Caring for Your White Worm Ranch
The inside scoop from Aqualand on Enchytraeus species
Origins: White worms grow wild in soils that stay damp. You can find them growing wild in compost bins. Unfortunately, you have to sort them out from the other stuff.
Appeal: Fish love the taste of white worms – even the pickiest eaters. Caution: Bettas gorge themselves and can rupture their bellies. (Stupid bettas.)
Size: Adult white worms grow to slightly over an inch. They breed before that size. Their size makes them ideal for two to five-inch fish. You can sort out smaller worms by swirling them in a gallon jar of water. The large ones fall to the bottom first. Just pour off the still swirling smaller worms and feed them to smaller fishes or return them to your culture. Watch smaller fishes fight over one of these. Neither one wants to give up, and the worm is stronger than both.
Sexes: Like earthworms and other annelids, white worms are hermaphroditic. Each worm contains male and female breeding equipment. They swap sperm with each other like nightcrawlers.
Eggs: White worms strew their eggs throughout their media. Save all “used” dirt because it contains numerous eggs. The clear eggs are hard to see. You'll also get little springtails that look like eggs -- jumpy eggs.
Negative Phototropic: White worms avoid the light. They start burrowing into the dirt as soon as the light comes on. This makes them difficult to harvest.
Noise: White worms have no ears but easily detect vibrations. If their box or shelves get bumped, they will retreat further into the soil. They cannot be kept where a lot of activity takes place.
Foods: White worms will accept dozens of foods. The best production results from white bread soaked in milk. Any variation from this reduces production or causes problems. For instance, wheat bread grows mold in two days. White breads contain mold preventing chemicals. They rarely mold.
Feeding Schedule: Feed small amounts at first (without crusts). Increase the amounts until the culture eats a slice of bread per week. The worms are now ready to harvest on a weekly basis or divide in half to make new cultures.
Supplements: Mix some sodium bicarbonate into the soil to reduce the acidity that comes from the peat moss and digested food.
Moisture: Add sufficient water to thoroughly soak the peat moss. You may have to boil it. Mix it with soil and squeeze a handful. If it turns into mud, that’s too wet. If it falls apart, that’s too dry. If it forms a loose ball, that’s just right. It may take a week to achieve the correct moisture level. Usually, the culture stays plenty moist. If it doesn’t, sprinkle it regularly and cover it better.
Pests: If ants appear, sprinkle Sevin on the floor. If mice appear, put down mouse baits. If fruit flies or microworms appear, ignore them. If mites appear, rinse them off frequently. A cloth cover will keep out flies and gnats. Nothing will keep out nematodes. They come with the dirt. Commercial potting soils don't work as well as homegrown dirt.
Starting Out: Prepare the media. Put ¼ slice bread on surface. Put the new worms directly on top of the bread. Cover them with dirt. A sheet of glass on top helps a lot. We can't overestimate the value of that sheet of glass on top. Darken the container and leave the worms alone. Check on amount of food eaten in three or four days. Add more food if necessary.
Harvesting. White worms swarm around the bread in clumps. Quickly remove these clumps of worms by hand or with a fork. The clumps of worms will clump even tighter squeezing out much of the dirt. Put any extra dirt back into your culture.
NOTE: Best pictures (and article) I’ve seen on these wiggly varmints was written by Rod Pick. Find his name on the web or look under White Worms. LA.
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