Nightcrawlers, worms, are fascinating creatures. They aerate the soil, help decompose plant matter, and are a food source for other animals such as fish, rats, and amphibians. You may be interested in starting your worm farm to sell the worms, have a ready supply of bait, or produce food for your pet amphibians. Raising nightcrawlers at home is easy and profitable.
The best way to raise nightcrawlers is to create a worm farm from large opaque plastic bins. Keep it in a cool dark place like a basement and fill it with soil, shredded newspaper, or peat. Check the pH of the soil and keep it as close to 7 as possible. Finally, add the species of worms you prefer. Feed the nightcrawlers vegetable scraps or composted plant matter that is free from pesticides, and you should see eggs within a month.
Although raising nightcrawlers for your garden, for sale, or as a food source for other pets is easy, they do require some attention. Read on for 10 steps detailing how to make your worm farm happy, healthy, and productive.
Supplies for a Worm Farm
The basic supplies you need to raise nightcrawlers are simple. First, you need a cool dark place like a cellar or basement to establish your colony in. Next, gather the following supplies:
- Tables or stands to put the bins on (this will help keep other pests out of your worm bins)
- Large opaque plastic bins (as many as you want to use for your farm)
- A drill with a ¼ or ⅛ inch bit.
- Shredded newspaper or peat moss
- Enough soil to fill the bins 6-10 inches deep
- Previously composted plant material – grass clipping or leaves – ensure they have not been treated with pesticides.
- pH test strips
- A simple base like baking soda, limestone power, or crushed eggshells
- A simple acid like apple cider vinegar
- Wormfood: vegetable scraps, cornmeal, oatmeal, tea leaves, coffee grounds, and even moldy bread
- Worms- the species you want to raise. Three popular species are European Nightcrawlers, African Nightcrawlers, and Canadian Nightcrawlers. You can order these online by the pound.
Building a Nightcrawler Farm
You can create a nightcrawler farm that suits the space you have available whether it is inside or outside. If your wormery is going to be outdoors, consider the general temperatures of your region. If you live in a hotter climate, choose the African Nightcrawlers because they are more heat tolerant. If you live in a cooler climate, the Canadian or European varieties will do well outdoors most of the year. However, a hard freeze will also kill the worms, so you may consider making your bins mobile to bring them in during freezing weather.
1. Set up in a Cool Space
Indoor Worm Farm
Nightcrawlers prefer cool, dark spaces. Therefore, the best temperature to set up your worm farm is around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have a basement or cellar, this would be an ideal environment for your wormery.
If you prefer an outdoor worm farm, find a spot in your yard that is shaded and that can be covered to divert rain away from your bins. Too much water will drown your nightcrawlers.
2. Use Large Plastic or Foam Bins
Indoor Worm Farm
Gather as many bins as you want to use for the size of your farm. You need one square foot of room per 1,000 worms. The containers should be opaque to maintain darkness for the nightcrawlers. Take a drill with a ¼ or ⅛ inch bit and drill many holes in the sides of the bin to allow air and moisture to flow in and out of the soil. Set the lids under the bins to collect any dirt that spills out. Setting the bins on the floor is likely to attract other pests, so organize tables or trestles for the bins to keep them off the floor.
Outdoor Worm Farm
You can use either plastic or styrofoam bins. In the space you have chosen, dig a hole that is the size of the perimeter of the bin but only about half as deep. Drill holes in the bin around the top so that they will be above the level of the soil. Set the bins down into the hole you have dug to help regulate the temperature inside the bin. The advantage to styrofoam bins is the insulating factor. They will protect your nightcrawlers from drastic temperature swings. In outdoor bins, you will want to drill holes in the lid as well and keep the lids on.
3. Soil and Bedding
Add soil. You can purchase soil from a garden center. You can also add peat, shredded cardboard, or shredded newspaper. One benefit to using paper over peat is that paper can be recycled, while peat is a very slow-growing resource. Tear your paper into one-inch strips and moisten it, then add it to the bin.
The soil should be loose and easy to turn. You will turn it gently every three weeks. Check the pH of the soil with pH litmus paper. You want the soil to be as close to 7 as possible. If it is too basic, add just a little apple cider vinegar. If it is too acidic, which is more likely, add crushed limestone powder, baking soda, or crushed eggshells.
You should check the pH regularly. However, after you have an established worm colony, you should make any changes to the pH very slowly so that you don’t shock the worms.
Moisten the soil. It should be just damp, not soaking wet. Check it regularly to maintain the moisture level. Expect to add moisture once every three days or so. If your worm farm is outdoors, you may need to add water more frequently in the summer due to evaporation.
5. Choose Your Nightcrawlers
Now it is time to add your choice of nightcrawlers. If you are adventurous, you can go outside and find your own worms. You should only have about 1,000 starter worms per one square foot of soil. Remember to allow plenty of room for the baby worms to grow. Or, if you are starting a commercial farm, you can order the species you are interested in raising online by the pound. There are three common types of nightcrawlers, European, African, and Canadian. Be sure to consider the average temperature of your region if you are constructing an outdoor worm farm. African Nightcrawlers are more suited to warm climates while European and Canadian species are better suited to cooler climates.
European nightcrawlers (Eisenia hortensis) are helpful for garden aeration, composting, and fishing. These worms are red and wiggly, which makes them excellent bait. In addition, this species is hardy and easy to raise. They eat ½ their body weight in food per day, can be refrigerated if needed, and can be used in ice fishing due to their cold tolerance.
African nightcrawlers (Eudrilus eugeniae) are a purplish-gray, tropical species, so they are more suited to warm environments between 70° F and 85°F. Due to their temperature requirements, they are a little harder to raise than their European cousins. This species is an excellent choice for both fishing and vermicomposting so long as the ambient temperature doesn’t fall too low and harm them. These are the larges nightcrawlers, eating 150% of their body weight daily. They reach their full size in 8-10 weeks. If all the conditions are ideal, African nightcrawlers reproduce faster than the European or Canadian species.
Canadian nightcrawlers (Lumbricus terrestris) are the longest of the nightcrawlers. Red-gray in color, they can grow up to 14 inches long. Canadian nightcrawlers are a good food source for other animals such as birds, rats, and toads. They also aerate the soil, are suitable for vermicomposting, and make excellent wiggly bait because they can stay alive for up to 5 minutes underwater. The Canadian variety needs cold temperatures and will die in temperatures over 65 F.
6. Feeding Nightcrawlers
Once you have added your worms, they will need to be fed. This is a relatively simple matter. Save the vegetable scraps from your kitchen and pour them in a line down the middle of the bin. You can also add grains, chicken mash, coffee grounds, and used tea leaves. Crushed eggshells add calcium to the mix and help the worms breed. You can also make or purchase worm feed. Finally, you can puree the food scraps for the worms so they can eat more easily. They do have very tiny mouths, after all.
Shredded paper (not the glossy kind) and newspaper are suitable additives. Grass clippings and leaves as long as they are free from pesticides are also excellent choices.
You should only add food to the bin when all the food from the last feeding is gone.
There are some food scraps that you should avoid. For example, leftovers from tomatoes, the onion family, and citrus in large quantities are not good for your worms unless you pre-compost them. Also, avoid meats, dairy, salty, spicy, and oily foods.
7. Caring for Nightcrawlers
Caring for the worms is a daily task, but not a difficult one. You should check and manage the pH of the soil daily. Every three weeks, you should gently turn the soil, like tossing a salad. Watch for the food to be eaten and only feed when it is gone. If the worms are coming to the surface, there is a problem. They may be hungry, the soil needs more additives, or the pH is off.
8. Worm Reproduction
Worms lay their eggs near the surface of the soil. You can expect to see eggs in about a month after establishing your colony. Each egg casing could produce between 4 and 20 worms. While worms reach adulthood and can reproduce between 4-6 weeks old, they will continue to grow and reach their full adult size in a year.
9. Harvesting Worms
Expanding your Worm Farm
When your bin becomes full of worms, you can harvest them gently by picking them up by hand and moving them to other containers. If you are expanding your farm, simply move them to a new bin.
Packaging worms for sale
If you are selling your nightcrawlers, you can purchase some styrofoam containers with lids to package them in. You should pre-cool your packing material and your worms for shipping. Place everything in a room that is 65 degrees F. for 24 hours before you start packaging the nightcrawlers.
You will need a scale to sell worms by weight. When you package worms you should be careful to watch that you have an average number of worms per package. You don’t want one package to have 4 giant worms and another to have 20 tiny worms. Consistency across your packaging will build loyalty in your customers. Fishermen are looking for a good quantity of worms in their packages.
After weighing your nightcrawlers, you can add some moist, not soaked, moss to the container so the worms have moisture and a food source. This should ensure that they will survive for a week or two during shipment.
If your worm shipment will be going through drastic temperature changes, use drier peat moss. It will insulate the worms better against these changes.
10. Worm Castings
Collect the worm castings. This is essentially worm poop, and it is phenomenal fertilizer for your garden. As your wormery grows, you will find a dark soil-like substance. Collect it, add it to your garden or potted plants as fertilizer, or sell it as part of your business.
Setting up a nightcrawler farm is easy and productive. It reduces paper and food waste through recycling. It only requires a few plastic or styrofoam bins with holes, shredded paper, soil, kitchen waste, and your chosen species of worms. Check on the pH of the soil, turn it in every few weeks, and feed them when they are hungry. You will soon have worms for fishing, selling, or feeding to other animals and worm castings for fertilizer.
- Can I raise nightcrawlers in an apartment?
- How can I raise nightcrawlers outside?
- How do I package and ship nightcrawlers for sale?
- How does worm composting (vermicomposting) work?
My name is Ruben. I love fishing like most guys I know. Fishing is so much more than just an outdoor activity- its an escape, its therapy and so much more. I put together a team of other professional anglers in order to create the most inclusive fishing resource.