Feed, Cull, and Breed your Worms
Hello again fellow anglers, today I’m going to address feeding and breeding your worms. Before we start that conversation, there’s one more method of worm storage we should discuss, that being outside bins and gardens. If you have a garden or a compost heap, these are excellent, ready-made places for worms to live, thrive and breed. It’s among the easiest ways, you don’t have to do much but dig once in a while; doing that keeps the soil loose which the worms like. Here’s a picture of mine it’s in the woods in back, about 4’ around at the base and maybe 3’ high in the spring after everything is settled down.
We will just need to make sure of a couple things to ensure a good environment. It should go without saying, but first is good soil. Worms don’t like clay or exceptionally rocky dirt. It doesn’t have to be topsoil, but start with good, clean dirt. The worms natural activity, boring around and pooping, will make it better over time. You can add things to make the soil better, mixing in grass clippings, dead leaves, and selected food scraps will give the worms something to eat and also enrich the soil. Manure that’s NOT FROM CATS, DOGS OR HUMANS can be mixed in, that is a smorgasbord for worms. An old farmer told me once that the critter has to eat grass for their poop to be good fertilizer; that theory carries over to worm food as well.
A compost pile is basically made up of decaying vegetable matter and usually doesn’t need much enhancement. I have a spot in the back of my yard where I regularly throw my excess vegetable foodstuffs, leaves, grass clippings, dead plants and flowers and do little else; Mother Nature takes care of the rest. Try to limit your deposits to fresh, dead or steamed and boiled veggies; the things we use to enhance flavor when cooking aren’t always good for your worms; butter, spices, garlic and the like all make things taste better for us but not necessarily for your worms. When we clean out the gardens in fall, I throw all the plants right on top of the pile. We grow tomatoes, peppers, zucchinis, cucumbers and pumpkins, as well as a variety of flowers. If we can keep the deer away we can have a nice crop. In October, after the harvest, I pull everything out and have an impressive heap which, by spring, has shrunk down considerably from its original size. This decomposing vegetation makes for prime worm habitat, they flourish is this kind of environment.
Raised beds can also work very well. These are basically boxes built above ground using your standard plywood or pine 2 x 12 boards. Don’t ever use pressure treated wood. The same substances they use for that to deter water and kill bugs is detrimental to your worms and any food you might grow there; you don’t want to grow extra ears or fingers or glow in the dark because you ingested some weird concoction of chemicals. Use regular, untreated wood. Better if it’s in the shade for part of the day, and you will also need good drainage so they don’t drown so drill a few small holes in the bottom for excess water to leach out. Mix as many dead leaves as it will hold; those are among the best materials and are free. Moisten the soil during dry spells.
Worms will thrive in this type of environment. If you keep feeding them they won’t wander off. One of the downsides is birds and other critters discovering the buffet, but usually the worms are buried and only minimally affected. These techniques will allow and encourage your worms to breed, even nightcrawlers. Keep in mind that you will need a larger container for breeding inside than if you were just storing them; there are many commercially produced, Goggle Worm Farming, or you can make your own. We might explore those on another day.
Once we have collected a good supply of worms, (we’ll talk about collecting them next time) and we have a nice place for them to live, we’ll address some ways to keep them fat and happy. Worms can eat their weight every few days, which admittedly isn’t a lot individually, but collectively you’ll be surprised how much those rascals eat. Remember they have very small mouths with no teeth to speak of. They don’t have choppers like many critters; they kind of gum everything they eat. They like soft food, almost exclusively vegetation. Feeding them is pretty simple, using common household vegetable matter. I previously mentioned egg shells; I’ll crush up a few to a fine consistency, almost powder, and mix them in with the food occasionally; this also helps the soil. It’s best to let the shells dry out, they crush and crumble easier. Worms use that for their digestion process. An occasional handful of dirt aids that as well. One of the easier sources of food, as we talked about previously, is the shredded paper bedding itself. Along with being excellent bedding, worms eat the ink and paper, so small quantities could be added as needed to keep the bed full. Remember to moisten that a bit.
They will also eat many of your food scraps, and prefer some over others. Tea leaves and coffee grounds are good sources. It’s a good way to recycle your used teabags and coffee grounds, both the old fashioned type and also the K-cups we are all so fond of using. Don’t overdo those, especially the coffee grounds, too much can make the soil acidic and be detrimental for the worms. Also, be careful of designer flavors that have additives like chocolate. Except for the few mentioned below, most leftover vegetable scraps are good. Always keep in mind that worms don’t have much of a mouth, so I’ll chop up the harder vegies into a slurry, sometimes add some eggshells, and put it just under the surface. Something I’ve found that they just love is melon rind; Watermelon, Cantaloupe, Honeydew and Pumpkin as well. After you’ve eaten all there is, cut the rinds into squares or slices and turn them upside down just under the surface. Come back next morning and there will be a feeding frenzy, eventually leaving only the tissue thin outer skin. It also works outside, put them under some leaves or boards to attract them out of the ground.
Let’s take a look at a few things that worms don’t like, and some can be harmful. They are strictly vegetarians and don’t eat any meat products. Pieces of steak, hot dog, cold cuts, fish or fowl will not get eaten but will rot, smell, and pollute your bin. These things will also draw other critters you might prefer to not have around, including mice and centipedes to your indoor bins; raccoons, coyotes and other foragers outside as well as the neighbors’ cats and dogs. So throw your meat scraps in the garbage. They also don’t eat foods with high acidic content such as onions, radishes, and any type of hot pepper from mild to habanero. Tomatoes aren’t high on their list either. Another thing they won’t eat is any citrus product, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, etc; both the fruit and rinds. These foods are too acidic and won’t get eaten. Something else to keep away are banana skins, they are often sprayed with insecticides that aren’t totally washed off. These vegetables and fruits are fine in small quantities for an outdoor compost pile; as they decompose they will be fine. Another readily available food worms don’t eat is any type of bakery like bread, cake, rolls etc., feed those products to the birds. Most processed foods are also poor choices, and dairy products like cheese are likewise a no-no.
There are a couple ways to condition and fatten them up a little. You can feed them special foods for a couple weeks before, like cornmeal, and there are some specific recipes out there as well as commercially prepared food from the big box stores. The days before you’re going to use them, put them in wet sand, it will clean them up and toughen their skin. Here’s a good way to plump them up just before you go fishing; the night before, have a cooler with a couple inches of bedding ready. Put whatever worms you are going to use securely between 2 wet paper towels or sheets of newspaper and place on top; then a thin, wet towel and a layer of ice. Add another towel and some modest weight above and cover for a few hours. You want to keep them off the bottom so they don’t drown in the melting water. The next morning they will be plumped up and wriggling, just the ticket for a hungry fish. Another alternative method is to drop the worms in a container of ice water for a short time just before use. That works well too but not as much because they will absorb the moisture from being trapped between the wet papers, and you have to keep an eye that they don’t drown. Now that we’ve prepared our bins and have food for our worms, next we’ll chat about actually gathering a good supply.
If you have any comments, questions, or tips you might like to share, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tight lines, be safe out there on the water
Copyright Jeff Kolman 2018