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Vermicomposting, A Worm Farm
Types of worms:
Worms are amazing little creatures, with no eyes, no lungs, no nose, teeth or ears. They are in some ways a skin-covered digestive tract. The outer parts of the worms are: The Prostomium: a flap like an organ above the mouth for drawing in food. The Mouth: under Prostomium. Worms literally eat their way through their environment. The Clitellum: the rather long flat part about half way between the mouth and the tip of the tail. The Ships: these are the lines (segments) distributed evenly from the mouth to the tip of the tail, used to drag themselves through their environment. The Cilia: the last of the thick pieces before the tip of the tail. One species of earthworm raised for composting is the “Red Wiggler” or Eisenia Fetida. They live in the area above the dirt, under the newly fallen leaves and in the partially decayed matter between the organic dirt and the leaves. They are shallow dwelling worms. The other species are used to make compost Eisenia hortsenis or “European Nightcrawler”. They are good compost worms too, but they live deeper, moving from the surface to burrows as deep as 6 feet. Together they make the perfect team to add to a garden.
Worms will eat almost anything. There are a few foods that they don’t like very much: hot peppers, garlic, oranges or anything too acidic. Fat is avoided by them. Milk is rejected by them as well as salad dressing. Eggshells (pressed), ground coffee, lettuce, melon rinds, leaves, squash and vegetables of any kind are preferred. They have gizzards, the eggshells break down, neutralizing the PH in the bed, as well as providing grit to aid digestion. They eat about 1/2 their body weight in food each day, when the bed temperature is between 60 – 90 degrees Fahrenheit. During the winter months when the bed temperature drops between 34 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit they are less active. In a cool bed temperature the food lasts longer because they don’t eat as much and the coolness works like a refrigerator. The good “feeders” that decompose the food are not as active, too, causing a delay in breaking down organic matter. Worms feed on flesh and fecal matter, however, care must be taken. The legs can be contaminated with pathogens. Pathogens would be a problem if the casts (worm tool) are used in a vegetable garden. You literally get out of them what you put into them. It is better to know what the casts are used for, so that the food can be managed. They must eat 50% protein (vegetables) and 50% carbon. Carbon consists of dry leaves, shredded paper and (they love) cardboard. The bed must be moist, when a handful is pressed a few drops of water should be expelled, if the bed is not too dry.
A few facts:
Worms are not native to North America. All species have come from some other place; Europe, Africa or Asia. All species were wiped out in the last ice age. It seems that they were introduced unknowingly by the first European settlers. In fact, many of the Northern States and Canada will not allow many species because of the destruction they could cause to the coniferous forest. Worms do not like pine needles.
Worms don’t have brains. They have some sensory nerves that end in a bundle in the area behind their mouth. They feel dryness, heat, sun (which they don’t really like) and sense of taste. That’s it, no reasoning, no thoughts and no communication (I question their ability to communicate, I think they do somehow).
Which brings us to reproduction. They must reproduce with another worm of the same size and sex (how do they know?). They lie head to tail, for up to two hours, wrapping their body in a slippery film. The eggs are then released under the film, when they split away from each other the partially dried film penetrates the egg shell and slips from the tail end. From 1 to 10 baby worms develop in each layer which are born as an exact replica of an adult, ready for action. A conservative estimate is that the worm population will double over the 3 month summer.
If you cut worms in half, you can double the population. You can’t! Both die. Some species may shed their tail when caught by a predator, but otherwise die. They are very difficult creatures and at the same time very fragile, especially when they are farming.
Conclusion: Some of us find worms interesting, others bad and still others do not pay attention. A common goal in raising worms is to make compost, the castings and the “worm tea” or homemade compost. The castings are rich in nitrogen, unlike commercial fertilizers, it cannot “burn” your plants. It introduces good bacteria to your soil, and when the tea is brewed (and used within 4 days) it also repels the bugs, when sprinkled on the leaves . Another general goal is to have a “herd” big enough to eat all of your kitchen scraps and be waste-free except for plastic. There are several blogs and websites dedicated to Vermicomposting. If this article sounds like it’s for you, do some research and get started. Eccentricity seems to be a common trait among worm farmers. Worm farming is essential to taking your self-reliance and survival skills to the next level. Beware, you may be connected to them. The ultimate goal is to do what I have called “circle gardening”. I grow the vegetables in the compost that my worms create, fertilized with their droppings, and then feed the leftover vegetable scraps from the kitchen. Circular farming, many of us do it.
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