Keeping those Worms Alive and Healthy
Hi again fellow anglers. This article I’m going to talk to you about storing worms. Once you’ve gone to the trouble of collecting several dozen or more worms, you’ll want to address the issue of keeping them alive and healthy. Whether it’s the garden variety red worm for bluegills or nightcrawlers for walleyes, plump lively worms out fish the dead mushy ones every time. You will always catch more fish with live or recently dead bait. Worms are not the sturdiest critters, but with a minimum of effort you can keep them healthy, plump and wriggling for a long time. We’re also going to discuss some ways to fatten them up in our next article.
Before you even leave for the collection excursion, you’ll want to have something already prepared for them to live in. First you’ll need a container of some sort. There are a lot of options; first we’ll chat about some of the ready-made units. There are several styles made out of plastic that have stackable layers. These can be a good choice when you have a limited space; they are about 15-20” around and come in both square and cylindrical configurations.
The stacking feature allows you to make it multiple layers high. The rectangular one pictured is something I have, it’s 18” square. As pictured it has 4 levels and a base, each one 5” tall. You won’t find these much in your local big box store, but there are numerous sources online. If you were to look up worm farming you would find several different vendors. These have perforated bottoms so the worms can migrate from one level to another, sort of like a worm-o-minium. They are used more for raising and breeding worms along with storage. These can cost from $100-200 and up, depending on a few whistles and bells and how many of the stacks you want, but if you throw a few in there and let them breed you could eventually have an almost unlimited supply at your fingertips.
Many of them are made of Styrofoam, you can get yourself one from your local big box store or bait shop; there are several vendors who make some nice ones.
These range in cost from $10-50, depending mostly on size. Some of them are just enough for a day’s supply; others of the larger ones make decent storage but are often more than you want to schlepp around with you. You can make your own from a shipping container, those boxes Omaha steaks come in work very well. And those giant plastic bins you can get at Staples or Office Max will also do very nicely. These will keep the moisture in and also keep them cool when in the refrigerator. Keep in mind that the worms will often burrow towards the bottom so you don’t want to be digging through more than about a foot to get at them. You can use 5 gallon buckets but they haven’t worked well for me for anything more than a gathering container; it’s kind of limited space to get into. For any of your long term worm containers, remember to vent and allow them to breath. If you don’t vent the box, it will promote mold and mildew and heat which will kill the worms. The store bought ones usually have vents built in, (see the picture above) but you’ll have to invent something for your own brand. Make sure any holes are covered with mesh or you’ll find some of your worms will escape through them.
The next thing you’ll need is some sort of bedding; the easiest and cheapest way to get bedding for the initial collection process is a small box filled with a mixture of dirt, grass, and leaves. This works fine to put them in short term, but for longer term storage you’ll want something a bit better. You can buy bedding pre-mixed as well as worm food from a variety of different companies at most fishing and outdoor stores. Again, multiple vendors make them, one is called Magic Worm Bedding, another is made by Frabill along with numerous others;
it serves as both food and bedding. The worms will eat any organic matter so you do have to keep adding additional new bedding periodically. At a cost of $12-20 for a bag it’s enough to fill their beds once. Peat moss, if available, also works fairly well.
Part of the goal is not to cost a fortune doing this. As with the container itself, you can also make your own bedding for practically nothing. An easy way to get plenty of bedding fast and cheap is shred your daily newspaper, and standard letter paper mixed in works in limited quantities too. Run the paper through a shredder and Voila, worm bedding. When you make your own, you need to adhere to a few simple guidelines. First, make sure you take the time to shred the paper, don’t just throw a bunch of wadded up paper in the bin. Second, use mainly newsprint along with a few letter sized pages; DO NOT USE GLOSS PAPER as found in magazines and catalogues. Third, while they actually eat the black ink, there is something about colored ink that is bad for worms, so you need to separate out the ads and Sunday comics and use only pages with black ink.
You still need to do a couple more things to that bedding to ensure a healthy environment for your worms. First, you’ll need to add some dirt to the mix, a couple handfuls of topsoil works well. Worms need a little bit of dirt for roughage in their digestive tract, and a few finely crushed up eggshells serve that purpose with the benefit of adding a little calcium to their diet. These two additives are important to healthy worms. Worms also need moisture, it helps make them fat. Some of the pre-packaged bedding doesn’t require much, but you will need to moisten the home made stuff before you add the dirt and eggshells. A good rule of thumb is pour water over the non-dirt part of any mixture, your shredded newsprint for instance. Let it set for a few minutes in a bowl or pot, then squeeze out as much water as you can; you want it damp but not soggy before you put it in the container. You don’t want to dump it in a big wet wad; separate it and fluff it up a bit. Take a couple handfuls of the dirt / eggshell blend and mix in with the bedding, then fill your container close to the top. Put it in loosely, no need to pack it down. You can have this prepared well before you go out to collect your worms.
Now we’re ready to store our worms. I recommend storing nightcrawlers and garden worms separately; the biggest reason being you won’t have to dig around finding one or the other. You can just dump your leftovers from fishing right in. Remember to rinse off your collected worms in clean water before you put them in the farm. Put them on the top and cover the box. When you come back later and uncover them, the healthy ones will have burrowed into the bedding. Any left on the top are likely going to die and should be removed so they don’t contaminate the entire bin. If you have an overabundance, put them in your garden.
Once the worms have settled into their new home, you’ll want to make sure that they are preserved properly. Worms are fragile critters, and heat is particularly brutal on them. Always try to keep them cool in the field; a zip lock full of ice inside on the top of the container will work wonders. If you have refrigerator space, that works best for your long term storage, especially any time where the temperature is going to be much above 60F. A couple things to consider when using the refrigerator; First, make sure your spouse or significant other knows about and is OK with your using the fridge for an apartment for your critters. I have been chastised numerous times over the years; some folks just don’t have a sense of humor or understand the importance to keep your worms cool. Best way is an old one that you keep for important things like beer, ice, snacks and bait. Second, make sure the lid is on securely or they will crawl out and get everywhere. If you have a basement and it stays cool, that will work as well. An attached garage works fine from October – April, just keep from freezing and the worms will hibernate.
Now that we’ve got housing for them, next we’ll look at some ways to catch and feed them to keep a ready supply. If you have any comments, questions, or tips you might like to share, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you on the water.
Copyright Jeff Kolman 2018