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Worms for Bait or Waste Processing (Vermicomposting)
 

Worms for Bait or Waste Processing (Vermicomposting)

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Worms for Bait or Waste Processing (Vermicomposting)

Worms for Bait or Waste Processing (Vermicomposting)

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    Worms for Bait or Waste Processing (Vermicomposting) Worms for Bait or Waste Processing (Vermicomposting) Document Transcript

    • Worms for Bait or Waste Processing (Vermicomposting) A Publication of ATTRA—National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service • 1-800-346-9140 • www.attra.ncat.orgBy Alice Beetz, NCAT This publication is for entrepreneurs interested in a commercial earthworm enterprise. InformationProgram Specialist about vermiculture – raising earthworms for bait or feed – is included. Information about using these© 2010 NCAT worms, usually Eisenia fetida, to process waste into vermicompost is also included. Vermicompost is used in nurseries or the landscape industry as an ingredient in potting soil mixes and performs pest and disease control functions as a soil amendment. Production and marketing issues are covered forContents both types of earthworm businesses. Whether you are raising worms for bait or using them to produce vermicompost, you will need to learn how to raise earthworms. For your worm-based business, youIntroduction ..................... 1 will have to separate earthworms from their growing environment and sell your product—either theProduce earthworms worms or the vermicompost.or use worms forwaste processing?.......... 1 Many people use earthworms on a much smaller scale for processing their personal garbage as a means to reduce the amount of their garbage going to the landfill. This publication has information that canRaising worms ................. 2 serve this audience as well.Feeds and bedding ....... 4Worm bin ecology ......... 7Separating wormsfrom vermicompost ...... 8 Introduction BMarketing worms efore you decide to begin anand vermicompost ........ 9 earthworm venture:Economicsand budget..................... 13A word about • Read about wormspyramid schemes ......... 14 • Start a worm bin of your ownWhat about • Identify marketscertifying wormsor vermicompost • Visit a worm enterprise and askas organic? ...................... 14 questionsConclusion ...................... 15 • Decide whether to sell the wormsReferences ...................... 16 or to sell the vermicompostFurther resources ......... 16 • Locate inexpensive or free sources Eisenia fetida, a good composting worm of manyAppendix......................... 19 of bedding and feed names. Photo courtesy of Bentley Christie, RedWormComposting.com. • Develop a business plan • Decide on a marketing plan (sometimes with purchased amendments) This might not be the proper order for your into vermicompost, a valuable soil amend- investigation and research. However, each ment. Although the needs of the worms activity will help you determine if you should must be met in either type of system, the objectives are different. start an earthworm enterprise. Marketing isATTRA—National Sustainable important, so you must develop a plan for Raising worms for bait requires closer man-Agriculture Information Service selling your product before you make any agement than raising them to process agri-(www.attra.ncat.org) is managedby the National Center for Appro- serious investment in this new venture. cultural or food wastes. When you choosepriate Technology (NCAT) and is to sell worms for bait or as feed for fish orfunded under a grant from theUnited States Department of Produce earthworms or use poultry, you will sell off the livestock fromAgriculture’s Rural Business- the system periodically. Bait worms mustCooperative Service. Visit the worms for waste processing? meet a certain size standard and will need toNCAT website (www.ncat.org/sarc_current.php) for The two main reasons that people grow be separated from smaller worms and eggs.more information onour sustainable agri- worms are to sell them as bait or feed or to You should be consistent in your feed andculture projects. use earthworms to process waste materials bedding. You will also need to optimize
    • scales throughout the United States. Castings are pure worm waste. Vermicom- These systems can be used to raise post includes castings, organic material and worms or for waste processing. bedding in various stages of decomposition, along with living worms, eggs and other – Stacked bins or containers are a type worm bin creatures. There are not many com- of batch reactor and require con- mercial systems that produce pure castings. siderable handling and lifting. It The terms castings and vermicompost are is difficult to monitor bed condi- often used interchangeably and, because tions and to add feedstuffs. Systems pure castings haven’t proved more effective using stacks of large, shallow draw- than vermicompost, they won’t be distin- guished in this publication. ers reduce some of the drawbacks. Considerable labor is involved. • Windrow systems on concrete or on temperature, aeration, pH and moisture con- the ground require the least capital ditions to promote worm reproduction and investment, but they are slow and growth. All of this requires consistent man- labor-intensive, even with machinery. agement and attention to detail. Although windrows have been used for worm production, they are mostRelated ATTRA For a waste processing system, the goal isPublications appropriate for waste processing. low-cost production. The materials that you process might not be ideal for feed or bed- • Continuous flow reactors are the mostPotting Mixes forCertified Organic ding, but if the source is consistent, you can expensive of these systems. LaborProduction design a workable system. With skillful mar- costs may be less, however. Equip- keting, it’s possible to be paid tipping fees for ment, skilled management andAlternative Soil waste removal and be paid again by the end excellent marketing are necessary toTesting Labs user for the final product. Tipping fees are ensure a profitable enterprise.Foliar Fertilization charged to those who generate garbage for Continuous processing has emerged as theNotes on the service of hauling it away. preferred method for commercial produc-Compost Teas tion of vermicompost. The worms never Do some market research and consider whatDirect Marketing type of worm farming system fits your sit- leave the bed, so tedious harvesting proce- uation before you commit resources to set- dures are avoided entirely. Feeding, misting ting up your operation. Producing worms and collecting the finished product can be will require considerable attention, espe- automated, and it is much easier to produce cially at the start. If you have never managed a consistent product. a household worm composting system, begin with a small-scale trial and learn the basics. Raising worms The kinds of worms used in commercial Production systems systems are not the species commonly found Worm production takes place at scales that living in the soil. Likewise, the worms raised range from a bin in the kitchen for pro- in these systems will not survive long cessing household scraps or raising fishing living outdoors. worms to large mechanized systems able to The most common species raised in the accommodate tons of organic material on a United States is Eisenia fetida. They require continuous basis. This publication is focused high levels of nutrients, reproduce quickly on commercial-scale operations. In general, and tolerate being raised in captivity. Their these production methods can be grouped preferred temperature range is about 65 to into four types: 80 degrees Fahrenheit. • Batch reactors (containers on legs or Often called red wigglers, manure worms or on the ground) are filled, allowed to tiger worms, there are many common names work and then emptied. This type of used to market this type of worm. Some processing is being tested at various are called hybrids; some are even calledPage 2 ATTRA Worms for Bait or Waste Processing (Vermicomposting)
    • nightcrawlers. True nightcrawlers, Lubricusterrestris, are not well-adapted to commercial Some things to know about worms:production. However, if you check the species • They don’t tolerate light. One hour of exposure to sunlightof the worms you are buying, you will be fine, will completely paralyze an earthworm and several hoursno matter what the seller is calling them. will kill it (Gaddie and Douglas, 1975).When stocking a bin, start with a pound of • Their skin must be kept moist so that they can breatheworms for every cubic foot of bed. This allows through it.plenty of room and ensures that the worms • Their bedding must be kept moist, but not wet.will be in close enough proximity to con-tinue breeding. Populations are self-adjust- • Aeration is critical to maintaining healthy worms.ing. When conditions become crowded, larger • If conditions in the bed don’t suit them, the wormsworms will eat less and try to avoid younger will leave.or smaller worms. Reproduction rates then • Once acclimated to their environment, worms can eat halfdecline and worms will try to leave the bin their weight – or more – daily.(Gaddie and Douglas, 1975) • Reproduction rates slow down when worms are too crowded.As stated earlier, the emphasis is differentif you are selling worms or if you are using • Optimal bedding temperature ranges for growth and for reproduction vary by species.worms to produce a valuable soil amend-ment. In either case, you will need to tend tothe needs of your worms. Consider them aslivestock that have feed and housing require- Moisture: The bedding should be very damp.ments. Worms are vulnerable to pests, but In order to breathe, a worm’s skin must stayless susceptible to diseases. Care for them moist. A moisture meter will accurately mea-well to create a profitable business. sure the moisture percentage in bedding. The ideal moisture range, from 80 to 90 per-Key environmental conditions for growing cent, is higher than is practical for maintain-worms are: ing aerobic conditions, so optimal percent- • High moisture percentage through- age is about 65 to 70 percent. Worms in an out the bedding over-watered bed will become large, soft and sluggish. Breeding rates decline under such • Continuous oxygen within the waterlogged conditions. It is useful to know growing container how bedding with the optimal amount of • Optimal bedding temperature moisture feels. Taking a handful of bedding • Slightly acid pH (acidity or alkalinity) and squeezing it should produce a few drop- in the system lets of water between the fingers. This indi- cates about 70 percent moisture.Oxygen: Oxygen is critical to the wormproduction system. The worm needs oxy- If there is not enough moisture, the wormsgen, which passes through its moist skin, to have trouble breathing. Other pests will alsolive. The microbes that live with the worms move into a very wet environment, especiallyand help process the worm feed also need if it becomes so wet that oxygen is limited.oxygen. If the bedding becomes matted or Be sure that excess moisture can drain awaywater-logged, the system will become anaer- from the production area, but be careful toobic (oxygen-limited). Incorporate some control such runoff, because it is consideredcoarse bedding materials that won’t mat livestock effluent. The laws designed to pre-when they get wet. vent livestock effluent from contaminatingPay close attention to this critical environ- water resources apply to worm production as well.mental factor. It is difficult to maintain highmoisture and high oxygen conditions, but Excess water that drains from a wormthat is what worm production requires. production system is not the same aswww.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 3
    • vermicompost or worm tea. Such teas are difference of one number means that the made by soaking vermicompost for a pre- lower number is 10 times more acidic than determined period, either with or without the next number up. Some feed and bedding amendments, often with a bubbler to main- materials will change the pH when added to tain aerobic conditions. Teas have been the growing area. For example, high-protein shown to provide benefits similar to vermi- feeds tend to make the system more acidic, compost but with the advantages of liquid as do many vegetable wastes. Nevertheless, application. changes in pH are usually gradual and don’t affect the worm population. Temperature: Each worm species has differ- ent ranges for optimal growth and reproduc- Kelly Slocum, a worm production consul- tion. Keep the temperature of the bedding tant, says that, contrary to what many have between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit for said, worms prefer a pH of 5, which is acidic all worms except tropical species. Although (7 is neutral). She suggests that if you have the worms will survive relatively extreme a problem with your worm production, pH temperatures (some will even tolerate grad- should be the last item you evaluate. If you ual freezing), the goal is to maximize growth decide that pH is the problem and you want and reproduction, which is most efficient in to adjust it, remember that this affects all ofW hat’s comfortable conditions. the bin residents that are adapted to the cur- the rent conditions. The whole ecology of the best Where cold temperatures are a concern, bin will shift and it will take time to adjustfeed? The most electric heating mats or cables can be used to the new pH (Slocum, 2000).microbe-active, underneath the production area to keep the bedding warm. You can also insulate When conditions are not within tolerablediverse material that limits, worms will be stressed. How can you the production facilities with straw bales orcan be obtained for other available materials. In areas where the tell that there’s a problem?little or no cost. soil doesn’t freeze deeply, burying the beds • When worms are climbing up and–Kelly Slocum, below ground level helps protect the worms exiting the bin worm consultant from extreme temperatures, although drain- • When worms are staying low and age issues must be addressed. not coming up to feed Increased microbial activity will raise the • When worms mass together in a ball temperature in the beds. This is helpful in keeping beds active in colder climates, but If you see these symptoms, something is seri- it is a problem if the bedding or feedstock ously wrong with the worms’ environment. has not been pre-composted and the bed You should immediately determine what it becomes very hot. When using raw materi- is and fix it. als for this purpose, be sure the worms can move away from the source of heat. Feeds and bedding Some materials can serve as feed and bed- In hot climates, shade is essential to main- ding. Successful producers provide for their taining an optimal temperature range. Half- livestock’s (worms) need for both. Both the buried production facilities can be helpful in feed and the bedding will be consumed by these situations as long as there is plenty of the diverse population of organisms in a moisture and air flow for evaporative cool- worm production system and both will need ing. Some producers have used mist systems. to be replaced as the material is converted to Remember, consistent temperatures provide worm castings. consistent results. pH: The pH (acidity or alkalinity) of the Feeds system is important, but only if conditions Worms eat a wide variety of organic materi- range too far from neutral or changes occur als – or, more accurately, a wide variety of too rapidly. Worms can tolerate a pH range the microbes that feed on organic materials. from 5 to 9, which is broad, because the Almost any plant or animal waste couldPage 4 ATTRA Worms for Bait or Waste Processing (Vermicomposting)
    • Worms have no teeth, so it is best to use small feed particles. If you grind feed materi- als very finely, worms can utilize them more readily, but be sure that there are enough coarse materials for bedding so that the materials will not pack tightly and limit oxy- gen. Another way to reduce particle size is to soak feed before adding it to the bed. Worms have gizzards, as chickens do, and need some kind of grit to help them reduce the size of the food particles they eat. Add- ing sand or clean garden soil periodically will help the worms consume their feed. If the bed is tending toward a pH that is too acidic, a small amount of agricultural lime (calcium carbonate) can serve as the grit and neutralize the living conditions. A limited number of egg shells will also serve this pur- pose, but watch for pest problems.Worms with vegetable scraps and paper bedding.Photo by Amy Weishuhn. Bacteria, fungi and other soil-dwelling microbes also help break organic materialbe used as worm feed. But remember that, into usable particle sizes. Bacteria and moldslike other livestock, worms need vitamins, begin to digest organic matter very quickly.minerals, protein and carbohydrates. Feeds Their activity softens and breaks down foodshould contain more carbohydrates and cel- to further prepare it for the worms.lulose than protein. Scientists believe that microbes themselvesUsually the feed has nitrogen and is balanced constitute a sizable portion of the worm diet.by the high level of carbon in the bedding. A Protozoa may in fact be the dominant nutri-carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of 30 parts carbon ent source. However, rotifers, nematodes,to 1 part nitrogen is about right for a worm bacteria and fungi – as well as the decom-production system. Too much nitrogen cre- posing remains of plants and other animals – are also eaten and probably provide someates ammonia, which is toxic to worms andto many of the microbes that the productionsystem relies on. Excess carbon slows micro- Feedsbial activity and reduces overall productivity. Animal manures (no antibiotics orFat or oily materials such as soybean or sun- deworming medications)flower meals should be avoided because oil Cardboard, shreddedslows bacterial breakdown, shifting the pH Hay, either legume or grass typestoward an acid bed. Waste products and compost Commercial feedsAnimal by-products, dairy products and Wood and paper productsmeat are generally avoided because they Sewage sludgeattract flies, rodents and other pests. How- Food scraps (avoid meat and dairy)ever, animal waste – especially livestock Synthetic feedsmanure mixed with straw or sawdust – is Almost any decaying organic materialgood for a worm business because the feedand bedding are already combined. Use Do not feed: Meat scraps or bones, fish, greasy orgood sanitary procedures when handling raw oily foods, fat, tobacco or pet or humanmanure to prevent the spread of infection manure.from possible pathogens in the manure.www.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 5
    • nourishment. This is why worms like feed that is free of antibiotics, dewormers and materials that have already started to spoil. other chemical medications. Check for an acceptable level of urine and salts. If the Monitor how quickly the feed is being pro- product is consistent, and you are observant cessed, and don’t overfeed. Producers who about your system, you will not need to test top-feed either remove unused feed or wait it often. until visible feed has been consumed before adding more. A pile of fresh manure, even when mixed with straw or sawdust bedding, immediately You might choose to offer a fattening ration begins a thermophilic (heat-producing) com- just before harvest if your system goal is to posting process. Bacteria cause this activity raise worms to sell to the bait market or and the resulting compost is microbe-rich, if you are selling some worms as breeding but make sure the thermal composting pro- stock. Because maximum growth is desired, cess is done before using this manure in your you might purchase feed formulated for worm beds. this purpose. If you would rather formulate your own ration, a commonly used recipe Many vermicompost systems rely on ther- contains the following ingredients, very mal composting prior to feeding the organic finely ground: material to the worms. Pre-composting, as it 5 parts chicken starter (high-protein is sometimes called, can disable viable seeds corn, ground) and kill some human pathogens that may 2 parts bran (wheat or rice) have been in the feedstock. 1 part wheat flour Pre-composting takes much less time than 1 part powdered milk completely composting the feedstock mate- 1 part agricultural lime rial. Since pre-composting is designed to 3 parts alfalfa, ground allow some of the potential heat to dissi- If the focus of your operation is to use worms pate, it is usually a short (often two weeks) to process plant or animal wastes into vermi- but closely monitored process. Materials are compost, few purchased inputs are required. combined and the pile is built. Proper mois- Look around your area for confined livestock ture and aeration help create an active pile operations, canning factories and mushroom that heats to 160 degrees F for three days. facilities for potential sources of waste. Gro- The compost is often turned and allowed ceries and restaurants are other possibilities to heat a second time. After this stage, the if vegetable matter can be separated from material can be cooled and carefully added animal and other waste products. Pre-con- to a working bin. sumer wastes are easier to handle than post- consumer garbage. Testing material for use as bedding Since landfills in many areas will not accept Fill a small container that has aeration holes organic materials, some establishments with the prospective bedding material. might pay you to receive their wastes. This Introduce a small number of worms into the container. If the worms are still there 12 tipping fee is commonly charged for the hours later, it is safe to use the material as disposal of garbage. Similarly, livestock bedding. If they are dead or have crawled manure is subject to legal restrictions so out of the container, further processing that it doesn’t contaminate nearby water is needed. Leach or age the manure for a sources. Diverting these waste streams to longer period and test again before using worm production is an opportunity for the it as bedding. entrepreneurial worm farmer. Manure for feed or bedding Bedding Manure is a great feed or bedding material. Bedding and feedstock sometimes come Try to find a trustworthy source of manure together. Manure mixed with straw is anPage 6 ATTRA Worms for Bait or Waste Processing (Vermicomposting)
    • have only rudimentary digestive fluids, they Possible bedding materials depend on other creatures for help to make • Shredded paper (newsprint, paper nutrients available. The large, visible organ- bags, cardboard, office paper, but isms reduce the size of particles in the bed not cross-cut shredded) so that the smaller creatures have access to more surface area. Microorganisms use • Sawdust (but not from redwoods, their own enzymes or digestive acids to pine or other aromatic softwoods; process food for themselves, which makes test first) the organic material more available to • Composted animal manure (cow, worms and other critters in the system. Each horse, rabbit) species has a niche. Any given organism • Shredded, decaying leaves feeds on materials or other organisms in the • Straw bed and is likely to become food to others in the ecosystem. • Peat moss (consider sustainability and cost issues) To the new producer, some of the organisms in • Coconut coir (consider transportation the worm ecosystem will be unfamiliar and might cause concern. However, most are not B cost and sustainability) ecause dangerous to the worms and are extremely worms don’t beneficial to the efficient functioning ofexample. Worms will process the bedding as the system. Few of them eat living plant have teethwell as the feed, so why make the distinction? material, so they are rarely a danger to plants and have only that will receive the vermicompost. rudimentaryBedding is typically a carbonaceous materialthat will break down more slowly than the Some of the critters commonly found in vermi- digestive fluids,feed. It is usually a coarse material that won’t culture systems are listed and described in the they depend onpack tightly and therefore maintains air pock- Appendix. These descriptions are very brief, other creaturesets within the growth chamber. It helps to serving as an introduction to the residents of for help to makeabsorb excess moisture from feedstock as well. the worm-producing ecosystem that you are nutrients available.Some commercial systems use peat moss managing. Learn more about each of themas bedding, but this is an expensive, non- as you observe them in the system. If certainrenewable input that might be better used in critters seem to be overwhelming the system,other applications. Coconut coir, a renewable study them, learn what conditions are causingresource, has replaced peat moss in many sys- the increase and adjust your management totems. Its disadvantage, from a sustainability bring the system back into equilibrium.perspective, is that it is transported long Included in the Appendix are lists of ani-distances. Sustainable, economic opportu- mals that might threaten worms in a pro-nity in worm production lies in using easily duction system as well as benign critters thatobtainable inexpensive or free materials for are potential competitors for feed.as many of the inputs as is possible. Because this is an extremely intricate biolog-Worm bin ecology ical system, using chemicals to control any member within it will affect the others. IfA successful worm bin is an ecosystem you use chemicals, they may persist in thecontaining a wide diversity of plants (fungi, bedding or castings. Later, when the mate-bacteria, and molds) and animals, all adapted rial is added to the soil, it might be hazardousto similar conditions. There are many more to the growing plants.species than just the worm that the systemis managed for. These critters, both micro-scopic and visible to the eye, are interdepen- Diseasesdent; they all work toward breaking down and Worms are not generally susceptible tostabilizing the organic materials in a worm diseases; however, they are sensitive to condi-bin. Because worms don’t have teeth and tions in their environment. Protein poisoningwww.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 7
    • or sour crop will result from the accumula- worms move down faster than smaller ones, tion of unused feed in the bin. When this so that the top layer of bedding and the happens, the bed becomes acidic and gases smaller worms are swept back into the grow- are released into the bedding. ing area. The worms are allowed to move to the bottom again. After several sweep- Symptoms include: ings, the remaining bedding is swept toward • Swollen or burst clitellum the center of the table, and the worms are allowed to move to the bottom, and the top • Knots along the worm’s body of this pile is swept away. Finally, the large • Worm s t h at a re st ri ng y or worms are hand-picked into containers crawl around aimlessly on the with damp bedding and readied for further bed’s surface fattening or for immediate sale. • Worms that stay low in the beds and refuse to come up to eat Using screens to separate worms The simplest method of screening worms • Worms that turn white and die in from their bedding involves shaking a box the bedding with a screen bottom. The screen size allows • An increase in the population of vermicompost to fall through and the acid-loving worm bin residents worms remain in the box. When screens of different sizes are used, the vermicompost Separating worms can be separated from the small worms and eggs as well. This method has obvious from vermicompost drawbacks because of size limitations and No matter what product you’re selling, sepa- labor requirements. rating worms from vermicompost is neces- sary. If you’re selling the worms, the larger Some production systems are based on using worms may be separated by one of the meth- stacked boxes with screen bottoms. As the ods below and then fed a fattening feed feed and bedding is used in a box, another ration to increase their size or to clear their box with fresh feed and bedding is placed guts if they are being sold as feed. on top of it. Worms naturally migrate away from the castings-rich environment to the You should periodically harvest to redistrib- next level above it. At intervals, another sim- ute worms, even if they are not being sold, ilar box with fresh bedding and feed is added in order to keep populations from becoming to the top of the stack. After the worms have overcrowded. Start with a 30-day harvest moved up, the bottom box is removed and interval (after your production area is fully the vermicompost is processed for sale. occupied) and adjust it according to your system’s requirements. Another harvest method uses screen wire that is placed in the bed. Again, fresh food Sorting systems use worms’ natural aversion to and bedding are placed on the screen wire light, their tendency to move upward to fresh to entice the worms away from the worked food offered and mechanical screening devices material toward the bottom of the bed. The to separate worms from the vermicompost. worms move up through the screening and feed near the surface. After the worms have Hand sorting worms been feeding and growing above the screen for some time, the screen is removed with Removing the top 3-4 inches of bedding the worms in it. What remains below the from the growing area to a sorting table is a screen is mostly vermicompost ready to be labor-intensive way to sort worms. A strong processed for use or sale. light is maintained in the work area so that as layers of vermicompost are brushed away The worms’ natural inclination to move the worms are exposed and immediately bur- upward and toward fresh bedding is used to row into the remaining material. The larger harvest worms in windrow systems as well.Page 8 ATTRA Worms for Bait or Waste Processing (Vermicomposting)
    • In fact, this is the most common way to from the bottom using a barprepare the finished vermicompost for har- dragged along the screeningvest. New bedding is placed on the top of that is the f loor of the bin.the windrow and worms move into it. When Th is movement separates themost of the worms have moved, the top bedding material from thelayer of the windrow is removed to start the bottom of the bed and ver-next one, leaving the castings behind. Some micompost falls to a concretesystems place the new bedding next to the floor where it is collected forexisting windrow, forming a wedge, but the use. It may be allowed to dryseparation of worms from vermicompost is before collection.less complete. Oregon Soil Corporation in Oregon City, Ore., began usingMechanical screen trommel a continuous reactor process inMechanical screening can be used for sep- 1988. Many adaptations havearating worms from vermicompost in any been built to suit a given sys-of the production systems. A slanted cylin- tem and plans are available Continuous bed processor. Photo courtesy of www.sonomavalleyworms.com.drical harvesting machine, called a trom- from several vendors. Largemel, is commonly used in large-scale com- amounts of vermicompost can be producedmercial operations. A motor turns a cylinder without ever having to stop to separatethat is made of progressively larger screens. the worms.The material from the beds is fed into the This type of system requires a capital invest-raised end. As it moves downward, different ment on the front end. Savings in laborsizes of screens allow the vermicompost, the expense for harvesting and handling mightsmall worms and eggs and finally the larger justify such an investment.worms to fall into separate areas. The eggsand small worms are returned to fresh bed-ding. If only large worms are wanted, only Handling the wormstwo screen sizes are necessary. Whatever method is chosen to separate worms from vermicompost, consider the worms’ needs during the process. The worms will die if exposed to light or very dry con- ditions for too long. Wear damp gloves to handle the worms and move the worms that will stay in your system to fresh bedding as soon as possible. Worms that will be shipped should be quickly weighed and placed into the damp medium they will be shipped in. Marketing worms andVermiCo Electric Worm Harvester, plans available. vermicompostPhoto courtesy of Peter Bogdanov, www.vermico.com. Marketing your product is an area to address long before you actually have anything to sell. It doesn’t matter if you will be sellingContinuous processing worms or vermicompost, you must haveA continuous bed processor is a long, a buyer if you are going to make money.raised growing area. New bedding and feed Where will you sell your product? Will youare added at the top. Feed and moisture, sell wholesale or retail? Who are your cus-when needed, are applied along the entire tomers in each case? Approach and begin tolength of the bed, sometimes with an over- educate potential buyers as you develop thehead conveyor belt system and mist sys- rest of the business. As your market grows,tem. Finished vermicompost is harvested you can increase production as well.www.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 9
    • The worm market, though stable, is not for their consideration. Once you’ve made a growing much. The vermicompost market is sale, you must provide continuing good ser- more likely to grow because of these trends: vice and produce a quality product to cul- • Increased interest and understanding tivate a customer that will buy from you about recycling repeatedly. • Awareness about sustainable systems Vending machines that dispense bait are a relatively new development. An excellent • Laws banning organic materials location and conscientious servicing can from landfills make this option worthwhile. • Expansion of the market for organic farming products Besides face-to-face sales, the Internet pro- vides another direct sales channel. Create • Increased awareness in the gen- a website that details your products and eral public about vermicomposting services. Because most of your customers (Quillian, 1998) will be remote, your presentation will be Rhonda Sherman at North Carolina State in competition with all other worm out- University published a list of potential lets on the Internet. Learn the strategies markets for worms and vermicompost. for increasing your website’s exposure. Find it on her comprehensive website at You will also have to decide how you will www.bae.ncsu.edu/topic/vermicomposting/ ship your product and set up a secure vermiculture/markets.html. payment system. Pet stores buy worms as feed for some of Selling worms their animals. They will probably want to The main markets for worms are: buy live worms. Likewise, pet owners are • As bait potential customers. • For feed Alternatively, worms can be dried and made • For household food waste processing into a meal to be used as feed. This worm meal is easier to transport and store than live Approach local bait stores and ask if they worms. Producing meal requires further pro- would be interested in buying directly from cessing. Can you get a price that justifies the a local grower rather than a distant seller. extra expense? Packaging and labeling must When you are in production, provide samples also be considered. Although selling worms to businesses and municipalities that are beginning to process their organic wastes by vermicomposting is a possibility, this is not a large or recurring market. A 2003 scam claimed to be sup- plying worms for start-up municipal ver- micomposting operations. Even if this had been true, it is unlikely that a huge supply of worms would have been required. Each new facility would most likely make one initial purchase of worms and then main- tain a working population without need for further purchases. Selling to individuals and families who want to use worms to process their waste is another opportunity. However, this is usu-Worms for the bait market. Photo by Amy Weishuhn. ally a one-time, relatively small sale. You willPage 10 ATTRA Worms for Bait or Waste Processing (Vermicomposting)
    • need many customers of this type to gener- orders because you had not perfected yourate significant worm sales. shipping system.Packaging and shipping worms Selling castings or vermicompostDepending on where you will be selling Vermicompost is a high-quality soil amend-your worms, you will need individual con- ment that has been shown to offer growthtainers or bulk containers for packaging and and yield advantages as well as resistanceshipping. If your market is local bait shops, to plant pests and diseases. Likewise,you will probably count or weigh and cup vermicompost tea has been recognized asthe worms yourself. You or an employee will a provider of considerable benefits in plantdeliver and provide service to your custom- production systems when it is used as aers. However, if your market is farther away, soil drench or a foliar spray. However, thepackaging and shipping require a different general public and even many businessestype of system. that would clearly benefit from its use are often unaware of the advantages of usingShip worms as quickly as possible after har- vermicompost. Do not assume that if youvest and be sure to maintain optimal condi- have it, people will buy it.tions for their survival. Peter Bogdanov, inhis excellent book Commercial Vermiculture: Plan to educate your customers and developHow to Build a Thriving Business in Red- a market as you generate the product. Spend- ing time and resources with nurseries, land-worms, recommends sphagnum peat moss scapers and garden supply store managersas a shipping medium. The bedding should could be well worth your time. Other poten-be damp and air must be available. Bogda- tial buyers of bulk vermicompost mightnov has determined that, for his operation, include organic farmers or turf farms, as wellwaxed cardboard containers are best for a as golf course and sports field managers.small to medium amount of worms. Otherauthors have described many types of con- You may even want to conduct trials com-tainers, including plastic foam, wax-coated paring your product with whatever is cur-paper and rigid plastic. Breathable paper or rently being used. Perhaps you can help cli- ents set up a trial at their place of business.cloth bags are also used for bulk shipping. Remember, once you secure the business ofChoose a shipping company according to a customer that requires large volumes ofaccessibility and services offered. Since materials repeatedly and you can deliver aworms will not survive extreme tempera- consistent product, you will be on your way.tures, plan for their protection. Label the Some buyers will want to buy small amountscontainer so people handling them in tran- for gardens and others will buy by the trucksit can safeguard the contents. Live earth- load. These are issues you must evaluate dur-worms and Perishable and Do not expose to ing your market research. You will need toextreme temperatures are suggested. Pre- decide how to sell your product. Who is yourcooling the shipping medium and worms to target market? Will you need to package or68-72 degrees F results in lower fatalities inhot weather, according to Roy and Dianne The effects of vermicompost and vermicompost teas in plant productionFewell in As the Worm Turns (Fewell and systems are being studied at several universities. Although vermicompostFewell, 2007). doesn’t test high in nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium, it does contain significant micronutrients. Biological activity is very high, and evidenceBogdanov recommends doing practice runs of plant growth hormones has accumulated. Disease suppression, pestby shipping to friends or relatives to make resistance, better growth and higher yields have been documented andsure your containers, shipping material are under investigation.and methods will succeed in delivering the For more information about the research into these qualities – especiallyworms in good condition. Your fi rst cus- if you need it for promoting your product – please contact ATTRA attomers will appreciate the results, and you 1-800-346-9140 or www.attra.ncat.org.may save the expense of having to repeatwww.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 11
    • make it through the worms, or your product Reasons that current demand for vermicompost is low: might cause weed problems for customers. • Lack of consistent supply Such a mistake is not easily fixed, especially • Lack of large producers when you have lost your customers’ trust. • Uneducated consumers Pre-composting the feedstock and bedding • Lack of tests for content and quality materials, if they contain seeds, can prevent • Lack of field-tested research such problems. • Lack of research in commercial settings (Quillian, 1998) Be very careful with any input that might contain human pathogens that might sur- further process the product? If you package vive worm processing. Develop a system the vermicompost, you will likely have to to handle such resources by isolating them create a legal label; this can be a challenge in from contact with the fi nished product, itself. Consult with your state Department maintaining aerobic production conditions of Agriculture for applicable regulations. and separately pre-composting them in a thermal system to ensure that they are safe Remember that your vermicompost prod- uct must be consistently available and be of to use. Th is is serious business and your dependable quality. These attributes are key liability here is absolute. to return business The second factor that affects the final product is the environmental conditions in the How to ensure consistent quality worm bins. Temperature, moisture and pH vermicompost all determine which organisms thrive and which do not. If these conditions are kept The nutrient content of vermicompost is constant, the microorganism community extremely variable. Although you will see will also remain relatively steady. In a similar analyses for various manures or vermicom- posts, the actual content depends on two way, the microbes that live in the worm gut main factors: processing the organic matter adapt to whatever conditions they are subjected to. • The feedstock and bedding Continually changing these conditions • The environmental conditions under reduces the efficiency of your production which it is produced system and affects the uniformity of the final merchandise (Slocum, 2000). Feedstock and bedding are the two major inputs. The nutrient analysis of the vermi- The length of time the material is in the bed compost will reflect these materials. Cat- affects the final product. If the temperature is tle manure with straw produces a differ- not optimal or other environmental conditions ent product from chicken litter with wood are not ideal, worms will take longer to process shavings. The relative amount of nitrogen the same materials. If conditions are not stable, and carbon will also affect the composition monitor them and adjust your procedures to of the biological community inhabiting the ensure the reliability of your product. final product (Slocum, 2000). Your product will be consistent if your pro- In addition to the nutrient content, the duction system uses known materials in material fed or used as bedding can poten- unvarying proportions. Monitor environ- tially contain substances toxic to plants or mental conditions and establish routines so humans. If landscape waste materials are that you do not have to test often to be con- included, be sure they don’t contain persis- fident that your product doesn’t vary in con- tent pesticide residues. Livestock waste can tent or quality. contain residues from medications or feed Check with your local Cooperative Extension additives. Know your inputs. Service about testing the macronutrients and Seeds in the feedstock provide an addi- micronutrient content of your product. Many tional challenge. Be sure that no viable seeds states provide this service. Labs that specializePage 12 ATTRA Worms for Bait or Waste Processing (Vermicomposting)
    • in testing the biological components of com- The records you have kept on your small-post or vermicompost are a little harder scale learning experiments will serve you wellto find. Consult ATTRA’s Alternative Soil as you put together your own business plan.Testing Laboratories for a list. You should have already found and tested materials that can serve as bedding and feed-When you bag your product to sell, the label stock. You will have learned how much feedwill probably be regulated by law. Check the worms need and decided on the type ofwith your state Department of Agriculture system to raise your worms.for information on what is required. It is time to build your budget. It shouldEconomics and budget include at least these items. Make your esti- mates as realistic as possible.This publication is about raising wormsas a commercial venture. The focus of theoperation might be on using animal or food Budgetwastes to produce a valuable soil amendmentor on producing worms for the bait worm or Price/ unit Quantity Amount Your estimateanimal feed markets. In any case, the goal isto make the venture pay. As was stated ear- Receiptslier, if bait worms are the product, inputs Worm or vermi-might cost more and management must be compost salesattentive in order to produce a larger, mar- Other salesketable worm. Vermicomposting is often lessdemanding, and the inputs should be inex- Tipping feespensive or free. Total receiptsProfitability depends on the price receivedfor the final product minus the costs of Variable costsinputs, labor and capital expenses. These will Feedvary for every business situation. Therefore,it is essential that you research and build a Beddingbusiness plan. Business plans will go a long Labor to feedway toward ensuring a profitable businesslater on and can be instrumental in securing Harvest laborstart-up funds. PackagingHere are some tools to help with evaluatingyour potential new enterprise: Advertising • USDA Risk Management Agency Cost to operate http://farm-risk-plans.usda.gov the system • Building a Sustainable Business: Other var. costs A Guide to Developing a Business Total var. costs Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses www.sare.org/publications/business/ business.pdf Fixed costs Initial investments • Starting an Ag Business? A Pre-Planning Guide Equipment http://agviability.cornell.edu/pdf/ Building Pre-businessPlanWorkbook.pdf Other fixed costs • Cornell ha s developed ma ny other business planning tools. Total fixed costs www.nybeginningfarmers.org/index. Source: http://agalternatives.aers.psu.edu/Publications/earthworm.pdf php?page=planwww.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 13
    • Your business plan and budget estimates What about certifying worms serve at least two functions: or vermicompost as organic? 1. To evaluate your potential for developing Recently interest has been high in every- a viable business thing organic. Here are a few thoughts 2. To convince a bank or other lending pros- about so-called organic vermicompost and pect that you are serious and have done worm production. your homework. The use of the word organic is controlled by a federal law. For more information about the Continuing to keep financial records, and law and its application to organic produc- taking the time to analyze them, are keys to tion, see ATTRA’s publication Organic Farm building and maintaining a profitable busi- Certification and the National Organic Program. ness. If you assume that there are always places that you can improve your efficiency or reduce your costs, and search them out, it Organic vermicompost will prevent unwelcome financial surprises. Organic certification is restricted to agri- cultural products such as food and livestockC ontinuing feed. One could argue that vermicompost is A word about such a product and get it certified. However, to keep pyramid schemes there is no need to do so. Vermicompost can financial For some reason, the worm business has be used as it is in organic production just likerecords, and taking compost can be used without being certified repeatedly been plagued by dishonest schem-the time to analyze ers. The promoters use a pyramid scheme. organic. The main stipulation is that no pro-them, are keys to They sell the initial batch of worms with hibited materials be used in its productionbuilding and the promise of buying back all of the worm – neither as feed nor as bedding. Treatedmaintaining a production at “guaranteed” high buy-back wood chips or sawdust from treated wood prices. Often, exaggerated claims are made are examples of materials that would not beprofitable business. about how quickly the worms will repro- allowed if the vermicompost were going to duce. In reality, all the worms are being sold be used in a certified organic production sys- to others to begin their production systems. tem. Carefully examine commercial worm feed formulations, if used, to be sure that they A worm scam promoted during 2002-03 contain no prohibited materials. fooled many honest people across the United States. Many of the people who got into pro- It is unlikely that there is a market of any duction enjoyed raising the worms, but when size for organic certified vermicompost. it came time to sell them, the promised market If there were, it would probably be was not there. Homes and pensions were lost. non-commercial gardeners who want to be The perpetrators were not brought to justice. “elite-green.” Be sure that you have identified customers who will pay a premium price that If approached with such a business proposal, will cover the cost of certifying your product be wary. If it sounds too good to be true, it and maintaining its certification before pur- might be. Ask a prospective company for ref- suing this option. erences of satisfied clients who have been in business with the company for several years. In order to promote their products to organic Talk with those producers. Do not be rushed producers, manufacturers often seek OMRI into something that you may later regret. listing. OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) reviews commercial products to The Federal Trade Commission maintains determine if they comply with National a website with information for prospective Organic Standard requirements. Several prod- business or franchise buyers. Here is advice ucts with vermicompost have gone through worth heeding to protect yourself in the the exacting procedure required to obtain marketplace: www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/con- OMRI listing. You can learn more about how sumer/invest/inv07.shtm. to qualify by visiting www.omri.org.Page 14 ATTRA Worms for Bait or Waste Processing (Vermicomposting)
    • Organic worms feed ration in a separate certified organicJust as in the case of vermicompost, it is dif- livestock system. In the case of chickens,ficult to imagine the market for certified worms have been considered as an organicorganic worms. What would they be used source of the amino acid methionine. Thefor? Would potential buyers pay a premium amount of worm meal or fresh wormsfor organic worms? required would probably be small enough to be considered a supplement. If used as aIf worms were the major feed ingredient for supplement, the worms or worm meal wouldsome other animal that is being raised in not have to be certified organic as long as noa certified organic production system, then prohibited materials were used to raise thethe worm production system might also worms. This is, again, an area in which thehave to be certified. Th is is a grey area on person who certifies that livestock systemwhich the National Organic Program has would have authority to interpret the law.not set standards. Officially, if you applythe federal Rule, feed formulas for certi- Conclusionfied organic livestock production cannot Worms can be used to process animal wastecontain manure Th is might be applied to that was considered a potential environ-worms, but possibly only if the worms were mental problem. Worms can process foodfor direct human consumption. garbage that would have gone to a land-If manure were not allowed, organic worms fill. These are worthy services. Many wormcould be fed a ration of certified organic growers report that working with worms is agrains, though that would be very expen- satisfying activity. What if you could makesive. Is there a market that would bear it a profitable business?this cost? Another option would be to feed Realistic planning will reduce the risks thatwastes from an organic food processor. The accompany such a venture. Raise wormsproduction waste from, for instance, organic on a small scale first. Create business andbaby food might become the main input for marketing plans based on your experiencean organic worm ranch. Your certification and thorough research. Always rememberagency would be the one to interpret and that you will have to sell your product toapply the federal law to all aspects of your create a commercial enterprise. Concen-production system. trate on combining the satisfaction of rais-It is much more likely that worms would be ing worms in a sustainable system with aused as a relatively small proportion of the profitable business model. Steps toward developing a national vermicompost market (ideally some of these would be accomplished by a producers’ association) 1. Consolidate existing research results and knowledge into a useful form. 2. Field test vermicompost in a commercial setting. Producers must: – Work with growers’ associations and university agriculture departments to fund and/or conduct field research – Work with Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) and organic farming groups to do on-farm research 3. Develop a program for testing and quality assurance (pH, organic matter, moisture, biological activity) 4. Make marketing a significant part of the business plan and budget. This includes targeted market research, educational materials, package design, trade shows, and promotional events (Quillan, 1998).www.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 15
    • ReferencesFewell, Roy and Dianne Fewell. 2007. As the Worm Ferris, Amanda, Mark Jackson and Angus Campbell.Turns: New and Easy Methods for Raising Earth- 2002. Best Practice Guideline to Managing On-siteworms. Shields Publications, PO Box 669, Eagle River, Vermiculture Technologies. Recycled Organics Unit,WI 54521. p. 43. University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. 106 p.Gaddie, Ronald E., Sr. and Donald E. Douglas. 1975. www.recycledorganics.com/publications/reports/Earthworms for Ecology & Profit. Volume I: Scientific vermiculturebpg/vbpg.htmEarthworm Farming. Bookworm Publishing Co., PO This publication provides an easy-to-read account of howBox 3037, Ontario, CA 91761. p. 59. to establish and manage an on-site, mid-scale vermicul- ture unit for the commercial and industrial sector. TheQuillian, Mike. 1998. Earthworm castings—the key guide includes practical information on development,to unleashing the vermiculture market. Worm Digest. including feedstock preparation, monitoring, mainte-August. p. 13, 25, 27, 29-30. nance procedures and use of the vermicompost.Slocum, Kelly. 2000. Going Sour on Lime.Worm Digest. No.24. p. 20. General worm farming Worm PowerFurther resources www.wormpower.netInclusion in this list is not an endorsement nor is A vermicomposting business site. Tom Herlihy, theexclusion meaningful. author, has a lot of videos and information about the actual process as well as who uses the material and how.Web resourcesIf you have access to the Internet, there are many Sonoma Valley Worm Farmwebsites with information about worm farming. www.sonomavalleyworms.comMany resources for the producer, including books, Experienced producer Jack Chambers uses a continuousbreeding stock and equipment, can be located by processing unit. He also sells vermicompost to vineyardsvisiting the sites listed below. Many include links and others.to other sites of interest. Under the Website sectionbelow, there is a list of websites that offer informa- Rhonda L. Sherman’s home pagetion or products of interest for those raising worms. www.bae.ncsu.edu/people/faculty/sherman/index.htmlWeb addresses frequently change, but a search of Sherman is an Extension specialist with vermiculture/“worm farm” or “worm production” will locate vermicompost expertise. She hosts an annual wormthese and many other sites. conference in early summer. Scroll down to the vermi- composting link for access to many resources.Manuals related to California Vermiculture LLC – George Hahnvermiculture/vermicomposting www.wormgold.comSherman, Rhonda. 2003. Raising Earthworms Suc- Worm farms in several states produce consistentcessfully. EBAE 103-83. North Carolina Cooperative branded products, complete with testimonials.Extension Service, Raleigh, NC. 26 p. www.bae.ncsu.edu/topic/vermicomposting/pubs/earthworms.pdf Worms WranglerMason, William T., Jr., Roger W. Rottmann, and John http://wormswrangler.comF. Dequine. 1992. Culture of Earthworms for Bait or This site contains many useful articles related toFish Food. Circular 1053. University of Florida IFAS worm production.Extension. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/FA016 Happy D RanchMunroe, Glenn. N.d. Manual of On-Farm Vermicom- www.happydranch.com/index.htmlposting and Vermiculture. Organic Agriculture Centre Commercial site offering worms, bins, books, articlesof Canada. 52 p. www.oacc.info/DOCs/Vermiculture_ on home- and farm-scale vermicomposting. SpecialsFarmersManual_gm.pdf for teachers.Page 16 ATTRA Worms for Bait or Waste Processing (Vermicomposting)
    • VermiTechnology Unlimited Vermitech.comwww.vermitechnology.com www.vermitech.com/home.htm Florida worm farmer Larry Martin has lots of This site has a clear description, photos and schematic of experience setting up systems in several locations. He the continuous processing system the company offers. offers organically certified castings (not vermicompost) products, worms and books. Books on vermiculture & vermicompostingTrinity Ranch Appelhof, Mary. 1997. Worms Eat My Garbage.http://mypeoplepc.com/members/arbra/trinity/id14.html Flowerfield Enterprises, 10332 Shaver Rd,. Kalamazoo, This website has a wealth of information about worms and MI 49024. 162 p. vermicomposting. They sell worms, equipment and books. Barrett, Thomas J. 1942. Harnessing the Earthworm.Flowerfield Enterprises, Mary Apelhof’s site Shields Publications, Eagle River, WI. 166 p.www.wormwoman.com/acatalog/index.html Bogdanov, Peter. 1996. Commercial Vermiculture: Emphasis on using worms for education. Also provides How to Build a Thriving Business in Redworms. worm composting and compost tea products and infor- VermiCo, PO Box 1134, Merlin, OR 97532. 83p. mation including books, videos, worms, worm bins and other vermicomposting resources. Edwards, C.A. and P.J. Bohlen. 1996. Biology and Ecology of Earthworms (3rd ed.). Chapman & Hall,Unco Industries London. 426 p.www.vermiculture.com/uncosystem.html Edwards, Clive, Norman Arancon, and Rhonda Offers a worm growing system, complete with equipment Sherman (eds.). 2010. Vermiculture Technology: and training. Earthworms, Organic Wastes, and EnvironmentalBentley Christie’s worm site Management. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.www.redwormcomposting.com Fewell, Roy and Dianne. 1998. As the Worm Turns: A very active hobby worm grower experimenting with New and Easy Methods for Raising Earthworms. worms and gardens. Shields Publications, PO Box 669, Eagle River, WI 54521. 56 p.Worm species photo albumAmy Weishuhn’s Worm photo album Gaddie, Ronald E., Sr., and Donald E. Douglas. 1975.http://community.webshots.com/album/93031731AZXEzc Earthworms for Ecology & Profit. Volume I: Scientific Earthworm Farming. Bookworm Publishing Co., PO Photos of many worm species. Box 3037, Ontario, CA 91761. 180 p.Commercial worm equipment sources Gershuny, Grace. 2004. Compost, Vermicompost and Compost Tea: Feeding the Soil on the Organic Farm.Oregon Soil Corporation A Project of the Northeast Organic Farming Associa-www.oregonsoil.com tion. Highland Press, Athol, MA. 90 p. Experienced in vermicomposting, offers commercial and residential scale equipment and consultation services. Minnich, Jerry. 1977. The Earthworm Book: How to Raise and Use Earthworms for Your Farm and Garden.VermiCo, Peter Bogdanov’s site Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA. 372 p.www.vermico.com This site has an emphasis on business and marketing. It Morgan, Charlie. (1975-revised). Profitable Earthworm offers blueprints for building a continuous harvest worm Farming. Published by Shields Publications, P.O. Box production system as well as tools to monitor production 669, Eagle River, WI 54521. 95 p. Other titles by beds. Items for sale include a rotating screen harvester Morgan include: (electric and gas models) and plans to build a harvester, Earthworm Selling and Shipping Guide (82 p.) as well as compost tea brewers and applicators. Earthworm Feeds and Feeding (90 p.) The Worm Farm (70 p.)Worm World Inc. and Brian Paley’s The Burrow How to Raise, Store and Sell Nightcrawlers (40 p.)www.jetcompost.com/burrow/index.html Raising the African Nightcrawler or Tropical Giant (53 p.) Worm harvesters for sale and a lot of older material Therapeutic Medications & Pesticides for Worm on vermicomposting. Growers (100 p.)www.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 17
    • Payne, Binet. 1999. The Worm Café: Mid-Scale materials are available for purchase on this site. The newVermicomposting of Lunchroom Wastes. Flower Press, periodical has not been evaluated, so no opinion is offered.Kalamazoo, MI. 180 p.Shields, Earl. (1994-revised). Raising Earthworms for Budget and economicsProfit. Shields Publications, P.O. Box 669, Eagle River, Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to DevelopingWI 54521. 128 p. a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses. www.sare.org/publications/business/business.pdfSellers of worm books Doherty, Brigid A., and John C. McKissick. 2000.Note that many vermicomposting sites also sell books. Market Opportunities for Biosolid-Based VermicultureShields Publications offers many practical books about in Georgia. Center Special Report No. 9. Center forraising worms. www.wormbooks.com/index.htm Agribusiness and Economic Development, The University Publisher of many practical books about raising of Georgia. www.agecon.uga.edu/~caed/Pubs/ worms, including a current buyer’s guide. Small books vermiculture.html at reasonable prices. Warco, Dan. 2002. Shipping and Handling Included.New York Books – Earthworm books Worm Digest. No. 29. p. 7.www.nyworms.com/books.htm Budgets for building a traditional on-the-ground bed Annotated list of practical worm farming books. about 12’ X 3’. http://agalternatives.aers.psu.edu/Rhonda Sherman’s list of worm farming books and Publications/earthworm.pdfbook vendors www.bae.ncsu.edu/topic/vermicomposting/ Also a sample budget with production estimates.vermiculture/booklist.html Marketing resourcesWorm periodicals Anon. N.d. Earthworm Buyers Guide & DirectoryVermiCo 2008-09. Shields Publications, P.O. Box 669, EaglePO Box 1134 River, WI 54521. www.wormbooks.comMerlin, OR 97532 Bogdanov, Peter. 1996. Commercial Vermiculture:(541) 476-9626 How to Build a Thriving Business in Redworms.www.vermico.com VermiCo, PO Box 1134, Merlin, OR 97532. 83p.www.vermico.com/newsletter1.htmPublishes: Casting Call Quillian, Mike. 1998. Earthworm castings—the keySix bimonthly issues for $18 to unleashing the vermiculture market. Worm Digest.e-subscription for $10 August. p. 13, 25, 27, 29-30. Back issues available individually and in volumes; also electronically. Research review articlesThe JG Press, Inc. Three review articles in popular press:419 State Avenue Arancon, Norman Q., Clive A. Edwards, RichardEmmaus PA, 18049 Dick, and Linda Dick. Vermicompost tea production(610) 967-4135, ext.22 and plant growth impacts. BioCycle. November 2007.www.jgpress.com/biocycle.htm p. 51-52. Publishes: BioCycle: Advancing Composting, Organics Recycling, and Renewable Energy. Monthly annual Edwards, Clive A., Norman Q. Arancon, Eric Emerson, subscription for $74. and Ryan Pulliam. 2007. Suppressing plant parasitic nematodes and arthropod pests with vermicompost teas.Worm Digest BioCycle. December. p. 38-39.www.wormdigest.org This site has been reconfigured and is under different 2007 Literature Review of Worms in Waste management from the original, very useful website and Management, Vols. 1 and 2. Recycled Organics Unit, periodical. The Worm Digest that contained practical, University of New South Wales (Australia). hands-on articles and news relevant to worm producers www.recycledorganics.com/publications/reports/ is no longer being published. However, some of the old vermlitreview/vermlitreview.htmPage 18 ATTRA Worms for Bait or Waste Processing (Vermicomposting)
    • Scientific Research on Benefits tea research continues. Many scientific papers are available on-line.of VermicompostThe Soil Ecology Laboratory Cornell Vermicompost Research http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/vermicompost.htmThe Ohio State University This site provides access to all the vermicompost researchwww.biosci.ohio-state.edu/~soilecol/index.htm that Cornell is conducting. A video about how to pro- Vermicompost pioneer, Clive A. Edwards, anchored duce and use vermicompost as well as its function in this program for many years. Research reports on biological control in greenhouses is available. Fact sheets many aspects of vermiculture and vermicompost with cover field soil and greenhouse applications and a section emphasis on its benefits for production. Vermicompost about suppression of Pithium.AppendixCritters you might find in a worm bin Rounded segmented body with two pairs of legs per segment; darker than the centipede and slower moving.Ants, FormicidaeAnts prefer a dry environment. If there are a lot of ants, Mites, Acarinait is an indicator that the bins are too dry. Ants can Small, brown to reddish arthropods, readily visibleoccasionally become a problem when they are attracted without magnification. Natural inhabitants of manuresto high-concentrate feed. When ants are very numer- and other organic materials, mites are usually veryous, they might feed on small worms or eggs. numerous in worm bins. They are found near theCentipede, Chilopoda surface and edges of the beds and around feedThese are worm predators that usually live on the sur- concentrations. There are both predatory and plant-face of the bed. They also feed on larger organisms feeder types. There may be one mite that actuallyin the bin. Remove these predators if there are more attacks worms, but they might just ride on worms andthan a few in a bed. Description: Reddish-tan cylindri- be an irritant. Very high populations probably stresscal, segmented body with one pair of legs per segment. the worms. Prevention: Because high mite populationsThey are equipped with pincers just behind the head. occur when beds are over-watered, overfed, and/or fed fleshy, high-water-content garbage, good managementFruit flies, Diptera is the best prevention. Do not overfeed. Remove feedThese are often considered a nuisance, especially when that has spoiled. Be sure there’s plenty of aeration in thepopulations are high and bins are indoors. They are very beds and that excess water can escape. If you are feed-active decomposers, however. Because their eggs and lar-vae are commonly on food scraps, they are usually pres- ing garbage and mites are still a problem, stop untilent in any system using those items as a feedstock. Pre- they are under control and then feed more carefully.vention includes pre-treating the material by freezing or Another tactic is to expose the beds to sun for severalmicrowaving it before adding it to the bin and burying it hours. Description: They are tiny relatives of spiders,below the surface. Beneficial nematodes can be employed with four pairs of legs, large bodies and small heads.to control an infestation if it becomes serious. Molds and fungiFungus gnats, Diptera These decomposer plants are common in all worm bedsThey eat fungi in the worm bin, but will eat plant roots and are a source of food for the worms. They secreteand are a problem if transferred to the growing bed. enzymes that break down some of the most resis-They don’t usually grow to high populations in worm tant materials in the bin. Mold allergies, however, canbins Description: Tiny black fly species similar to fruit become a problem for worm workers in enclosed spaces.flies but looks more like a mosquito. NematodesMillipedes, Diploda A very tiny roundworm. They eat bacteria and fungiThese occur throughout the bedding, are good decom- ordinarily. Very rarely a parasitic nematode will showposers and should not be a problem. Description: up, but not in healthy vermiculture systems.www.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 19
    • Pot worms, Enchytaeidae worms are not coming to the surface to feed, pay atten-Often show up in healthy worm bins; not usually a tion to good water management and sanitary feed prac-problem. Description: Tiny white segmented worms. tices. Description: Some are dark brown with the ability to jump; others are tiny and range from white to brownProtozoa in color. Body has three distinct segments, four pairs ofMicroscopic animals that eat bacteria and are, in turn, legs and antennae.eaten by worms.Pseudoscropion Enemies of worm producersThis is a predator, but is not a problem in worm bins. These animals will eat worms. Some, like snakes and moles, can completely destroy a worm bin before theSlugs, Stylommatophora grower is even aware that they are there. Be vigilant!Usually not a problem in worm bins, because they will Birdshelp to break down organic matter. A few carnivorous Snakesspecies of slugs exist, but even when present, they usu- Molesally don’t eat many worms. GophersSoldier fly larvae, Diptera ToadsThese are voracious decomposers, but often considered Mice and rats won’t eat the worms, but they will nest in aunpleasant in the worm bin. No need to control them bin and eat the feed meant for the worms.unless the worms show signs of stress. They can be Other possible invadersremoved by scooping them out of the beds. Description: These invaders might show up from time to time. TheyOne-half inch to an inch long, segmented cylindrical won’t eat the worms, but they can become competitorsbody with coloring that darkens from orange to black for the food.at the front end to dirty white or grey toward the back. SpidersSowbugs and pill bugs, Isopoda EarwigsThese are crustaceans that feed on woody material Grasshoppersresistant to attack by other worm residents. However, Cricketssince they eat living or dead plant material, they can be Beetlesa problem if they are transferred to plant production Silverfishareas along with the vermicompost. Description: Light Termitesbrown to dark grey with segmented shell. Seven pairs of Aphidslegs and antennae. StinkbugsSpringtails, Colembola spp. Worm bin creatures on Trinity Ranch websiteUsually very common in worm bins, but not a problem, http://mypeoplepc.com/members/arbra/bbb/id16.htmleven at high populations. They eat fungi. They can be Contains photos of many of the creatures described aboveso numerous as to turn the surface of a bed white. If with descriptions and suggestions for preventing problems. Worms for Bait or Waste Processing (Vermicomposting) By Alice Beetz NCAT Program Specialist © 2010 NCAT Holly Michels, Editor Amy Smith, Production This publication is available on the Web at: www.attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/vermicomp.html or www.attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/PDF/vermicomp.pdf IP110 Slot 28 Version 052710Page 20 ATTRA