Vermicomposting, a worm farm
Worms are remarkable little creatures, with no eyes, no lungs, no nose, teeth, or ears. They are somehow a digestive tract with a covering of skin. The external parts of worms are: Prostomium: a fin-shaped organ above the mouth that is used to introduce food. The Mouth: under the Prostomium. The worms literally eat their way through their environment. Tea Clitellum: the fairly long and smooth section halfway between the mouth and the tip of the tail. Tea Somites– These are the lines (segments) evenly spaced from the mouth to the tip of the tail, used to traverse its surroundings. Tea Cilia: the last of the thick segments before the tip of the tail. One species of worm bred for composting is the “Red Wiggler” or Eisenia Fetida. They live in the area above ground, under freshly fallen leaves, and in partially decomposed matter between decomposed organic dirt and leaves. They are shallow dwelling worms. The other species used for composting is the Eisenia hortsenis or “European Nightcrawler”. They are also good worms for composting, however they live deeper, moving from the surface to burrows at a depth of 6 feet. Together they make a perfect team to add to a garden.
Worms eat almost anything. There are some foods they don’t like very much: hot peppers, garlic, oranges, or anything too acidic. They avoid fats. They reject dairy as well as salad dressings. Eggshells (powdered), coffee grounds, lettuce, melon peels, leaves, zucchini and vegetables of any kind are preferred. They have gizzards, the eggshells break, neutralize the PH in the litter and provide sand to aid in digestion. They will eat about half their body weight in food per day, when the bed temperature is between 60 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. During the winter months, when the bed temperature drops between 34 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, they are less active. In cold bed temperatures, food lasts longer because you don’t eat as much and the cold acts like a refrigerator. The good “bugs” that decompose food are less active, in addition, causing a delay in the decomposition of organic matter. Worms eat meat and fecal matter, however, caution must be exercised. Molded parts can be contaminated with pathogens. Pathogens would be a problem if molds (worm manure) are used in a vegetable garden. You literally get from them what you put into them. It is best to know what the castings will be used for, that way you can regulate their feeding. They need to eat 50% protein (vegetables) and 50% carbon. Charcoal consists of dried leaves, shredded paper, and (they love) cardboard. The bed must be damp, when squeezing a handful a few drops of water should be expelled, otherwise the bed is too dry.
There are no native worms in North America. All species come from somewhere else; Europe, Africa or Asia. All species were eliminated during the last ice age. Most likely, they were unknowingly imported by early European settlers. In fact, many of the northern states and Canada will not allow the entry of many species due to the destruction they can cause to the coniferous forest. Worms don’t like pine needles.
Worms don’t have a brain. They have some sensory nerves that end in a bundle in the area behind the mouth. They feel dryness, heat, sunlight (which they dislike very much), and a sense of taste. That’s it, no reasoning, no thoughts, and no communication (I question their ability to communicate, I think they somehow do).
Which brings us to reproduction. They must reproduce with another worm of the same size and species (how do they know?). They lie head to tail, for up to two hours, wrapping their bodies in a slippery film. Then the eggs are cast under the film, when they move away from each other, the partially dried film is rolled into an egg shell and slid off the end of the tail. Each carcass has 1 to 10 developing baby worms that hatch 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 not! They both die. Some species can lose their tails when a predator grabs them, but otherwise they simply die. They are very tough creatures and at the same time very fragile, especially when cultivated.
Bottom Line: Some of us find worms fascinating, some gross, and some don’t pay attention to them. A common goal in worm farming is compost, molds, and “worm tea” or homemade fertilizer. Molded parts are rich in nitrogen, unlike commercial fertilizers, they cannot “burn” your plants. It introduces good bacteria into the soil, and when the tea is brewed (and used within 4 days), it will also act as an insect repellent when sprayed on the leaves. Another common goal is to have a “herd” large enough to consume all of your kitchen waste and not have non-plastic garbage. There are several blogs and websites dedicated to vermicomposting. If this article sounds like you, do a little research and get started. Eccentricity seems to be a common factor among worm growers. Growing worms is critical to taking your self-reliance and survival skills to another level. Be careful, you may get attached to them. The end goal is to do what I have called “circular gardening”. I grow the vegetables in the compost that my worms create, fertilized with their molds, and then I feed them the vegetable scraps from the kitchen. Circular farming, many of us do.