I said ALMOST all year. This winter the
whole country has been under several inches – in some
cases several feet – of snow. The ground has been frozen
solid, and the earthworms had gone down far too deep to get
at them even with a pick-axe.
However, when the temperature is down
to minus 15 degrees centigrade, a two-minute trip with a little
pot and a pair of tweezers to a small black box just outside
my back door, regularly produces enough earthworms to feed ALL
my catfish, and this is how it came about.
Initially, I investigated the possibility
of buying a proper, custom built wormery, with several different
layers, one above the other, but they are quite expensive so
I decided to economise and go down the DIY route.
My first attempt was a spectacular disaster,
because I used an old polystyrene fish box. After it had been
operational for about two weeks, I went out to it one day and
discovered that a rat had chewed a 3” diameter hole right
into it, and it was completely ruined.
I decided to stop being quite such a
skinflint, and to buy a rat-proof box. A DIY tool catalogue
provided the solution, and I ordered a black, plastic 25 gallon
water storage tank, complete with snap-on lid. These are really
designed for the plumbing trade, and are normally used in lofts.
They come in different sizes, and I decided on a middle-sized
one, about 75cm long x 60cm wide by 55cm high, at a cost of
about £25. A good substitute would be an old, rectangular
black-box style pond filter, with the holes blocked up. I
then drilled a row of tiny drainage holes, about 5cm apart,
all around the sides of the box, approximately 1cm up from the
bottom. I also drilled some small holes in the lid for ventilation.
The first thing I put in was a 3”
layer of coarse gravel and pea shingle. Again, this was to facilitate
drainage, and had been kicking around in buckets in the back
garden for many years, having been ousted from my aquariums
when I replaced my gravel substrate with sand. I then cut 1”
thick sheets of polystyrene (old fish poly-boxes work well)
and lined inside the vertical sides, to give some insulation
in extreme weather conditions.
The final thing, before the soil went
in, was to line the whole remaining cavity with soft black garden
landscape fabric. It was laid on top of the gravel-bed, and
draped up and over the polystyrene lining (the corners were
a little fiddly) and tucked down between the outer walls of
the container and the polystyrene. The idea of the fabric was
that it lets liquids drain down through the gravel, and out
of the drainage holes, but it’s too fine to let the worms
The last thing was the worm bedding –
I chose a mixture of garden loam and ordinary soil, the latter
was sieved to remove any undesirable alien creatures. The mix
was added to a depth of about 25cm.
Finally – to add the worms! Some
were dug up from the garden, and some were obtained from a tackle
shop. I wanted to avoid Brandlings if possible, as they exude
a disgustingly smelly, yellow fluid when interfered with.
I use mainly two species, Lumbricus
rubellus, the small Red Worm, which gets to between 6cm
and 14cm and, primarily, Lumbricus terrestris, which
is known by several common names - Lob Worm, Common Earthworm,
Dew Worm and Night Crawler. This species gets to between 10cm
and 30cm, and three or four big ones make a good mouthful for
a medium to large catfish. The
worms were spread out on the surface of the soil, and covered
with a 1” layer of the same soil that I had kept aside.
In preparation for this day, I had been saving all my vegetable
peelings, which were spread out on top and the whole surface
was then covered with a layer of newspaper. The whole thing
was then sprinkled lightly with rain water until the newspaper
was quite damp.
peelings and damp newspaper
of polystyrene cut slightly smaller than the surface area
was then laid over the newspaper
A sheet of polystyrene cut slightly smaller
than the surface area was then laid over the newspaper and then
the lid was put on to keep it dark and the box was positioned
within easy access, just outside my back door and round to one
side, up against the house wall to give it some shelter.
After a few days I opened the lid and
lifted up the damp newspaper. The food was mostly gone, so I
added some more. Some of the newspaper appeared to have been
eaten as well. The worms were very obvious, although they quickly
disappeared downwards once the newspaper was lifted and their
quarters were flooded with daylight.
versions of their parents can be seen.
Earthworms are classed as hermaphrodites,
which means that each worm produces both sperm and eggs. When
two worms mate, they lie close together, side by side and cover
themselves in sticky mucus. They pass sperm in to each other’s
body via that mucus, to fertilise the eggs. A
thick, slimy band or ring containing the fertilised eggs grows
around each worm’s body. This band eventually slips off
and hardens to form an egg case to protect the eggs, which could
hatch in a few weeks if the weather is warm, or could take as
long as a few months if it is cold.
With regard to food, worms don’t
like anything that smells of garlic, onions or leeks, nor do
they like citrus fruits which make the soil too acid. But they
really do love root vegetable peelings and I save all peelings
of potato, carrot, parsnip, turnip & swede and they will
also eat tomatoes, greens – sprout, cabbage, courgette
and broccoli trimmings. They have
to have a certain amount of roughage in their diet, and they
enjoy crushed egg shells, paper shreddings (not plasticised
paper, of course), and paper-mache egg boxes, which should be
dampened and torn up into bits.
I should add that I use rain water because
our tap water is heavily chlorinated, and the worms don’t
like it. They also don’t like to be too wet, or too dry
– just slightly damp. It helps if you turn over the soil
every few weeks with a hand fork, to aerate and oxygenate it.
All this happened three years ago. Since
that time I’ve never been without a supply of earthworms,
summer or winter. The last two winters have seen temperatures
similar to the arctic, and the ground has been frozen as hard
as concrete, but the worms have always been within easy reach
and I consider that my project was well worth the effort and
the small financial outlay.
Photographs © Graham Layley