Worms are becoming popular for their enormous benefits in transforming waste into rich, fertile soil, not to mention their ongoing role as fish bait. The list of businesses and individuals using worms is growing rapidly, particularly as gardening societies and composters are spreading the word about the benefits of these wiggly critters.
The benefits of the worm can be taken to the next step by starting a business raising and selling worms. While starting a worm farm is a commitment and requires work, worm growing can be built into a sustainable business.
Things You'll Need
- Worm bed
- Organic material
- Starter worms or cocoons
- Mesh box or tarp
- Shipping containers
Research the local ordinances regarding starting a small agricultural business on your property. Determine the local requirements for a small business license.
Set up pre-purchased worm beds or build your own worm bins 12 to 24 inches deep, filling them with organic material and composting worms. Maintain a temperature of 60 to 70 degrees. Cool the worm set-up using water or fans. Be sure the material you use in your beds is already past the stage of composting during which it releases heat that might kill the worms.
Maintain a moisture level of 60 to 85%. To increase egg production, lower the moisture level for a couple days until the upper layer of the bed is dry. Increase the moisture.
Turn the soil in the worm bed every two or three weeks. This will create an aerated environment rich in oxygen.
Check the pH levels of the bins. They should read between 6.8 and 7.2 at three different depths within the bin. If the soil is too acidic, neutralize it by adding 1/2 pound of limestone to 24 feet of bed and wetting it down, according to North Carolina State University. To avoid an acidic worm bed do not overfeed or keep the bed too wet.
Feed the worms once or twice a week by adding an inch of organic material to the top of the bins. If the nature of the food is in question, take a dozen worms and place them in a milk jug with the organic material you intend to feed the worms. If they react by crawling away or dying, the food is not suitable or, at the very least, needs more composting.
Harvest the worms every thirty days to increase growth and re-population. The simplest way to do this is by making a box with a mesh screen, baiting it with watermelon or manure, and setting it on top of the bed. The worms will crawl into it.
Change the bedding after six months by removing the top five or six inches of soil where most of the worms are. Place the bedding on a plastic tarp under bright sunlight. This should drive the worms deeper into the dirt. Take the top soil off and harvest the worms. Meanwhile remove the rest of the soil in the bed and replace it with organic material. Use the removed soil and casings for another purpose, such as fertilizing the garden or selling.
Sort out the larger worms while harvesting. Package them in specially purchased wax-coated containers suitable for shipping. Be sure there is sufficient moist material in the containers.
Research local sales outlets. Check into universities, high schools and laboratories who may need worms for research. Contact garden centers, composters, vermicomposters and gardeners. Consider sources who would purchase feed for animals, such as poultry farmers, fish or frog hatcheries, pet stores, fish stores, zoos and game bird feeders. Offer your worms for sale to gardening programs through the Cooperative Extension which might be promoting or using worm bins. Look for a local bait shop or fishing clubs that you could supply with worms for bait. Contact hospitals, prisons, restaurants, farmers, paper mills, breweries, wineries, cotton mills, equestrian centers, rabbit farmers or any other place that could use worms to break down their organic waste. Don't overlook individuals interested in a home vermicompost system or others trying to start out in the worm growing business.