Earthworms and microorganisms convert organic materials like animal excreta, crop residues, and dry leaves to a beneficial soil amendment. Only certain species are suitable for vermicomposting. There are over 6,000 species of earthworms ranging in length from 0.04 feet to 22 feet.
Earthworms like Eisena Foetida (Red worms), Eudrilus Eugeniae(Night crawler) make composting possible because they are very efficient processors of organic waste; They eat and expel their own weight every day. Even a small bin of red worms will yield pounds of rich compost, also known as worm castings. Finished compost can be harvested in as little as two to three months.
Red worms are extremely prolific. It takes about three weeks for fertilized eggs to develop in a cocoon from which two or more young worms can hatch. In three months the worms become sexually mature and will start breeding. Within a year you’ll be able to give worms away to get a friend started! And you’ll never have to buy bait for trout fishing again!
Red worms can survive and breed in many kinds of bedding materials. The worms eat the bedding as it decomposes, turning it to compost along with the kitchen scraps you add. The bedding should be a high carbon material, such as fall leaves (best if small or shredded), shredded paper (such as newspaper, paper towels, napkins, paper bags), ground cardboard or peat moss, or a combination of these materials. If you use peat moss, make sure to mix it with other bedding as it is too acidic to use alone.
Dampen the bedding until the moisture content is 50% (as damp as a wrung out sponge). It is important to keep the bedding this damp or the worms will die. Mix a few handfuls of soil or finished compost with the bedding. The bedding should fill the bin about 3/4 full. Vegetative wastes are buried underneath the bedding, which filters out any odors from the decomposing material below. The whole mixture will turn to compost in about 3 months. Now it’s time to add the worms
Worms prefer temperatures between 40 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in an apartment building they can live quite happily out on the balcony until temperatures drop to 40 degrees. After that they should be taken indoors. Basements or garages that don’t freeze are good locations for worm bins
Earthworms will consume animal manures, compost, food scraps, shredded or chopped cardboard or paper, or almost any decaying organic matter or waste product. Horse, rabbit, swine, dairy, or steer manures are excellent feeds. Poultry manure is not recommended as it is too high in nitrogen and mineral.. If feeds are low in nutrients, they must be supplemented with high protein or nitrogen materials such as grains, mashes, and cottonseed meal. Feeds containing high amounts of carbohydrate or woody residues should be composted beyond the heating stage.
The feed and supplements can be applied straight or mixed with 20 to 30 percent horse manure or aged pine sawdust or shavings and spread on top of the bedding about 1 inch deep. When using manure as feedstock or bedding, always test its suitability for the earthworms. The same goes for any organic material in question. Place the material in a container along with about a dozen worms and observe their behavior over the next 12 to 24 hours. If the worms consume the material, it’s fine, but if they crawl away or die, it’s not suitable.
Composting the material may solve the problem. Continue to experiment with the substance until deciding whether it should be fed to the worms. Feed the worms regularly, once or twice a week. Set the feeding schedule and amount of feed according to the rate of consumption of the last feeding and the condition of the worms and beds. When most of the feed has been consumed, it is time to feed again. If too much feed is added, the beds may overheat or become anaerobic (oxygen-deprived) or too acidic.
Adding calcium carbonate and mixing the bedding can alleviate these problems. If the worms do not appear to be growing bigger or producing offspring, more protein may be needed in the feed. Add grains, mashes, or cottonseed meal .
Harvest the earthworm beds regularly, about every 30 days, to optimize worm production. Thinning the population provides more feed and space for the remaining worms and keeps the bedding loose and porous so the worms can move more easily to eat and reproduce.
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