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Growing worms worms and more worms

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

I never had any idea how much I would learn by being a worm farmer. Starting and running a small business with little money means that I have had to do most of the work myself. Although sometimes I do use part-time help, most of the work is done by myself. Often I find myself doing carpentry work to build worm beds. Other times I will be welding and bending pipe to make greenhouses. Currently I am working on the computer obviously, kind of basic, but two days ago I was working on a programing issue with the website. Eventually I gave up on that and hired a programmer, but I didn’t really want to. Many of my customers are gardeners so I try to keep up to date on the latest gardening buzz like the square foot gardening. Often I am running a skid steer loader, other times I am wiring lights or plumbing a sprinkler system.

Sometime though I do find myself actually feeding, harvesting, shipping worms. Actually this is a lot of my time of course. I am learning a lot about red wiggler worms. It’s been a real adventure figuring out the best things to feed them, how much water they need, and other things like how often to aerate the beds.

In order to be able to sell more worms I am constantly expanding the size of the worm farm.

red wiggler worm bed

New Red Worm Beds

Here you can see the worm beds that are in construction. The one on the left is finished and the one on the right is partially done. I stock them simply by adding the worm castings that come straight out of harvester. The worm castings that come out of the harvester will always have enough baby worms and eggs to repopulate the worm bed. It takes quite a while before the new beds have enough worms to be harvested though.

Compost and Vermicompost, What are they?

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Compost is the process through which organic matter transforms from an unstable state to a stable state. To understand this, think about an apple that has fallen off of a tree and is left sitting on the ground undisturbed. The apple, although fresh and ready to eat when it falls from the tree, will not stay in this condition for long. Because the apple cannot stay in its present condition it is said to be in an unstable state. The apple has stored energy in the form of sugars, starches, and proteins. These chemical stores of energy came from the sun and were stored through the process of photosynthesis. The apple tree took CO2, water, oxygen, and converted these basic ingredients using sunlight through the process of photosynthesis into the sugars and starches that make up most of the apple. The apple will soon begin a natural and God created processĀ  of decomposition called composting. Organisms such as yeast, bacteria, and fungus will begin breakdown of the apple into a more stable form and eventually into a material called humus. Humus has many important functions that whole books could be written on, but for basics its important to know that humus holds nutrients for plant use and acts as a filter and helps prevent contamination of ground water from many chemicals (Miller 148).

It is quite fascinating to see how this natural process keeps everything in balance. If things did not rot (compost) eventually there would be huge piles of leaves in the forest, our uneaten apple cores would soon litter the planet, grass clippings would eventually take over your yard, so on and so forth, but more importantly the soil would soon run out of nutrients because they were not getting replenished. Composting is necessary for new things to come about. Composting is a natural process through which God has allowed for His creation to continually renew itself. Everything that was once living will eventually turn back into the soil. (Genesis 3:19) The complexity of natural cycles is amazing and so vast that scientist cannot completely understand the chemistry involved, yet at the same time somehow they are fascinatingly simple and complete systems.

A large portion of garbage created comes from organic and once living sources. All the food, paper, wood, cotton and much of the other resources we use come from the ground as grown products. These product all can be turned into compost when their usable life is over. Currently we throw much of these materials into landfill when they could be used to enrich our soils. The problems comes from the fact that the natural process of composting is to slow to efficiently handle the huge volumes of organic material currently produced. However through intentional composting and using special methods we can compost large amounts of garbage quickly, producing a valuable soil amendment in the process of reducing waste. This also prevents depletion and waste of agricultural capacity.

Many different compost methods have been devised by people over the years. Some compost methods are suitable for extremely large scale facilities composting hundreds of cubic yards a day and some methods have been developed that can allow for a completely automated compost bin to fit under your kitchen counter. One type of composting called thermophilic composting requires temperatures to climb to over 150 degrees F, compared to vermicomposting which takes place at room temperature. Vermicomposting is of course composting with the use of earthworms. Vermicomposting can also vary in scale from million dollar operations to 15 dollar plastic containers.

Daily life as a worm farmer

Friday, August 12th, 2011

What is a typical day for a typical red worm farmer? That would be hard for me to know provably because I doubt that there is a typical worm farmer. Me and most of my colleague each do things very different, but I can tell you how my typical day goes.

You would think that a lot of my time would be spent managing the actual worm farm, but in reality I spend a lot of my time on the computer and phone answering emails and phone calls. To be honest I miss a lot of phone calls, but I do answer direct emails usually within 24 hours. Sometimes there is just no way for me to answer the phone. Everyday I try to do something online to get people interested in vermicomposting. That could be anything from writing blog post to answering questions on forums. Facebook is becoming an important resource for me to convey information and interest to people interested in vermicomposting. Lately, I have been working on making regular video post as well.

If it is a day we need to harvest red worms then me and at least one other person will go and harvest worms in the morning before it gets hot. After that the worms will need feeding. At least once a week the worm beds need turning with a pitchfork and this is quite a chore. Spot checks are taken every day to see the conditions of the worms. When doing a spot check I like to see how many worms are in an area, check for proper moisture, see if they are laying a good number of egg capsules, check for bedding temperature and compactness as well. It is always important for me to know about how many worms I have in the beds. If I start running low then something has to be done immediately or we could be out of red worms in short order. Thankfully we have not had that issue as of recent and our worms are breeding nicely.

Usually I also try and spend some time researching new ideas and trying to figure better ways of doing things. Every time we add a new red worm bed it is different and better than the older ones. Several times the improvement were so much that we would retrofit the old beds with the new improvements. Ultimately I plan to use the knowledge I have gained to help farmers and communities in third world countries. It will be exciting to start our first overseas project for sure. As for now I have no specific plans or dates set, just a head full of ideas.

Red Worm Shipping and Packing Video

Friday, July 29th, 2011

Shipping and packing red worms

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

We have had great success with shipping and packaging our worms. This year we have shipped out more than a thousand pounds of worms with only a couple of packages having problems. We did have an issue with worms trying to crawl out of the seams of the bags but we have solved that with new types of bags.

We harvest our worms ahead of time so that they have time to cool before shipping. After the worms have spent some time in air-conditioning and have cooled off we remove all material or substrate from the worms and try and get them “Clean as spaghetti” (Thanks for that saying go to Mr. Jack Brantley) before weighing them. This ensures that our customer is getting a solid pound of worms shipped to them.

The worms can not survive for long though without being in a substrate, aka bedding, so after weighing them we immediately add either peat moss or coconut coir to them and mix them up with it. Mixing them ensures that they are no clumps of worms that would soon run out of oxygen and die. The substrate is a little dryer than the worms would normally prefer, but this has no long term effect upon the worms and helps keep them alive in shipping. If we were to add them back to the bedding or to really wet substrate they would likely perish during shipping. If a worm farmer claims to add his worms back to the original bedding before shipping, be careful as they cannot take heat very well in such a situation.

The weighed out worms and substrate now go into a breathable fabric bag which is heat sealed so that no worms can escape. Boxes are ready and the bottom of the box is filled with a compostable and insulating packing fill. We use a special fiber made from recycled cardboard boxes that we make here on site at Worms Etc. This material has really helped us in preventing the loss of worms during shipping. It keeps the worms cooler during the summer and warmer during the winter. Also it helps retain moisture preventing the worms from drying out and also keeps the shipping box sturdy during transit. This along with the heat sealed bags now makes our shipping very safe for the worms.

Included in the box of worms is an instructional sheet that will help you get started composting. An invoice and our business card also hitch a ride in the box.

Orders are going out on schedule

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

There was a slight delay in order after the passing of my mom. We are now caught up and are shipping on our normal schedule.