Worm Farming: Livestock for the Home Gardener

October 6, 2008

Who says that you need big acreage, fencing, and a place in the country in order to raise small livestock? You can ignore zoning ordinances, noise restrictions, or the neighbor’s objections when it comes to worm farming no matter where you reside.

Composting worms are the perfect breed of livestock for the gardener who wants to raise a little more than fruits, vegetables, and herbs in the backyard. The worms won’t put meat on the dinner table but they’ll happily recycle your kitchen waste and turn it into a rich, organic plant food known as worm castings.

It’s Time to Open a “Can-O-Worms”

I was fortunate enough to inherit a four-story worm bin, complete with red wriggler composting worms when a co-worker relocated out of state this summer (thanks Gretchen)! I’ve written about the perks of vermiculture and worm castings here in the past but this was my first attempt at vermicomposting.

The worms spent the summer contentedly out on the patio but this weekend I decided it was time to bring them indoors for the winter. The transition gave me a perfect excuse to tear things apart and take a close look at what was happening inside the worm bin. The experience was very similar to inspecting a colony of bees inside of a hive.

While there isn’t the same level of complexity, communication, and organization that the bees employ, the worms do enjoy their own sense of community and teamwork. My bin has four stackable trays in which the worms are free to roam around as they forage for food, mate, lay eggs, and do whatever other things worms do.

Touring a Deluxe Multi-Level Worm Condo

The lower level of the bin was full of finished worm castings along with a surprising number of earthworms in every stage of their development; full grown adults, juveniles, new hatchlings, and freshly laid eggs or worm cocoons. I had assumed that all but a few stragglers had abandoned this section of the worm bin to move up to greener pastures but I was wrong.

The second level of the bin was empty except for the commuters traveling up or down to reach the other levels so there wasn’t much to see in this section. The third level is where I thought all the action would be taking place because this is where I had been depositing table scraps and yard waste all summer long to feed the hungry beasts.

A giant overgrown zucchini, water hyacinths out of the pond, those mysteriously half eaten tomatoes left on the vines, weeds yanked from the garden, and other assorted organic yard matter joined the kitchen waste and shredded strips of paper that made their way into the third level to be assaulted in a piranha-like feeding frenzy.

Warning: Compost Under Construction, Do Not Disturb!

It was amazing to see just how quickly the worms were able to devour whatever came their way and convert it into the black crumbly gold of rich worm castings! Unlike bees, it wasn’t possible to actually watch them work because they retreat from sight and disappear the second that a tray is exposed to any light. That led to some interesting bouts of peak-a-boo and hide-and-go-seek between the worms and myself.

The top tray of the bin was a wasteland of dried leaves, stalks, and debris that the worms didn’t seem to be taking much interest in. The only sign of life in this tray was from light colored, threadlike strands of baby worms that you had to look really close to notice. Guess these youngins were still finding their way around, figuring out up from down, and learning what’s good or bad.

After exploring the can-o-worms bin, I spent the rest of the afternoon separating worms from castings. The job was made a lot easier by the worm’s determination to avoid the light of day and move away and down deeper as each thin layer of castings was gently scraped away. They could only run so far until eventually I was left with nothing but a twisted mass of wriggling worms.

Relocating the Composting Worms Indoors for the Winter

Sorting through the castings you could clearly notice some areas containing concentrations of adult worms and others with pockets of barely discernible baby worms. I tried my best to save every single worm but I know that some of the adults and many of the babies will be going off to the garden when I add the castings to bed that I just finished preparing to plant the fall garlic in later this week.

Once the worm bin was cleaned, castings removed, and everything reassembled, order was restored as I divided the worms onto the top of two of the trays where a smorgasbord of delightful organic waste awaited them. Then the entire production was moved indoors to a corner of the room used for propagation and seed starting activities.

I have to admit that I’m very impressed with these red wriggler composting worms and the work that they are doing in their bin. They seem to be healthy and multiplying, with little effort on my part beyond feeding them garbage. Now I’ll see how it goes in the house and over the winter for my small livestock and worm farming operation.

Other Related Vegetable Gardening Posts:

  • We’ve had a Can-of-Worms for a couple of years now. Though we haven’t achieved the results talked about in the book that comes with it, tt’s a great system. I intend to make my own bigger bin soon so I can keep more worms.

  • I’ve had a worm wigwam for about six months, but I agree with the comment above- my worms are not nearly the eaters anyone claimed they would be. It has been a process of patience, for sure, but still very cool to be able to recycle all those scraps into a usable soil ammendment.

  • Hello I have post a blog posting regarding “Livestock of for the Home Gardener” with direct link to your site. Hope you will not mind. If you don’t like it, let me know… Have a good Worm Farming…

  • I like everyone else seemed to have thought that I would get amazing results with worms when I first started; however although the results are good they aren’t great.

  • Kenny Point

    There are probably a lot of factors affecting the speed that the composting worms work at. Quantity of worms, what they are fed, temperatures and seasons, etc. I don’t have the book that comes with the Can-O-Worms composting bin, but I did pick up a copy of Worms Eat My Garbage. The author recommends different strategies depending on whether you are after finished compost, large quantities of worms, or want to process as much garbage as possible. I’m not as concerned about how much garbage is recycled as I am in producing a volume of worm castings to use as a soil amendment and to create a soil-less mix for seed starting. My worms seem to go through their organic waste at a good pace but I have a lot of worms, don’t add much fruit, and chop any large items into small pieces. The worms also seem to be as enthusiastic about eating dry, brown, fibrous, organic matter.

  • Fascinating, most interesting post/ Tyra

  • Hi, interesting post. Vermiculture is cool, we carry a lot of different red worms and nightcrawlers and worm supplies, I love seeing people so enthusiastic about the subject.

  • Seb

    Are these regular earth worms? Or do you need to get special worms for the compost?

  • Kenny Point

    Seb, they are special varieties of composting worms such as “Red Wrigglers” that are smaller than regular earthworms and reddish in color. You can sometimes find them outdoors in piles of leaf litter or forest debris.

  • Seb

    Ah OK, I have noticed these worms, but I never realised they were any different to regular earth worms. Thanks

  • How is you Can O Worms doing? I’m looking forward to an update.

  • Kenny Point

    Brian, the worms are doing great and producing castings for the garden. I will try to write an update later this summer or maybe even put some video up about the Can O Worms and how I use it.

  • reza

    Information Normally I need to produce vermicompost in my home
    Convert waste into vermicompost home
    How to build a storage compartment worm can act
    I’m living in a poor village can buy the storage tanks do not
    How is temperature
    What kind of a waste I use
    I use what kind of worm

    Thank you

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Reza, a worm compost bin can be constructed as simply as putting together a wooden box, the worms will eat yard waste and kitchen scraps but do not feed them meats, oil, or fats. Red wrigglers are a common composting variety and they will do well in average home temps but will struggle in excessive heat or cold.

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