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

Can I Make Money With Earthworms? E-mail
User Rating: / 2
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 11 September 2005

by Kelly Slocum & S. Zorba Frankel, from our issue #19

"Make a Thousand Dollars a Week With Worms!"

Claims as grand and as misleading as this one appear in newspapers and magazines across the US and in other countries. They would like us to believe that vermiculture is a guaranteed money-maker, a huge money-maker and an easy money-maker. Be careful, these claims are bait.“Can I make money with earthworms?” is one of the more commonly-asked questions we get at Worm Digest. While none of us here has ever been in the worm business, we've worked closely with growers and researchers, learning the ins and outs of the industry. That said, to these people, our answer is... “it depends.” The prospects for the new worm grower will depend on many things, including, but not limited to:

  • What income you expect or want

  • How hard and long you're willing to work

  • Your business sense and experience.

  • The existence and size of a (local or regional) market for the earthworm(s) you'll grow.

  • Financial and other resources.

  • Your climate (or ability to adjust for it).

Vermiculture vs Vermicomposting

To begin making informed decisions about getting involved in vermiculture requires some basic information and definitions. First we need to separate worm growing (vermiculture), from worm composting, (vermicomposting). Vermicomposting is the point source management of organic wastes using concentrations of earthworms. The focus of such projects is generally the waste material, with ideal conditions for the worms running a close second. Vermiculture is specifically the raising of earthworms. In these projects the focus is on ideals for worm growth, reproduction and health. While worms can be, and obviously are, grown in vermicomposting systems, conditions are not usually OPTIMAL for their growth. The size of the worms used in vermicomposting and their reproductive rates are often lower than those of the same species grown in vermiculture systems. It is important to remember these points, as they will impact how much money needs to be invested in a vermiculture project.

Before sinking large sums of money into a worm growing business, wise vermiculturists will become educated on the growing of worms and the current needs of the industry! The number of people investing in worm growing operations without ever having studied worms is astounding and alarming. One should begin by setting up a small-scale system in an effort to gain first hand experience into the demands and challenges of a system in their particular circumstance. Having worked with worms, one is less likely to be duped by inflated claims of growth rates and ease of system management.

If one's interest in vermiculture has been piqued by an advertiser claiming to buy back worm stock for use in landfill remediation, the potential investor should do some investigation. Claims of worms being used in existing landfills are usually false. Any worm that can be grown in a debris environment like a worm bin is not suitable for the soil environment of a landfill. Additionally, landfills are full of toxins lethal to worms as well as being nearly devoid of oxygen necessary for them to live. It's unlikely that any existing landfill is using worms to remediate the site. Similarly, some advertisers claim to be working with large waste companies setting up huge vermicomposting operations. Realistically, there are very few large-scale vermicomposting operations in the world today and those that are in operation are not normally looking for ongoing supplies of worms. Their initial worm stock will multiply to fit the needs of their system. In reality, many of these “buy-back” companies are simply selling the worms raised by their growers to new investors. This is little more than a pyramid operation in which some investors will one day be left holding the bag.

Some people become interested in vermiculture after gaining experience with home vermicomposting systems. Claims that worms can be grown in a garage and fed on household table scraps imply that one can use their garbage to achieve impressive incomes. While it's true worms do grow in our table scraps, vermicompost systems are not usually the ideal growth medium for worms. Attempting to make money on a vermiculture operation will usually require providing large, healthy worms on an ongoing basis in the most efficient manner. Household scraps are not an ideal feedstock for worms, resulting in lower reproductive rates and smaller worms than those grown with more ideal feeds like washed or composted manures, livestock chow pellets, grain meals and brewery wastes. These feedstock choices need to be purchased and transported, the costs for which need to be figured into the bottom line. Also, to keep the worm population breeding at maximum and to full size and health, the beds will need to be periodically split, that is, divided so that one worm bed becomes two. This reduces competition for space and food and encourages optimal growth and reproduction. Space for splitting the beds, materials to build them and the cost of feeding additional beds need to be figured into the business plan, as will water requirements and the potential need for heating or cooling the beds, depending on the worm species being grown and the local climate. While none of these issues are insurmountable by any means, those interested in growing worms need to be aware of them and few advertisers mention them in their training materials.

After deciding to independently start a worm business, getting a sense of who is interested in purchasing earthworms should be the second step. It's a prudent course of action to identify and develop markets prior to investing large sums of money into the operation. While identifying markets for earthworms takes a bit of creative thinking, there are a variety of groups interested in purchasing worms on an ongoing basis. Pet shops, fish farms and poultry operations are known to use earthworms as feed. Home composters and gardeners are another market one should explore. While these groups don't typically purchase worms on an ongoing basis, home vermicomposting is gaining in interest, increasing the demand for worms in small volumes. A vermiculturist that begins a public education service on the value of vermicomposting, will find themselves aiding the community and building a market simultaneously. The bait market, while an obvious choice, may not always be the best. Bait suppliers are often more interested in the larger, soil-dwelling worm species, which are inappropriate for the worm bin environment, than they are in the smaller, compost worm. Additionally, this market is often saturated and competition is stiff. This is not to say the vermiculturist should not try this avenue, simply that they should be aware that most of the other growers out there are looking at the same markets.

Those interested in getting into the worm industry should be aware that there are very few people in the world today who support themselves solely by growing worms. Most diversify their businesses by inventing products associated with vermiculture/vermicomposting, selling bins, harvesters and other vermiculture paraphernalia, selling castings/vermicompost or by growing worms in conjunction with livestock operations. These livestock/worm operations are likely the most immediately successful form of vermiculture, as the two projects feed each other, literally. The worm is grown in the waste product of the stock animal and the stock animal is pastured on grasses enhanced with worm castings.

"Can I make money with earthworms?" It depends; and while it's unlikely that anyone every has or ever will make the money that inflated advertisements proclaim, there is certainly much to be gained by harnessing the energy of the earthworm.

Exploring Vermiculture: Words to the Wise

  • Talk to everyone, particularly those in the business. Talk to those who were successful and to those who've had success and those who haven't.

  • Meet growers, both novice and more experienced. See their operations. Ask questions. Compare answers. Work alongside them if you can.

  • Set up a small-scale vermiculture system and learn its management it until you are confident in your ability to expand.

  • Know your markets well before you invest lots of money

Recommended Reading

Worm Digest issues, particularly those in our Back Issues Set V.

Worm Digest's Vermiculture Issue (#29) focuses entirely on the art and science of raising redworms efficiently, and is a must-read! (It is included in the above-mentioned set).

Last Updated ( Sunday, 02 October 2005 )
< Prev   Next >
Site and contents are © 2008 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