-lapse here : ) as a supplier of red worms. When I moved here to Saskatoon to attend university (I’m a late bloomer), I was very limited in the amount of personal belongings which I could bring with me. Moving from an entire house of my own into a small, but comfortable basement suite, meant leaving my large worm bed (18 square feet) behind. What I actually brought with me consisted of 12 small RubberMaid containers, each measuring roughly 10 inches by 14 inches, and approximately 6-8 inches deep. There was a worm population in each of those, and in addition, I brought one larger container, somewhere in the area of 16 inches by 22 inches, and 12-14 inches deep. This also contained a population of worms. I brought a couple sacks of the “bog soil” which I have been using for bedding, and some 1-gallon ice-cream buckets which I use for many different things. That was my entire inventory of vermiculturing equipment, and I had no problem finding room for any of it. (I also brought several hundred pages of information about red worms which I have compiled over the years, and of course, my own personal notes.)
Since that time, I have supplied 8-9 people, each with a starter system composed of one of those smaller containers, bedding, and roughly 1 pound of red worms (Lumbricus Rubellus), which is certainly not very impressive. (Between school and maintaining this page, I have very little time for actual attention to the business of selling worms.) The fact that I have just as many worms now as I did in the beginning might be a little more impressive (though not much.) But maybe I can get your attention by telling you that right at this moment, I am fully prepared to supply to anyone who wishes, the equivalent of 100, or even 200 pounds of healthy red worms, and I have only 3 requirements that have to be met.
You must place the order at least two weeks before the full weight is required.
- You must have the necessary amount of food, bedding, and containers to maintain the full amount of worms, available for immediate use. And…
You must follow the directions I give you as nearly to the letter as is possible.
As long as these three conditions are met (it would also be nice to get paid) I have no problem in supplying you with the worms. Furthermore, I could probably do it again almost immediately. And again…and again…etc…etc. The whole trick is contained in one single word…equivalent. It is, however, a big word when used in this context, and it requires a lot of explanation. This explanation will necessarily move around a great deal, and keeping in mind that worms are visually impaired, I hope you’ll forgive this explanation for all the old ideas that are about to get knocked over. Let’s start with the concept of population density. (From the viewpoint of both the worm grower, and the worm.)
It appears to be generally accepted by worm growers (myself not included) that the average pound of red worms offered for sale will consist of:
- 1000 adult (sexually mature) worms, or
- 4000 bedrun, or pit-run (juvenile) worms, or
- some combination of the first two categories, equal to 1 pound in weight.
Please don’t misunderstand me now, these estimates are pretty accurate, and most reputable dealers will even throw in extras to make sure the customer is getting what they paid for. The problem that I see, only arises in the specific instance that we are presented with when a person wishes to engage in the practice of selling worms, but simply doesn’t have the space available to dedicate an entire square-foot of area in their living space, for every single pound of worms that they would have to keep on hand to meet possible in-coming orders. To keep 100 pounds of red worms available for sale, a grower using the old method will not only require 100 square feet of bin-space to contain the worms (one pound of worms to one square-foot of bedding is the usually-accepted ratio), but he will also have to provide for feeding and maintaining all these worms and worm-beds until the actual sale is made. Furthermore, in the event that a sale for 100 pounds of red worms can be acquired, the breeder may be left in the situation of having to raise an entirely new population before another similar sale can be made. If the system I am describing here is set up successfully over the unfortunately rather long time it takes to establish it, then there is a much easier (dare I say, more sensible) method of achieving the same results, in much, much, less area, using a fraction of the material, though at times requiring just as much effort (I never promised a life of leisure).
W..a..y..y..y back in part 1, under the heading “Facts and Figures…Thoughts and Things”, it was mentioned that another way to make up 1 pound of red worms is by using over 100,000 spawn. (It would require as many as 450,000 if they were freshly hatched, but I keep saying 100,000 for a reason which I will eventually get to.) In regards to what we are discussing, however, this could present a few problems.
The buyer would have to wait several months for these worms to develop into “breeders”, during which time he would have none available for sale (especially if the buyer is selling the worms as bait, since it is extremely difficult to get a worm that size on a hook.)
- Even though the worms might total in the hundreds of thousands, their “biomass” (part 1 again) would restrict their intake to that of any other “pound” of worms.
- And if I’m about to say that you should count out a couple thousand of these teeny-weeny little critters every time you make a sale, then I’ve obviously been hanging around the worms too long, since my brain is now useless also (research has shown, I kid you not, that removal of a red worm’s brain does not interfere with his ability to dig, eat, reproduce, or anything else that anyone has spotted as of yet!)
Finally, how would a guy go about producing a worm-bin that contained only spawn???
The answer to all the problems mentioned above is the same. First of all, you don’t even attempt to produce a bin of strictly spawn (though it would be quite the biological miracle.) What you do want to produce, however, is a bin which is full of sexually-mature adult worms which just happen to be….temporarily reduced to the size of spawn (the key word being temporarily.) Just think of the benefits. In the same space where you previously maintained possibly 4000 worms, you could quite possibly, now maintain roughly 25 times as many. Even with all these extra worms, the amount of food required to support them will remain the same (actually less, but I haven’t come to that yet.) Due to the number of worms you would have on hand, there would not be an order large enough to cause you any problem in the area of running out, and the return for the worms in question, from miniature to regular size, takes only two weeks or so, and they are capable of breeding throughout the entire process (much more prolifically than at regular size from everything that I have seen up to this point.)
Now, I realize there may appear to be some rather extravagant claims in the previous paragraph, and they not only appear to be extravagant, but they are. This, however, changes nothing of what I have I have witnessed with my own two eyes. It is not to say that I may not be in error as to what I believe has happened here (I’m neither a professional researcher, nor do I have the benefit of a research facility to run proper experiments in.), which is why I’m stressing extreme caution to anyone deciding to try this particular experiment for themselves, but nonetheless, I have raised, sorted, observed them growing, and sold more than I can count, of worms produced using this technique. I believe there are good, solid reasons which help explain each step along the way. (I suspect the tremendous adaptability of the worm is the main agent at work here, and a few simple methods which I came across as a result of being curious.) For now, I’ll leave you to mull these things over, while I gather together the notes which I will use in the next instalment to hopefully illustrate my points. Because the very nature of some of the techniques I will explain may strike you as strange (to say the least), I will need to offer some pretty detailed evidence of what I am saying, and maybe even outline a test or two which you can try at home on a sample population of worms. Please keep it to a sample, since even I, as I strive to duplicate my original results, am only using half of the starter population of worms that I recently purchased.
So if you made it all the way through this article, I figure you deserve a nice relaxing finish to everything, so I’ll leave you with a little Sarah McLachlan, and her wonderful piano. If you have anything to say, drop me a note, and now I guess I should get to my mail. Talk to you later. Until then, God bless…