GrailQuest Farms
is Located in Seguin, Texas
(30 miles East of San Antonio, TX)

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Earthworms - Our Livestock Addition in 2014

I recently ordered 2 LBs of Red Wiggler Earthworms to add to the GrailQuest Farms collection of pets, livestock and assorted critters.

My wife, Debi, was not wild about the new project, but she found it less objectionable than the Black Soldier Flies I had been talking about ordering.

As it turned out, Black Soldier Fly larvae were in among the shipment of earthworms so I got a bonus, and she had yet another strange organism to contend with.

I'll get to the earthworms in a moment, but I feel Black Soldier Flies are worthy of a paragraph before delving into vermiculture. These flies are not your pesky, disease carrying, buzz around your face insects like the common housefly. They prefer to fly at night and don't really want to get into your house. The adults have no sting, or eating mouthparts, so they don't bite or vomit on your food like common flies. All they want to do is reproduce, laying eggs in refuse too foul for earthworms (discarded meat and dairy products) and producing hundreds or composting grubs to help break down what would otherwise be a smelly place for houseflies to breed. Unfortunately for Black Soldier Flies, they are kind of big and black and scary looking (they look like wasps at first glance), so many are killed by humans in a case of mistaken identity. When will we learn to use violence as a last resort and appreciate diversity in our world?

Back to the worms...

They arrived in a fabric pouch filled with surprisingly dry peat moss. The instructions said to moisten the peat moss right away to revive them while preparing to relocate them to their semi-permanent homes. I emptied the pouch into a plastic tote and added a cup of water from the Koi pond and mixed it with my hand. The worms were none too lively, so I feared I'd spent $40 on a mass of dead and dying worms, but they came around slowly but surely.

In my typical fashion, I set about trying multiple approaches to what should be a very straightforward activity of raising worms. I bought 2 10 gallon plastic totes and drilled several 5/16" holes in the bottoms and the lids. I wetted a combination of peat moss and leaf mold from around the property and put it in the totes between a third and halfway to the top. We had been saving an empty coffee can full of vegetable scraps, peelings and coffee grounds, which I split between the 2 containers. I then added the worms, as equally as I could, to the bins.

I could, and perhaps should, have stopped there, but I decided to create a "bulk" bed in the pole barn. I laid out a 10'x20" tarp and put dry peat moss, shredded leaves, a half bag of spoiled oats the goats wouldn't eat and the stalks of the cardoons I'd pulled up (a nasty vegetable that obviously requires a more accomplished hand than mine to render it edible) a few days before. I wetted it and turned it repeatedly and left it to soak. In case you don't know, dry peat moss, while absorbent after it is moist, is highly resistant to wetting, choosing to let the water run through while it floats on top, dry as ever, mocking your attempts to moisten it. My advice is mix it till you get frustrated, walk away and let it sit for a day and then see how it looks.

I added a couple of handfuls of worm filled compost from the previous bins and folded the tarp up kind of like a burrito and let it sit for a couple of days. When I opened it up, I saw a white fungus or mold had started growing on the oats and the pile was heating up quite a bit. I didn't see too many worms, but the BSF (Black Soldier Fly) larvae were wriggling about joyfully in the warmth of the liquid that had leached out to the edges of the pile. I was worried that I'd cooked my invertebrate charges, but they apparently dove to the bottom of the pile and waited till the pile cooled, because a week later I unfolded the tarp and there were several worms on top guiltily retreating back into the pile from the glare of the light. Whew!

While this was going on, I also added a small handful of worms to the gravel grow-bed in our new Aquaponic system. We hadn't added the fish yet, but were cycling water pumped from the koi pond through the grow-bed to allow it to establish a thriving colony of beneficial bacteria before adding the fish to the system. It was interesting to watch the worms find their way down into the cracks and crevices between the 3/4" pink granite gravel. I am counting on the veracity of what I've read about earthworms breathing through their skins and being able to absorb oxygen from well oxygenated water. They have proven to be pretty resilient so far and I'm eager to see how the plants grow in the "worm tea" the grow-bed should contain.

Not content to let sleeping worms lay, I also ordered a Worm FactoryŽ 360 from a company called Nature's Footprint. The Worm FactoryŽ is a multi-tiered vermi-composting system that allows you to add kitchens scraps, paper, even dryer lint to a neat little plastic module that can live on your patio, deck or even in you home. As layers are filled, new ones are added and the worms migrate upwards to work on the fresh materials, eventually leaving lovely pure "black gold" in the form of worm castings in the original tier. The value of worm castings is well known to experienced gardeners as they contain 5 times the nitrogen, 10 times the potassium, 7 times more phosphorous, 1.5 times the calcium and 3 times the magnesium of what the worm ingested. Add to this the many beneficial microorganisms added on the trip through the worm's gut, and you have a "super food" for the soil and your plants.

Maybe I shouldn't be so delighted with our latest experimental livestock, it's not a particularly sophisticated hobby, but I genuinely look forward to taking out the scraps to the composting worms now, and seeing them thrive and multiply. I've never enjoyed taking out the trash this much!
Glenn Harper

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