by Teresa J. Frith
Raising worms can be both a fun project for you and your family as well as a profitable venture by selling them for both fishing bait, live axolotl feed, and to others for composting bins. It’s easy to learn how to raise worm bait at home. It takes just a few items to build a worm bin or you can buy premade worm bins online(Wormbucket.com) or at some garden centers.
Here are the steps to setting up a worm bin, feeding, breeding, care taking, and choosing the right breed.
Setting up your own worm bin
Making a home for your worms can actually can be as simple as drilling a few holes in a plastic or foam container, filling it with some shredded cardboard or paper (don’t use printed or dyed paper as it can be toxic to the worms), adding several inches of dirt or potting soil, and sprinkling on a bit of water to allow the soil to be moist, yet not soggy. Be sure not to add so much water that it pools on the surface, as that puts the worms at risk of drowning.
It also needs a lid so your worms can’t escape (plus worms need dark and hate light). The size of the container depends on how many worms you want to raise. And then of course you must choose the type of worms you want to raise and add them to their new home. Put them inside the bin gently so as not to harm them. Then cover the container with the lid.
If raising the worms for fishing bait, two of the most popular breeds are nightcrawlers and red wigglers. The latter is also a good choice for vermicomposting, which means composting with worms. You can either dig for worms yourself in your yard or other suitable area or buy a couple dozen of them from a bait shop. You will need about two dozen worms for each square foot of space in your container.
Raising your worms
It doesn't matter what type of worm you want to breed. They all require five things: water, food, oxygen, dark and warmth.
Location, location, location. When setting up a home for your worms, you first need to choose a suitable location to put the bin. It can be put either indoors or outdoors dependent upon if you live in an environment where worms can thrive.
Temperatures need to be between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (between 10 and 27 degrees Celsius). You may or may not need a heat lamp in case the temperatures drop below this level, as well as make sure the temperature doesn’t get above these levels or that too can cause your worms to die.
Of course the worms also need sufficient oxygen. Therefore, don’t pack the soil and bedding in the container down, and leave it fluffed up so the worms can make tunnels in it. Plus, proper air circulation keeps the container getting anaerobic, which relates to a lack of free oxygen. If this occurs the bin will produce acid and bad odor, both of which you don’t want.
When you first bring your worms to their new home you can use their aversion to light to your advantage via leaving a light on over your worm home for the first night. They will burrow into the bedding to get away from the light, and thereby won’t be trying to escape. However, be sure not to leave the light on after that so as not to irritate the worms and stress them out.
Feeding and watering your worms
So, what do worms eat? It is quite simple to feed your worms. You can do this and help save the environment at the same time! How? Because worms eat kitchen scraps which would normally go into the trash and end up in a landfill.
After the first day or so the worms should be acclimated to their new home. Now it is time to feed them so they grow and start breeding, as well as producing a very rich fertilizer via their droppings or castings (worm poop). Besides selling the worms for fishing bait, you can also make money selling their poop to help fertilize people’s gardens.
You should strive for a ratio of two parts worms for every one part of food, which roughly equals about a pound of food for each two pounds of worms. Be careful not to overfeed or the bin will rot and stink and your worms will die.
Foods worms can eat:
- Peels, cores, etc., from veggies and fruit (no citrus)
- Greens like lettuce, spinach, carrot tops, etc.
- Coffee grounds and used tea leaves (don’t put in the bag itself)
- Lawn clippings (not if the lawn was treated with pesticides, etc.)
- Tiny bits of cloth or fiber if it is 100 percent natural, i.e. wool, cotton, silk, bamboo, jute, hemp, cashmere or wool
- Shredded cardboard, paper rolls from bathroom tissue or paper towels, paper egg cartons, etc. Shredded newspaper is also ok if it’s not colored or glossy.
Food worms can’t eat:
- Dairy products
- Cooking oils and grease
- Grain products
- Droppings from animals like dogs, cats or ferrets
- Scraps from spicey foods
There is also commercial worm foods you can buy, but it’s cheaper usually to feed the worms your scraps. Worms should be fed about two or three times a week. It all depends on the number of worms and how fast they eat the food. You don’t want leftovers that will rot and turn slimy and gross.
When it comes to water for your worms, you need to ensure you add enough water to the bedding to make it moist, but not saturate as stated earlier in the beginning of this article. This means adding a cup or so of water every so often if the bedding is starting to dry out.
As your worms eat they will produce the worm castings or poop, which you can scoop out and use for your own rich fertilizer or sell it to others. You will need to periodically place fresh bedding in your bin as the worms dirty it up with their castings.
Breeding the Worms
On to the most important thing you likely want to hear if you are raising worms to sell them for bait or composting. Worms are hermaphroditic, which means they are both male and female so you don’t have to be concerned with sexing the worms. They can start to breed at about 3 months of age.
With worms, two worms will mate with each other and in graphic terms, they use both sets of their sexual organs at the same time. Both get fertilized and both should lay eggs, which are called cocoons.
Each cocoon contains two to four babies and each egg sack contains about 20 eggs. So, it is possible on average for a worm to lay eggs about once a week or so and produce as many as a thousand baby worms in a six month timeframe. So you should have plenty to sell within a few months of setting up your worm bin since this translates into your population potentially doubling in size about every three months.
Types of worms
If you are breeding worms for fishing bait, two popular types are red wigglers and nightcrawlers (European and African versions). The red wigglers are also considered to be the best type for vermicomposting if you are selling them for that.
Red wigglers – These require temperatures between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit, which is between 13 and 25 degrees Celsius. They get between three and four inches long and can produce around 100 babies in about 11 weeks.
European nightcrawlers – These are larger and have thicker skin, so work well if used for fishing with hooks. Plus they can tolerate saltwater so can be used for saltwater fishing as well as freshwater fishing. They can live in temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) but do better if the temperatures are kept between 68 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (between 20 and 27 degrees Celsius). They will grow up to five inches long, and roughly 4x the thickness of a red wiggler.
African nightcrawlers – These worms need warmer temperatures between 70 and 90 Fahrenheit or 21 to 32 Celsius. They will die if the temperature falls below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, which is seven degrees Celsius.
Troubleshooting your worm farm
Though raising worms is pretty simple, here are a few things that could cause you problems.
Not producing castings – If your worms aren’t pooping, that means you aren’t feeding them enough or else you aren’t feeding the right mix of different foods. It could also mean the temperature in the bin is either too hot or too cold. So, check the temperature and if it is fine then feed a bit more food per feeding until you see they are producing castings.
Stinky worm bin – If your container contents stink or look gross or slimy, you have added too much nitrogen producing plants as part of their food. The worms Will not survive long in this state. You may end up having to start over with a new container and new bedding, but you should be able to save most of your worms. Put on some gloves and dig through the bedding and take out all the live worms and then trash the rest or if you have a compost pile, you can dump it in there.
Sick looking worms – A common illness worms can get is called protein poisoning, also known as string of pearls poisoning. This is a form of food poisoning and means you fed the worms too much protein. To remedy this issue, you'll want to get rid of all the leftover food pieces in the bin, as well as the wet bedding. Then add dry bedding along with some dry, crushed eggshells. The calcium and alkalinity from the eggshells counteract the acids created from decomposing foods.
Flies around the bin – It is inevitable that any sort of compost like material will attract flies, but you can minimize this via putting a mosquito net over your container.
White mites – The decomposing material in your bin may also attract mites since they too like wet conditions. A few may be fine, but if there’s a huge number of them it can cause problems, especially if they start eating your worms! So, let the bin dry out somewhat and try not to add as much juicy types of food like melon rinds for example. You can also add a bit of diatomaceous earth, which will kill mites but won’t hurt the worms.
All in all, knowing how to raise worm bait at home can be a great hobby. It can provide you with plenty of worms to use for fishing, live axolotl feed or selling and sharing with other vermicomposting enthusiasts.