Fishing with nightcrawlers is a time-honored tradition, and there’s no questioning the effectiveness of a fat, wriggling worm on your hook.
If you’re an avid angler and you like DIY projects, you can skip the bait store and easily produce a never-ending supply of nightcrawlers at home.
If that sounds like a tempting proposition, we’ve got the inside info on how to make this happen, so keep reading!
Table of Contents (clickable)
European nightcrawlers (Eisenia hortensis or Dendrobaena veneta) are the preferred species to raise for bait.
The European nightcrawler is the bait of choice.
They need the right conditions to reproduce, and that includes a home that’s moist but not wet, and not too cold or hot. Between 55 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit is perfect, but a little cooler, down to a low of 40 or so, shouldn’t kill your nightcrawlers.
They’ll also need plenty of air and the right foods to grow and reproduce.
How To Raise Nightcrawlers
Step 1: Preparation
Find a good spot
Keeping your worm bin in the sun is a sure-fire way to kill your nightcrawlers, so you need to find a shady spot - complete darkness is fine - to place your bin.
Garages can work well, and even a closet can be fine. A shady corner of your yard will work, too.
You’ll need a sturdy plastic bin with a lid, and a good size to start is not as big as you might be thinking.
Something like the Homz Clear Storage Container, which measures 26.5 x 16.5 x 12.75 inches, is about perfect.
For ideal conditions to grow worms, you’ll also need peat moss - the primary medium your nightcrawlers will live in - some soil (three to four cups), a drill, and anything from a ¼- to a 3/8 -inch drill bit.
Food scraps like raw vegetables or fruits are essential, too. As these break down in the composting process, they’ll provide the vital nutrients your nightcrawlers need to grow and reproduce.
Experts in vermiculture (worm farming) recommend pumpkin, corn cobs, melon rinds, banana peels, and the bits of most vegetables and fruits. Tea leaves, coffee grinds, and crushed eggshells are also great additions.
But never add meat, dairy, or citrus! These proteins and fats are sure-fire worm killers, and citrus can raise the pH to lethal levels.
Tomatoes and potatoes are OK, but they may sprout before they break down!
You’ll also want to mix in some unusual additions. Those veggies and fruits provide nitrogen, but as vermiculture expert Amy Grant explains, “the worm bin also needs ‘browns’ or carbon-based items such as shredded newspaper, copy paper, egg cartons, and cardboard.”
Most of this mix should be the “green” items but make about a quarter of the volume “brown.”
Finally, you’ll want the nightcrawlers themselves, and suppliers like Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm are happy to help get you started.
Step 2: Set Up
The first step is to drill holes roughly four inches apart on the bottom and lid of your bin.
The bottom holes will allow for drainage; the top holes allow for aeration.
If your worm bin will be inside or in a water-intolerant space, you’ll want to think about elevating it slightly above a larger plastic bin, keeping drips and drainage in check.
Step 3: Create the Medium
Start by distributing the peat more or less evenly in the bottom of your bin. You’ll want it no less than eight inches deep, and you’ll want to add enough water to get it moist but not truly wet.
Chop your food scraps into small pieces, or give them a pulse or two in a food processor, and add the shredded “browns” to the mix. That will get everything small enough to speed up the decomposition process, providing your worms the nutrients they need faster.
You’ll want to add about a cup of this green and brown mixture, tucking it into the peat moss mixture several inches to encourage decomposition rather than rot and to avoid fruit flies.
Trust us, if your worm farm is indoors, you want to avoid fruit flies!
Then, sprinkle three to four cups of soil over the top of the moss, creating a thin layer to provide grit for your worms. More soil won’t hurt as long as it’s loose and not clumpy.
Step 4: Add Your Nightcrawlers
The 100 count starter kit from Uncle Jim is about right for one bin of the size we recommend.
When they arrive, not all of the worms will be mature, which is to be expected. But if you follow the steps below, they’ll grow and reproduce quickly.
Step 5: Maintenance
The first step is simple: wait.
If you followed all of our steps, your nightcrawlers should be thriving in their new home.
After a week, add more “green” and “brown” food mix, just as before. Be sure to distribute the food evenly across the bin, and if you notice a bad smell, you’re adding too much food.
Check the temperature of your worm bin, and make sure the medium is moist but not wet.
Over time, the worms will consume much of the medium, effectively creating compost as well as nightcrawlers.
“When most of the bedding has been consumed, and what is left is practically unrecognizable, it’s time to harvest the castings and use them in your garden,” says Amy from Gardens that Matter.
At this point, you’ll want to harvest all your worms, remake the medium from scratch, and put your nightcrawlers back in their new home.
Troubleshooting Your Worm Bin
Two problems are common to novice worm farmers: stinky worm bins or dying worms.
Kristi Waterworth, another expert gardener and worm farmer, warns that bad smells are commonly caused by overfeeding (the food is rotting before the worms have time to eat it) or by the addition of inappropriate or innately stinky foods like broccoli, onion, and garlic.
“Look at what you’re feeding your worms and how you’re feeding it,” she says. “If you’re adding more food than the worms can eat quickly, some of it is bound to rot and stink. At the same time, if you don’t bury that food at least an inch under the surface of the bedding, it may start to smell before your worms get to it.”
But another cause of stinky worm bins is excess moisture.
If you’ve been feeding properly, Waterworth recommends fluffing the peat moss to allow more aeration and increasing the number of drainage holes.
That should solve the problem.
When Bad Smells Mean Dead worms
If your worm bin smells like dead fish, you’ve got a bigger problem: dead worms.
That smell will alert you to decaying proteins and fats - things you should never be adding to your food mixture - and the only sources of protein for decay are dead worms.
Worms die from four primary causes:
- Too much or too little moisture in the medium
- Wild temperature swings or too high or too low average temperatures
- Lack of aeration
- Lack of food
If your worms are dying, make sure your medium is moist but not wet, “just slightly damper than a wrung-out sponge,” Waterworth from gardeningknowhow.com recommends.
Keep a thermometer near or on your bin and check the temperature daily to ensure it’s where it needs to be.
Fluff your medium, and top it off with extra peat moss periodically, especially if your “greens” are wet. Add extra aeration holes to the top of your bin, or remove it completely (the worms won’t crawl out).
Finally, as the number of worms increases, so does your bin’s need for a steady food supply. If your worms were thriving and everything else checks out, you may need to increase your feeding times to every three to four days.