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Grow Your Own Bait

In the latest back-to-the-earth movement, you can compost your garbage and grow earthworms at the same time.

By Gibbs Milliken

Composting worms are hardy and can be grown in any type of stable container with one square yard or more mixture of bedding material, adequate organic matter and drainage. The worms live and feed in the upper layer of bedding mix. These materials must be deep enough to keep the earthworms cool and moist.

Making a Wormbed

Hardware stores carry all the necessary items for the bin construction. Three good choices of material for constructing a worm-bed are a metal-staked wire mesh structure, a cinderblock arrangement, or a frame of untreated wood. The ideal size is 3 to 6 feet wide, 2 feet deep and 16 to 24 inches high. If you use wire mesh, line the sides with burlap to keep the worms from escaping and to provide aeration. The bed should be on the ground in a protected location to avoid freezing in winter. This bed becomes a vermi-compost bin and must have ventilated sides to keep it alive and growing.

Stocking Worms

The best-grade worms for our temperate zone, the angleworm Eisenia fetida, is available for $24 per pound including delivery from Jay Mertz, Rabbit Hill Farm, 288 SW CR0020, Corsicana, TX 75110, (903) 872-4289. Other supplies like cotton burr and starter compost bedding are available from the Natural Gardener, John Dromgoole, (512) 288-6113.

The initial stocking for angleworms is one or two pounds of worms per square yard of area in a bedding mix of approximately two-thirds shredded newspaper, including some cotton burr or other compost, and one-third decayed organic matter. Overstocking and underfeeding will result in fewer worms and smaller sizes.

After a three-week incubation period, the worm eggs hatch, grow rapidly, and reproduce in about three months. Depending on growing conditions, worms may take up to six months to reach their full size. A properly growing worm culture yields two or three pounds of worms per square yard of bed the first year and increases slowly as the population matures.

During hot summers or prolonged dry periods, sprinkle the bed daily with water until evenly damp. Avoid overfilling the container, or the worms may crawl over the rim. In wet regions, some overhead protection from heavy rains may be necessary because too much water can drown or force the worms from the bed. To help prevent flooding, use gravel, fine sand and a perforated plastic drainage pipe in the base.

Feeding Worms

Worms feed on a variety of organic matter, including manure, kitchen waste, decaying soft leaves, grass clippings and ground grains like cornmeal. Each week, apply one pound of food per pound of worms and one inch of partially finished compost to the top of the bed. Avoid overfeeding as it can lead to excessive heat, making an environment that causes the worms to dehydrate and die. Excess wet food also can grow unwanted web fungus, molds, mites, roaches and attract wildlife like armadillos that dig up the soil layers. (You may need to make a wire covering to keep out these larger pests.) Check the soil mix for adult ants and ant eggs, as they can quickly take over the bed.

Sorting Worms

Worms grow most vigorously in the warmer months, feeding continuously near the bed surface if kept dark by covering with a lid or carpet scrap. To sort, remove the top two or three inches of soil, and separate the larger worms using a wire mesh screen. Handle them gently to avoid bruising. Take only as many worms as you need for a few days of fishing. Store them in clean paper ice cream cartons filled with moist bedding material or peat moss. Perforate the lid, and protect the worms by keeping them at room temperature (refrigeration isn't necessary, but avoid the heat of direct sun, trunk or tackle box). Check them frequently to see that they remain moist, but not wet.

Angleworms are wonderfully useful creatures. They keep your garden growing, eat your organic garbage and are the ideal bait for a wide range of fish species.

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