“We would like to know how to maximize biomass in the most efficient manner and in doing so know what might be the differences in approaching max biomass vs mass vermicompost for gardening?
Our multi project approach here on the rancho will of course benefit tremendously from the compost and worm teas, etc, but for now, as we start up, we are primarily interested in the biomass production as it relates to and supports the production of animal feed.” ~ Gil Romero, Director
Thanks for your email regarding differences in feed for different purposes of raising your worms.
No doubt there will be readers out there who are interested in worm farming for composting only, and some who are gearing for raising fat healthy worms with maximum biomass for the fish market or both!
I do think that it is important to set your goals in the direction you want to take before you start your worm farming process. Because depending on what you are trying to aim for there will be slight difference in your feed and the way you feed it.
Before I go further I do need to stress that you need to be aware of the species you are working with.
There are too many times when I have met worm farmers looking to grow fat worms for fishing, but ending up constantly dissatisfied with their results due to using the wrong worm species.
If you are looking to breed fat worms, species such as the Dendrobaena’s are good because their full size is naturally large and thick.
If you start using worms such as Eisenia Foetidas you will be bound to get disappointed because they are naturally a smaller worm. However hard you try you will not get a larger worm.
If the aim of worm farming is to compost waste, then the feed can be absolutely anything and everything you want to throw away to get composted. The quality of this feed may be high or low, but more importantly it is inconsistent.
With composting, it is relatively easier because the parameters you need to be aware of simply lies in the basics of keeping the moisture, pH, temperature and C:N ratio balanced.
You won’t need to be careful of worm species contamination etc. Any kind of species and even a mix of species are okay, as long as the waste gets composted and turned into wormcast.
Worm farming for maximum biomass is slightly trickier as more care is needed in certain areas. But if done correctly it can actually be a simple process.
For biomass worm farming you will need to be aware of the following 3 things:
– Food source needs to be high in quality and consistent.
– Food needs to be high in protein.
– You need to ensure that a different species of worms cannot gain access.
Firstly about the food source, worms can munch through different types of food without a problem. But it is important to be aware that worms have a lag period when new types of food are added which they haven’t come across before.
The worms need time to adapt to new food source and can take a couple of weeks to months before they can process it at their maximum capacity.
It is also important to note that when worms are born into a type of food source, they tend to be able to process the food source much faster, taking more in, compared to a worm which has just been introduced this new food even if it is working at its maximum potential.
It is almost like they need to learn how to deal with this new food they haven’t come across before. The reason for this is unclear but it may most likely be the production of certain enzymes which are needed for the new food. Or maybe worms are just picky fussy eaters!
Therefore when you want to grow worms and increase their biomass, keeping a constant type of feed is important. You will find that composting rates will be faster after a few months when the baby hatchlings start to join the adults in composting too!
The type of food is really important.
Muscle builders need to drink protein shakes as well work out in order to grow those muscles. In a similar sense, you will need to give the worm the right material for them to boost those muscles!
But instead of protein shakes, the following is a pretty good formula to provide what they need:
• Chicken Layers Pellets – 50%
• Wheat or Corn Flour – 10%
• Powdered Whole Milk – 10%
• Bran or Wheat Meal – 20%
• Agricultural lime or dolomite – 10%
The chicken layer pellets and milk powder is the main source of protein, while the wheat and bran provides the carbohydrates as well as the carbon source to keep the Carbon:nitrogen ratio in balance (since protein is very high in nitrogen).
With high protein there is also a high risk of the mixture getting acidic over time, and that is where the lime comes into play for balancing the pH.
You will notice that these figures are given in percentages. Since it really depends how large your worm operation is for the amount of food you put in, as long as the percentages lie in the provided figures things should go well. Over time you should see fatter and larger worms.
The final point for focusing on worm biomass growing is to becareful of not letting other worm species into the environement.
If you have chosen a worm species such as dendrabaenas to grow because of their large size then you will need to be careful of not letting smaller species in. In many cases smaller species are also the more prolific breeding species. If you take Eisenia foetidas for example, they can breed almost a third faster than the dendras. Very soon the foetidas will populate out the worm bed and you will get nothing but disappointment and a lot of small worms.
What I tend to suggest if you are trying to grow a particular species is to grow them indoors and in buckets or trays instead of an external worm bed. By growing them in trays you will know that whatever you put in there will stay in there (mostly!) and by putting the trays above ground other worms will not get in.
If there is no option but to make a worm bed have it carefully covered and make sure there is no way for other species get in from underneath. If you are feeding manure, make sure it’s eradicated of worms by leaving it to pre-compost before adding it to the wormery bed!