Raising Earthworms as Livestock
Arguably The Best Livestock Ever
Why Earthworms As Livestock?
As a homesteader, gardener, or even entrepreneur, earthworms and nightcrawlers will bring value to your projects. The worms themselves and their nutrient rich castings can be added to potted plants and garden beds to enrich the soil. Or you can sell them at farmers markets, in classified ads, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Bookoo.....anywhere. People look for them. People actually buy them. And, with a little planning and patience, you can raise them with next to no money invested!
Where Should I Keep My Earthworms?
It doesn't matter where you live or how much room you have. Worm farming can be done on any size scale. I've made worm beds in under the sink in my kitchen that were just as successful as 4 foot by 8 foot beds that I built out in the back yard. There are 3 questions you need to ask yourself when deciding where you can keep your worms:
#1 Can I keep my worms between the temperatures of 40 degrees and 80 degrees Fahrenheit?
This is the optimum temperature range for raising your worms. Outside in a spot that will stay shaded most of the time, or in a small container in an out of the way corner, closet, or under the sink will do fine.
#2 Are my worms in a spot where it will be convenient for me to keep their bedding moist?
Worms require their bedding to be kept moist at all times. ( As moist as a wrung out sponge) Next to a rain barrel,stream, or the hose is ideal. Indoor worm beds are usually easier to keep moist in my experience because the temperature is a lot more stable.
#3 How close are my sources of bedding and food from my worm bed or beds?
Worms will eat half of their weight every single day. This means that if you have a pound of worms then you will need to produce a half of a pound of food to sustain them every single day. And if they don't have food they will start to eat their bedding too.
As long as you consider these 3 factors when you decide that you would like to start to raise earthworms or nightcrawlers you probably already have the best place that will work for you and your worms picked out. That's the hardest part of the whole worm business and it's all downhill from here.
Ideas For Beginner Worm Bed Construction
If you are a DIYer like me you probably have at least 10 things you can think of right off hand that could be converted into a suitable bed for housing worms. Old dresser drawers, an old bathtub, half of a steel or plastic drum, an old BBQ grill, sink, broken refrigerator or freezer....etc.These will all make fine worm beds with proper drainage and aeration holes drilled in the bottom and sides, but there is one thing in almost every single household that makes ideal indoor/outdoor worm beds that will serve every purpose from the time the time your worms arrive until the time you are being paid for a few pounds of worms or castings:
I'm talking about plastic storage containers and totes with lids. The sizes that work best for me are in the 15 to 22 gallon range. These can be used to house worms and bedding, store castings, and collect and store nutrient rich worm casting tea to use on your own plants or bottle and sell to fellow gardeners and homesteaders.
Selecting And Preparing Worm Bedding Materials
Preparing your worm bedding materials properly is the most important step of setting up your worm farm. Worms thrive in a moist, yet airy bedding. Mix 1 or a few of the items listed below with water until you get an overall consistency that reminds you of a wrung out sponge:
Leaves and twigs
Shredded newspapers (not glossy)
Hay or straw
Paper towel or toilet paper rolls
Shredded printer paper or junk mail (not glossy)
Building The 18 Gallon Tote Worm Bed
2 18 gallon colored totes
2 matching tote lids
4 rocks of about the same size or pieces of wood or plastic cups ( to be used as spacers between the 2 totes)
3 or 4 old shirts (plain non synthetic material if possible)
1 drill equipped with 1/16 inch drill bit
Enough damp bedding materials to fill a tote about 3/4 full
2 or 3 handfuls of dirt or sand
Step 1 Drill 1/16 inch holes all over 1 of your totes and 1 of your lids.
Step 2 Wet and wring out 2 of the shirts and spread them out in the bottom of the tote you just drilled the holes in.
Step 3 Loosely pile moist bedding mixed with dirt or sand on top of the tshirts until the bed is 3/4 full
Step 4 Wet and wring out the other 2 shirts and spread them out on top of the bedding.
Step 5 Place the lid that has the holes drilled in it on top of the bed you just made for your worms.
Step 6 Place your spacers (rocks, wood, cups...just so everything you are using is about the same size for even spacing) in the bottom of the tote that you haven't drilled any holes in yet. Place 1 in every corner.
Step 7 Place the tote with the bedding in it on to the spacers in the other tote.
Step 8 Sit your new worm farm on top of the undrilled tote lid just to cut down on any mess.
That's it! You are ready to populate your vermicomposter!
Best DIY Worm Bins EVER!
Drilling Holes In The Bottom Of A Tote
Populating Your New Worm Farm
The type of worms you use for your farm depends on you and your needs. If you want to grow on a large scale with the type of composter we just built I still suggest only starting with 2 pounds of worms at most. This will give you minimal loss should something not be quite right in the beginning.
Pull back the shirts from one of the corners of the tote and expose the bedding.lay your worms on top of the bedding and let them go down into it on their own. If they are stubborn shine a flashlight on them and they will go down into the bedding to get out of it. Then just replace the shirt and let them adjust for 2 days to a week before feeding them.
Feeding and Caring For Your EarthWorms
To feed your worms for the first time in a new bed pull back a corner of one of the shirts and gently pull away 2 to 4 inches of bedding. Place finely cut or blended fruit and vegetable scraps (about half of the weight of the worms in the bed) into the hole and mound the bedding back over top. Wait 3 days to feed your worms again.
After the 3 days is up and before feeding again, pull back the shirt and bedding in the area of the previous feeding and see how much of the food was eaten and replace the shirt and bedding. If the worms did not eat much of the food then do not feed them. If there's not much left or none at all, go ahead and feed them in the opposite corner of the bed the exact same way.
Wait a day or 2 between the second and 3rd feeding and check the progress exactly like before and keep checking and dialing in exactly how much you need to feed them daily or every 3 days.
Every single time you feed your worms check the moisture level of the bedding. It always needs to be damp like a wrung out sponge, yet light and airy so your worms can breathe.
If you started off with the setup we built and populated it with 2 pounds of worms, after about 2 months it's going to be time to divide your worms and either make a new bed for half or sell half. To separate the worms from the castings and bedding I gently grab handfuls from the tote and shake them over a piece of 3/8 inch expanded metal held over a tote to catch castings. Castings fall through and are collected while worms, scraps and bedding can be collected from the top and reintroduced into beds.
Collecting Worm Tea
After the whole bed has been sifted and sorted its time to pick the bed up out of the undrilled tote and collect the "tea" that has been building in the bottom. Pour it out somehow so you can collect it to either package to sell or use on your own because this is one of the best things in the world to add to your plants.
Marketing Your New Products And Livestock
Marketing And Profiting From Your New Business!
Even though earthworms are everywhere they are still pretty easy to sell. Place classified ads and listings on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Bookoo and other yard sale sites. Target fishing tackle shops, farmers markets, small mom and pop convenience stores along busy fishing routes, and garden stores.
After you have a little bit of money saved up and your worms have multiplied a few times, ( they double every 2 months) you should be able to upscale by maybe starting a small delivery route or schedule. Maybe advertise a little further from home and start packaging your worms to ship, and maybe start enjoying a business that could have literally been started in your own back yard for nothing and from garbage!