September 2006
Featured Articles

Dirty Low-Down Projects for Urban Extension-Vermiculture

by Jerry A. Chenault

  Vermiculture units are used to hold the compost material and worms. When fed about one pound of "food" per day, one pound of worms will multiply to 15,000-20,000 worms within a year.
Vermiculture. Sounds like a college course for physicians or something, doesn’t it? But it’s really just a fifty-cent name for worm production! How about that? And there’s Vermi-composting as well. Turns out that either one might not be such a dirty business to look into. Let’s dig in and find out more, okay?

Vermiculture and Vermi-composting fit right into the game plan of the Urban component of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. And that’s because we’re charged with dealing with urban and new nontraditional audiences and with new programs. Growing worms may not be an entirely new venture; but growing them in school classrooms is a relatively new thing for Extension to be involved in. Wouldn’t you agree? I think so.

It’s all a part of a program that’s designed to help students learn more about their environment, composting, business, and several other neat educational objectives (like math, etc.) that teachers work in to the project … all while making a profit from worm production.

Is worm production profitable? That depends on each individual situation. The situation in this program is centered around learning and involvement for students. The profit is just a by-product like the "compost tea" that can be drained from the "Can-O-Worms" units they use to house the worms; but at a selling price of about $2.50 for 25-40 worms, the math yields some pretty interesting figures!

Last year eight classroom vermiculture units in Lawrence (and one in Morgan) county were started through a grant funded via Alabama A&M University. They were ordered from a company in California at a cost of approximately $80 each (including 1 pound of worms). In theory, that one pound of worms will multiply within a year to a maximum unit capacity of 15,000 to 20,000 worms. That’s when the profit should begin to avail itself. Maybe not such a bad fundraiser for a classroom, huh?

The worms are fed a handful of food each day (about 1 pound) and certainly aren’t picky eaters. Students at East Lawrence Middle School learned this past year that worms seem to grow better on "junk food" (chips, crackers, candy, etc.) than they do on leftover table scraps. What does that tell us? Worms are known to ingest small particles more readily than larger ones, so that probably explains a lot of the junk food mystery. And they like a variety of foods. Crushed egg shells, apple cores, almost anything except grease and meats … even hair!

Red worms are used in vermiculture since they so well in loose compost.  
Some municipalities and businesses use worms to help get rid of waste products and to generate composts for sales. The worms help to break the garbage down quicker. And they reproduce in the process. That’s the Vermicomposting aspect of worm production.

One other thing. These aren’t earthworms, no sir-ee. They are red worms. Worms that won’t survive down in the soil but do well in loose compost or light soils such as moist rotted sawdust and sphagnum peat moss. And they do enjoy an occasional scoop of pelleted (moistened) cattle feed. I know that from experience.

Interested in home fish bait production? Contact your local Extension office and ask for Circular ANR-329. Sounds like a good thing to me!

Jerry A. Chenault is with the Urban R.E.A., New & Nontraditional Programs.