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Where The Worms Do All the Work and You Get All the BenefitsSo, you may be wondering why anybody would start a farm to grow worms? Maybe to use when they go fishing, or sell to other fishermen? Well, there are some people who do it for that reason. But the majority of people who decide to begin with worm farming aren't really interested in increasing the worm population, although that will happen as a side effect. They do it in order to get the end product that the worms produce. While the whole procedure is usually called worm farming, the technical term for it is vermicomposting.
That desirable end product is called castings, or vermicast, and is literally worm poop. Don't be put off by that. It's an earthy, humus-like, non smelly material, which is a fantastic fertilizer and garden amendment. There are commercial worm farms that produce it and pack it in bags for sale, but you can make it yourself with the right worms and a minimum of other materials. Basically, the worms are just fed organic material such as that used in a normal compost pile.
To end up with the best quality castings from your worm farm, you need to begin with the right kind of worm. If you just head out to your yard and start digging for earthworms, you may get lucky and find a species that's suited to vermicomposting - but it's not likely. The typical worm found in gardens will tend to burrow too far into the ground, and will also not be as prodigious of a 'processor' as the type most often used in vermicomposting - called the red wiggler or redworm and technically referred to as Eisenia foetida. You can buy these from any worm farm supplier, many of which are online.
People have used many different materials to build the actual worm farm. Commercial operations frequently just create the farms directly on the ground in long rows known as 'windrows'. But for home use, you probably want to house the worms in some type of a container. You can build or scrounge these yourself, or buy a commercial solution for under fifty dollars. Some of the pre-made models are actually intended to be placed under the kitchen sink, where there is usually a steady supply of scraps that can be used as food.
Speaking of food, what can you actually feed the worms? Just about any type of organic waste material will do, such as vegetable peelings and waste, tea bags, coffee grounds, egg cartons, egg shells, leaves, hair, paper, certain types of cardboard, etc. Most wastes from fruit are fine too, but some people caution against citrus peels, and pineapple contains an enzyme known as bromelain, which will dissolve the worms, so that's definitely out. Other things which should not be added are wastes from animal products, such as bones, left over meat, milk products, and dog, cat, or human manure. Adding these items may either contaminate the final castings with pathogens or attract pests to the worm farm.
There are a number of different designs for worm farms, and these use different methods to harvest the castings. One popular arrangement uses a number of separate bins stacked on top of each other. The farm is initially started in the top bin with some shredded newspaper or cardboard to serve as bedding. On top of that is added some dirt, the initial supply of worms, and some organic waste for food. Then put the lid on and try not to peek every day, as the worms don't like light. When the bin gets full to with a couple of inches of the top, put an empty bin on top and move the full bin below it, removing any large pieces of unprocessed food. Put some bedding and food in the new top container, and the worms will migrate from their original home to the new one through the holes in the bottom, leaving the first container filled with just a rich dark dirt-like material ready to be added to the garden.