The Burrow Presents...
How To Breed, Raise, and Maintain A 100-Pound Stock of Worms in a Single Room
Oh, there you are. Having given this matter a great deal of thought, I think I know
what has to be done. It seems to me the best way to convince you I'm serious about all
this stuff, is to let you see it with your own eyes . With that in mind, I am going
to outline an experiment you can try at home, then I am going to describe the results I
predict you'll get. Next, I am going to try and explain why you got those results,
and how this is beneficial to any plans you may have of raising quantities of red worms
for the purpose of resale. Shall we begin?
- A container roughly the size of a one-gallon ice-cream bucket (with a few small drainage holes added.)
- Enough garden (or potting) soil [not worm bedding] to fill one half of this container.
- An amount of ground food scraps also sufficient to fill one half of the same container. (If you have no way to grind larger scraps, use material like coffee grounds, left-over rice, etc.)
- A container for mixing (should be at least twice the size of the ice-cream bucket.)
- Approximately 25 sexually-mature red worms (they must be capable of immediate breeding.)
- And one pair of rubber gloves (optional.)
NOTE: Do not add any more food to this bucket. Water if necessary, harvest, and inspect, but nothing else.
- Decide whether you wish to use the rubber gloves or not. (If so, now would be a good time to put them on.)
- In the larger container, mix the soil and the food scraps very thoroughly, ensuring that the final result is moist enough to be used for worm bedding, but not soggy. (Having second thoughts about the gloves?)
- Once these materials are completely blended, use this mixture to fill the ice-cream bucket to within an inch or two of the top. (Simply scoop the material into the bucket without packing it in. Whatever you have left of the mixture can be tossed into the feed area of your main worm bed.)
- Drop the 25 red worms onto the surface of the "bedding", then place the bucket in an area with sufficient light to force the worms to burrow.
- For the first day or two, keep the bucket constantly exposed to the light source.
- Starting on the third day, do nothing but add moisture if necessary. (Remember that soil holds water quite well, and take care not to flood the bucket.)
- Once every two weeks for the first month, the contents of the bucket should be table-harvested, and a check of the population should be made. (Pay special attention to the total number of surviving adults, and keep an eye out for the presence of cocoons.)
- Follow the additional directions contained in the body of this article.
Sorry about that! Anyway, I take it the worms are in the bucket, and everyone is ready to proceed. Then lets do it.
The Probable Results...and Probably Why
Jumping two weeks into the future, everyone dumps the contents of their buckets onto a harvesting table (or a reasonable facsimile), and observes the following things:
Two weeks later, and here we are dumping our buckets once again. Guess what?
- First of all, soil makes a really lousy bedding. It's mooshy, heavy, packed far too tightly, and may even be possessed of an odor, not so much unpleasant, as strange.
- Taking care to break apart the soil (bedding?), it quickly becomes apparent that of the 25 healthy (and sexually-mature) red worms that we started with, only 15-20 (maybe less) have survived, and of the survivors, roughly 5 have managed to maintain their size. The remaining survivors are noticeably thinner, and to be frank, unhealthy looking. (Not really so strange, since they're dying.)
- There may, or may not be cocoons present in the soil, though by all rights, there should be. (They can be very hard to locate when they are covered with dirt.)
- Feeling rather sad on behalf of the worms, and none too happy with "The Worm Guy", we gird our loins (I've waited years to use that phrase), gently put everything back in the bucket, and run off to prepare supper, deciding to have absolutely anything but spaghetti!
- Soil still makes a lousy bedding (though the odor appears to be gone.)
- The number of survivors (the slithering dead), is now somewhere in the area of 3-4, and these are equally divided between those that appear to have a life-time measured in hours, and those that might possibly even look healthier than they did two weeks earlier! (Did I say healthier?) That's right. There's just no accounting for the adaptability of some red worms.
- Managing to tear our eyes away from the amazing SuperWorms for a moment, our attention is caught by something else equally amazing. The cocoons are now plentiful enough that they can easily be spotted, and they appear to be everywhere.
- Still feeling a little sad (possibly humming a few bars of the Battle Hymn of the Republic), but with a slightly better feeling about that darn Worm Guy, we once again return everything (g e n t l y) to the bucket.
And now.........comes the tough part! For the next two months, we must do nothing to the contents of that bucket, but add a little water from time to time so that it doesn't dry out.
Two months later....
(My, how time flies!) (C'mon, gimme a break! It's 2:00 A.M.)
Anyway, we dump the bucket, and (assuming we didn't forget the necessary waterings) this is what we find:
There were actually several reasons for that ache in my brain. It was quite a while, and a lot of testing later, before I spent a whole day aspirin-free. The whole episode, however, ended up serving as a great reminder that we make it very hard for ourselves to learn new things when we start out with too many preconceived notions, such as these which I had picked up from the more popular texts on vermiculture:
- At first glance, nothing! (We very quickly take a second look.)
- Now we start to notice in the bedding (soil), many, many, little tiny worms, not much bigger than those white "pot worms" which always seem to locate available vermicomposters, and waste no time in setting up their little condos, and holiday resorts, and things.
- A closer look, however, assures us that while there are definitely white worms present, most of what we are looking at is made up of very small, but certainly red, composting worms.
- Then for just a moment, realizing the amount of reading "The Worm Guy" has done on the subject of red worms, and realizing that there was a time when he was looking at a very similar situation for the very first time, you can finally grasp the essence of what was going through his mind the day he uttered that most famous saying of all..."My brain hurts!" (oh, mommy.)
NOTE: The first time I encountered this situation, I was trying to decide which of the books I had read was correct. A few said red worms could live in soil, a large majority said they couldn't. The ones that said they could, however, made no mention of any resulting change in their physical appearance.
- Adult red worms are approximately 3-3 1/2 inches in length. (Very often true, but not always.)
- Red worms will not live in soil. (I couldn't begin to count the number of times I had heard that particular gem.)
S..o..o, let's do a little arithmetic. (By the way, I am aware that I have started talking about my first bucket of worms raised in soil, but I need to show you why the situation in the buckets which you may set up for yourselves is so strange. Then, I can offer my explanation of why.) Now on to the arithmetic...
- Though each book I read had its own ideas in regards to reproduction rates, none of them even suggested that a Lumbricus Rubellus could lay any more than 2 cocoons a week, and they all more or less agreed on a sexual maturation period of between 3 and 6 months. (I'll be presenting my own ideas on this in a future article on "Reproduction".)
- One of the few things just about all the books agreed on, and which I had verified on my own, was that even though each cocoon could contain as many as 20 spawn, the average hatching produced 4.
As I outlined in the procedure above, that first batch of "soil-dwellers" consisted of 25 healthy adult Lumbricus Rubellus. (Though I know not only from that occasion, but from several others since then, that most of the "breeders" were dead within the first month, let's assume for the sake of argument that they all survived the entire time of twelve weeks.) If every one of the worms bred to "capacity", and produced two cocoons a week, each resulting in the average 4 spawn, we would have the following formula:
25 worms * 2 cocoons * 4 spawn * 12 weeks= 2400 new worms added to the bucket. If those spawn required a minimum of three months to sexually mature, then it is very unlikely that they added anything further to the population. Yet it was well within that three months that I noticed the last of the adults had died. At that point, the entire worm population consisted of what appeared to be spawn, measuring roughly an inch in length, and so slim that I had nothing delicate enough to measure them with. I immediately started harvesting these, 50 or 100 every week or so, transferring them into the larger beds. I figured if I made a little room for them, those remaining in the bucket would grow to adult size. No matter how many I took out, however, the supply never exhausted itself, and the worms which were left in the bucket, never grew any larger. (I had even started feeding them again, but to no avail.)
This, however, just might be a good time to check out a couple of the new features I've added to the main page, since I know that it's time ...
To be continued...
Many of These Bullets created by JenKitchen
Many of These Icons obtained from Ender's Realm
Copyright © 1995, D. Brian Paley
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