Sign up for a free account to take advantage of all the new features and to be able to post in the forums. There have been over 33,000 logged entries in the forums since 1998.  Check out the Fun and Magazine Stores.
Welcome, 1 kB

Commercial Earthworm Farming - Is It For You? E-mail
User Rating: / 8
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 19 February 2006

Commercial Earthworm Farming - Is It For You?

By Gerry Parlevliet, Senior Development Officer, South Perth

There are many people who see the production of earthworms

and their by-products as a good way to generate an income. They

may have noticed earthworms featured on television or grown

their own in the backyard in a small container. Most have lots of

enthusiasm but few business skills.

This Farmnote is for these people. It provides a framework for

decision making and a reminder that any new enterprise should

be set up on a clearly planned basis. 

This paper cannot provide all the skills and know-ledge required

to establish an earthworm farming business, but it is a beginning.

Once the initial enthusiasm has been replaced with a healthy

respect for the work involved in establishing a new business,

there are a number of useful steps. The most important step is to

plan your business carefully.

Learn more about the industry

Read books and magazines

The local library can obtain a range of books on earthworms -

several references are listed below. Look for information on

beds, equipment, hygiene and disease.

Visit worm farmers

A number of worm farms are open to the public, Check the

Yellow Pages in the telephone directory for details. Observe

what they say and do. Look at their product line and marketing

material. Determine the cost of bulk worms. Remember that you

may end up a competitor and don't expect to learn all the secrets

of a successful earthworm farm.

Visit retail outlets in nurseries and hardware stores

Look at the product and pricing. Discuss the product with shop

staff. Identify future markets.

Learn more about setting up a small business

Consult with a local Business Enterprise Centre

There are a number of Business Enterprise Centres located

around the State. They can help you to prepare a business plan

and point you in the right direction.

Study small business at TAFE or similar

A number of small business courses are available. These help to

set you on the right track for a successful business in


Talk to local business people about small business processes

These people have been there - they have survived and gained

valuable small business experience.

Develop a business plan

Once you have sufficient information, sit down with the family

and develop a business plan. A business plan introduces

discipline and a logical thought process into your planning,

which is critical to the establishment of a successful business.

Advice on how to prepare a business plan is available from a

Business Enterprise Centre or through a small business course.

The business plan will include the following sections.

1)   Vision for your earthworm business

2)   Scale of operation

3)   Time line for development

4)   Locality for operation

5)   Sources and quantity of organic matter

6)   Markets for earthworms and castings

7)   Likely product lines and customers

8)   Cost to establish the enterprise and financing

9)   Likely running costs

10) Income

11) Registration of Company or Business name

13) Licences and approvals needed

14) Marketing strategy

15) Budgets

The business plan is the blue print for the future development of

your business.

Which earthworms?

Three worms are generally considered to be suitable for small

scale and commercial breeding and for use in the production of

castings. For most commercial earthworm farmers, any one or

combination of these will do the job. More specialised end

products may need more specific types.

Tiger worm ( Eisenia fetida)

The Tiger worm is found in material that is rich in high quality

organic matter. It is rarely found in the field. Household gardens

that have been heavily manured and watered will allow the Tiger

worm to survive. It breeds prolifically, producing over 50

cocoons per year with up to 30 worms per cocoon (the average is

likely to be significantly less, that is, 4 to 10).

Red Wriggler (Lumbricus rubellus)

The Red Wriggler will thrive under a wider range of conditions

than the Tiger worm. It can inhabit soil and requires less rich

organic matter. It will tolerate colder conditions. It also is a very

prolific breeder. It also converts organic material to compost


Blue worm (Perionyx excavatus)

The Blue worm tolerates a wide range of conditions. It is tropical

in origin and breeds prolifically. The Blue grows into a long

worm. Colour varies with age and size, attaining blue/red and

purple at maturity.

Scale of operation

The scale of the operation will depend on a number of factors,

not least being the supply of organic matter, and the likely


Small scale

A small enterprise is a backyard enterprise which provides small

amounts of income to supplement other income. They are low

risk and transient and a safe way to start.

Commercial scale

A commercial enterprise will require some investment in land,

buildings and equipment. It generally needs a large supply of

organic matter. The market should be identified before

commencing although it could be developed with the growth of

the business.

Commercial large scale

A large scale commercial enterprise is generally a deliberate

action and associated with availability of large quantities of

organic matter. Markets must be identified for all material

produced before starting the business.

Feed stock

As a potential worm farmer, you need to source a reliable supply

of organic material and develop ways to handle, store and feed

out this material.

General requirements

Just about any organic material is suitable as food for worms.

Generally there needs to be a proportion of material rich in

nitrogen. The worms respond to higher pH conditions and some

ground limestone or dolomite is recommended to maintain a

neutral environment. Material such as citrus and onion are

discouraged as they are very acidifying.

The material is best chopped or mulched. It should be kept moist

and not allowed to get hot (less than 25o C). Covering or shading

the area in summer is important.

The rate at which the material is converted by worms depends on

the amount of worms added to the food source. For commercial

municipal waste disposal, two tonne (4 million) of worms were

added to a 6 tonne mound of food. A smaller scale example

quotes the addition of about 2.5 kg of worms per cubic metre


Reports indicate that worms eat about their own body weight in

organic matter each day.

Bulk fibre

This material is low in nitrogen but high in cellulose. It includes

newspaper, cardboard, straw, processing waste and leaf material.

It is not suitable as a sole source of food for worms and a

nitrogen rich material must be added.

Organic matter

Any organic matter is suitable, such as residue from food

processing plants, for example, potato processors, carrot juices

and waste bakery products.

Household and municipal waste

The traditional source of worm food has been food scraps from

households and the hospitality trade. Muncipal organic waste has

also been used for worm and casting production in some local

government areas as a way to reduce landfill.

Animal manure

Any animal manure is rich in nitrogen and can be added to bulk

fibre for a suitable worm farming food. Horse manure (not fresh)

is ideal but pig, sheep and cattle manure is also useful. Be sure

that no recent applications of animal worm treatments have been

applied to the animals from which the manure comes.

Septage and sewage

Septage (the material pumped from septics) and sewage (from

Water Corporation sewage plants) is also a source of high

nitrogen material to add to bulk fibre. Several local governments

have septage and sewage recycling by worms.

Any combination of organic matter will enable worms to breed

and grow. Organic matter which contains higher levels of

nitrogen will generally give better results.



Earthworms are sold mainly to household worm farms,

fishermen and other large scale worm farmers. Fish are fussy

eaters and care needs to be exercised in the type of worms sold

as fish bait. The Red Wriggler is considered suitable. The worms

must be fresh and active.

Earthworms are high in protein and may be a useful feed

material for animal or bird enterprises. It is advisable to test this

on a few animals first, however.

Worm eggs or capsules

These are sometimes sold instead of worms. The capsules travel

well and worms will hatch and become active quickly. The live

worms may show reduced activity if they are held in containers

too long.


This is the material that has passed through the earthworm. It has

good structure, good water- holding capacity and is useful as part

of a potting mix or as a soil amendment. The material contains

valuable nutrients.

Three analysis of casts

Example 1        Example 2        Example 3

Nitrogen (%)    0.34                 0.3                   1.78

Magnesium (%)1.73                 1.22                 0.96

Phosphorus (ppm) 75               61                    70

pH                   5.8                   6.0                   6.1

It is usually sold in small bags to household gardeners through

nurseries and markets. Its use on vegetable crops has been

limited as it is generally too expensive.


Vermipost usually refers to the partially digested compost or

casting mix which can also be applied to gardens. It can be sold

by the bag.


The liquid that collects under the castings is used as a liquid

fertiliser for hanging baskets, gardens and even hydroponics (it

may need filtering). The liquid varies in nutrient content

depending on the amount of dilution and the material that forms

the earthworm feed. It is possible to influence the composition

by adjusting the material in the original feed stock.

Earthworm liquid has been sold in small containers for the home

garden market. Some interest has been shown in applying it as a

foliar spray on broad scale crops.


Knowledge is power, and experienced earthworm farmers can

develop consultancies with local government and other

organisations with large quantities of organic waste to help them

deal with the material.


There are many ways to market your product. You should have

some form of marketing plan prepared before you start your

earthworm business, which considers your locality, scale of

operation and local market demand.


Direct marketing is often done at the local level by small scale

worm farmers, who sell direct to customers at the farm or deliver

to their properties. This can involve significant time and cost.

However, it is a way to develop a client list. The product is

usually sold in small containers, with unsophisticated packaging,

for example, ice cream containers rather than pre-printed


If you have a good local market, you may concentrate on that.

This keeps the business small, with less risk and less time lost,

and is closer to the end user.

Regional markets are potentially larger but you need to spend

more time on the road developing outlets.

If you can locate bulk customers, for example, market gardeners,

you can increase your throughput and potentially save dollars

with reduced handling.


Wholesalers may sell to larger worm farmers to help them meet

their demand. Alternatively, they may package and sell to

retailers. This involves higher packing and marketing costs and

some loss of margin, but a larger volume of sales is achieved.


Join with other small local worm farmers to penetrate a large

market. This shares the risk.


Western Australian Worm Growers and Breeders Association,

P.O. Box 85, Gingin WA, 6503.

Business Information and Licence Centre, 553 Hay Street, Perth,



The author would like to thank Dick Taylor, Rural Innovation

Centre, Agriculture Western Australia, for his assistance in

producing this Farmnote.

Further reading

Earthworms in Australia, David Murphy, Hyland House,


Earthworms - for Gardeners and Fishermen, CSIRO,


Prime Notes


Disclaimer: This material has been written for Western Australian
conditions. Its availability does not imply suitability to other areas, and any interpretation or use is the responsibility of the user. Mention of product or trade names does not imply recommendation, and any omissions are unintentional. Recommendations were current at the time of preparation of the original publication.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 19 February 2006 )
< Prev   Next >
Site and contents are © 2007 All Rights Reserved.
Earth Worm Digest is a Public Non-Profit 501(c)3 Organization.
1455 East 185th Street, Cleveland, OH 44110
Office telephone and fax 216-531-5374