Shipping live worms is tricky business, especially when the temperatures are extreme, but with lots of experimentation, we have got it down to a science. Composting worms are hardy creatures and can take the rigors of harvesting and shipping well, but it is still important to keep them as stress free as possible. It is in many ways miraculous that this is possible at all. Over 1000 living worms in a box only 7x7x6 shipped across the country and arrive at your door in 2-3 days. Its amazingly convenient and the worms don’t seem to mind.
The shipping process begins several days before the actual shipping day. The first step is to remove the worms from the large beds that they were grown in through a process we call harvesting. The harvesting takes place a couple days before shipping, because we like to let the worms rest awhile after harvesting and before shipping. Harvesting begins using pitchforks and good old fashion muscle to deliver them into the harvester. The harvester turns and is covered in screen which lets the majority of the bedding fall through but not the worms. The worms are collected at the end of the harvester in a tray, roughly ten pounds of worms per tray. After all the worms that we estimate will be needed for shipping are harvested they are carried into the shipping room and allowed to rest. There is a fair amount of bedding left on the worms that the harvester does not remove, but this is not a problem and the extra bedding will be removed on shipping day. A couple days later the worms are placed under bright lights early in the morning and allowed to go to the bottom of the harvesting tray. The bedding and remaining castings are cleaned off the top of the worms until they are “Clean as spaghetti.” They are now moved to the bagging table where they are weighed, mixed with clean soilless bedding and then bagged into a breathable cloth bag. The bag is then ready to be boxed and shipped.
A packing fill, specifically suited to the temperature, is added to the box and then the bag of worms is added on top. Then the invoice, and an information sheet are added, the box is taped and the shipping label attached. The words, “Live Worms” and optionally either, “Keep Cool” or “Protect from Freezing” may be written on the box. Due to regulations shipping worms to Hawaii is illegal, but we have shipped both european and red wiggler worms to Alaska and Puerto Rico without problems.
Fedex and UPS both allow the shipping of live worms by certified shippers only. I did go through the certification process and Worms Etc is certified by both carriers to ship live worms, but I have found that Priority Mail and Express Mail via the United States Postal Service to be the best and most reliable options. The reason I think the USPS has better luck shipping the live worms is the fact that USPS has post offices within every city in the country, whereas UPS and FedEx both have less warehouses and shipping hubs. This means that when shipping through USPS the worms spend less time in a carrier car which tend to be cold in the winter and hot in the summer.
It is extremely rare to have worms die in shipping, but in the rare case when it does happen we reship the worms. I have kept a log of every time a shipping problem arises and have each time changed something to lessen the chance of it happening again. This is why I think that I vary often get comments from my customers that my worms are far better than any others that they have ever ordered. Once I received a box of worms that where returned to me because of a bad address in California. Seems that they tried to deliver them several times before sending them back to me in South Carolina. It had been over 3 weeks since I mailed them. I opened the box and cut open the bag and dumped them into a container. They were all alive, not even one worm was dead. The peat moss that they were shipped in had partly been turned into castings, showing that the worms were even eating during shipping. Clearly shipping is not a problem for worms.