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Earthworm Technology

Worm farming for fun and profit is a commercial come on that has spawned an explosion of worm-fascination.   Earthworms are attracting the attention of compost hobbyists and small-animal freaks.  Worms are becoming for some an avenue into aquaculture, greenhouse gardening and soil development.

The new worm people are just beginning to get acquainted out there on the fringes of the worm farming business. Friends of Invertebrates is a new organization, combining Earthworm Technology, of Kansas City, and the Krewe of Kraw, a New Orleans crawdad bunch who fancy crayfish farming but are mainly a wild party group.
The earthworm farmers of the past decade have been disillusioned chinchilla growers and other semi-rural people with extra space and tight money.   Kansas turned $6,000,000 in live fishing bait last year, virtually all from back yard wormers.   It's a buy-back system with wholesalers selling worms to an individual and buying back eight times the number six months later.

Many hobby-size worm operations are expanding to serve the gardening market. People interested in buying garden worms should know that a good worm farm is like a good seed company: it takes a high quality operation to raise a healthy product. A big commercial wormer is likely to sell sickly worms all ready for the fishhook.

Good local garden worms can often be purchased from a small grower through Earthworms in the yellow pages, or from a mail order business. 

In general, buying by the pound is safest; when buying by count it's hard for the grower to estimate worms in thousands so the buyer is often shorted.

Worms can adapt to a variety of conditions, they can even freeze and revive, but they are quite sensitive to chemicals in the soil and air.  Adequate ventilation is essential for worms raised indoors if they are to survive at all.   Healthy worms reproduce every two months, and 50,000 of them can digest a cubic yard of soil per month.  A large bed of worm castings grows a dynamite garden.

Some worm enthusiasts are beginning to see soil and worms as one and the same and are developing techniques for growing vegetables in beds of pure worms.  Outside Lawrence, Kansas, Turner's Worm Farm produces enough melons, tomatoes, beans and peas, all grown in 1/4 acre of worm bed, to fully stock Turner's Produce Market.  Turner grows his plants in pure worms, with trellises for the vines to climb up ouf of the slimey masses.  The best of the yield is picked for the store, the rest fall off the vines to rot and be digested by the worms, with seeds of the rotting vegetables sprouting anew. Turner feeds the worms newspaper, cardboard and garbage and sells sacks of the worm casings in his store.

Turner's friends see various applications for his dramatic model.   "Closed soil gardening systems," and "solid waste disposal through earthworms" are their catch-phrases for some interesting possibilities.   For instance, small city composting programs can partially support themselves by selling compost.   Raising worms would speed the composting process and create another saleable commodity for gardeners and fishermen and gradually enrich the soil of the city.

Worm bed gardens make more sense than hydroponics: the worms themselves are a rooting medium so no pebbles or synthetics are needed; and you throw in paper and garbage instead of expensive chemicals.   It's a case of high tech versus slime and shit, with the latter producing the more nutritious vegetables.

"From dung they come, on dung they feed, in dung is their life and their delight," said Erasmus, and from Shakespeare: "Men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for love." (Merchant of Venice.)

Facts About Worms

"From dung they come, on dung they feed, in dung is their life and their delight," said Erasmus, and from Shakespeare: "Men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for love." (Merchant of Venice.)

A mature breeder can produce an egg capsule every 7 to 10 days.

An egg capsule will hatch in 14 to 21 days.

An egg capsule will hatch 2 to 20 baby earthworms with an estimated average of 7 per egg capsule.

An earthworm will mature to breeding age in approximately 60 to 90 days provided they receive proper food, care and environmental quality.

One breeder can produce 1200 to 1 500 worms per year.

Two thousand breeders can produce 1,000,000 in one year or 1,000,000,000 worms in 2 years.

Principles of worm-culture:

1.    Compost a soil-building earthworm food.
2.    Add water and worms or earthworm egg capsules
3.    Keep wet and let nature take its course.