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Vermicomposting, A Worm Farm
Types of worms:
Worms are remarkable creatures, no eyes, no lungs, no nose Teeth or ears. They are somehow a digestive tract with a skin covering. The external parts of the worms are: The Prostomium: a flap like organ above the mouth used to draw in food. The Mouth: under the Prostomium. Worms literally eat their way through their environment. The Clitellum: the rather long smooth section about halfway between the mouth and the tip of the tail. The Somites: these are the lines (segments) equally spaced from mouth to tip of tail, used to pull themselves through their environment. The Cilia: the last of the thick segments before the tip of the tail. One species of worm grown for composting is the “Red Wiggler” or Eisenia Fetida. They live in the area above the dirt, under the recently fallen leaves and in the partially decayed matter between the organically decomposed dirt and the leaves. They are shallow dwelling worms. The other species used for composting is the Eisenia hortsenis or “European Nightcrawler”. They are also good compost worms, however they live deeper, moving from the surface to burrows as deep as 6 feet. Together they form a team perfect for adding to a garden.
Worms will eat almost anything. There are some foods they don’t like very much: Hot peppers, Garlic, oranges or anything too sour. Fats are avoided by them. Dairy products are rejected by them as well as salad dressing. Eggshells (pulverized), coffee grounds, lettuce, melon rinds, leaves, squash and any kind of vegetables are favored. They have rumen, the eggshells break down, neutralizing the PH in the bed, as well as providing gravel to aid in digestion. They will eat about 1/2 their body weight in food per day when the bed temperature is between 60 – 90 degrees Fahrenheit. During the winter months, when the bed temperature drops between 34 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, they are less active. In cool bed temperatures the food lasts longer because they don’t eat as much and the coolness acts like a refrigerator. The good “bugs” that decompose the food are also less active, causing a delay in the breakdown of the organic matter. Worms will eat meat and fecal material, however care must be taken. The castings may be contaminated with pathogens. Pathogens would be a problem if the castings (worm manure) are used in a vegetable garden. You literally get out of them what you put into them. It is best to know what the castings will be used for, so their food can be regulated. They need to eat 50% protein (vegetables) and 50% carbon. Carbon consists of dry leaves, shredded paper and (they love) cardboard. The bed must be wet, when a handful is squeezed a few drops of water must be expelled, if not the bed is too dry.
There are no worms native to North America. All species came from someone else; Europe, Africa or Asia. All species were eliminated during the last ice age. They were most likely imported unknowingly by the first European settlers. In fact, many of the Northern States and Canada will not allow many species to enter because of the destruction they can cause to the coniferous forest. Worms don’t like pine needles.
Worms have no brain. They have a number of sensory nerves that end in a bundle in the area behind their mouths. They sense dryness, heat, sunshine (which they dislike very much) and sense of taste. That’s it, no reasoning, no thought and no communication (I question their ability to communicate, I think they do somehow).
Which brings us to reproduction. They must breed with another worm of the same size and species (how do they know?). They lay head to tail, for up to two hours, entrapping their body in a slippery film. The eggs are then released under the film, when they crawl away from each other the partially dried film rolls into an egg case and slips off the end of the tail. Each casing has from 1 to 10 baby worms developing which are born exact replicas of an adult, ready for action. A conservative estimate is that the worm population will double during the 3 month summer.
If you cut a worm in half, you can double the population. No, you can’t! Both die. Some species may shed their tail when caught by a predator, but otherwise they simply die. They are very tough creatures and at the same time very delicate, especially when they are farmed.
Conclusion: Some of us find worms fascinating, others gross and still others don’t care. A common purpose in breeding worms is for the compost, the melts and the “worm tea” or homemade fertilizer. The castings are rich in nitrogen, unlike commercial fertilizer, it cannot “burn” your plants. It introduces good bacteria to your soil, and when the tea is brewed (and used within 4 days) it will also act as a bug repellant when sprayed on the leaves. Another common goal is to have a “herd” large enough to consume all of your kitchen waste and be zero waste except for plastics. There are a number of blogs and websites dedicated to Vermicomposting. If this article sounds like it’s for you, do some research and get started. Eccentricity seems to be a common factor among worm farmers. Worm farming is critical to bringing your self-confidence and survival skills to another level. Be careful, you might get attached to them. The ultimate goal is to do what I have called “circular gardening.” I grow the vegetables in the compost that my worms create, fertilized by their castings, then feed the left over vegetable trimmings from the kitchen. Circular farming, many of us do it.
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