Friend Earthworm

Practical Application of a Lifetime Study of Habits
of the Most Important Animal in the World

by George Sheffield Oliver, B. Y. P.

Part III


INDIVIDUALS who engage in the business of breeding, raising and selling earthworms are, in a general sense, pioneering. But in no sense are they experimenting. The experimental labor has been done for them. All the prospective earthworm farmer need do is follow the advice and suggestions of those who have paved the way for him in this new and interesting business.

Once again I repeat -- do not enter the earthworm farming industry in the hope of becoming a plutocrat over night; and do not become interested in this business in the manner of a five-year-old girl playing house.

The business of breeding, raising and selling earthworms is a reputable, sound and profitable business, and one that must be operated along regular business principles with business acumen if success is to be attained.

A successful business man, be he seller of locomotives or children's tricycles, is the individual who knows the business in which he has made a success. The high-geared competitive system of the present era demands more from business men than any other era in the history of industry and commerce. And the man who can not keep pace with modern competition will soon be bringing up the rear like the tail of Mrs. Casey's cow.

As we shall see in this volume, a prospective, ambitious earthworm farmer need not make more than a comparatively-small investment in preparing his working equipment. But he, or she, must study the business of earthworm farming, both from its production and its selling angles.

Probably the most effective manner for the writer to emphasize these two points -- inexpensive equipment and a studious interest in earthworms -- is to briefly review the manner in which the immortal Charles Darwin worked during his experiments.

Darwin, who may be rightly called the discoverer of the indispensibility of the earthworm as an aid to soi1 productivity, believed far more in acquiring knowledge than he did in the quality of his equipment.

Darwin's instruments were of the simplest known. In his day (1809-1882) the compound microcope was still a weak and undeveloped instrument. He used a microscope probably not as good, nor as accurate, as any of those that may be purchased today for a few dollars. The great naturalist considered tool and instrument makers of his time and place infallible, yet his micrometers varied greatly from one another and for lineal measurements he used an ordinary three-foot rule, "which," he says, "was the common property of the household, and was constantly borrowed, because it was the only one which was certain to be in its place -- unless, indeed, the last borrower had forgotten to put it back." For measuring tall plants, shrubs and young trees, Darwin used a seven-foot pole which was graduated by the village carpenter. No mention is made of what the carpenter used as a standard! The results of Darwin's work, unequaled in his particular scientific field, obviously proves that the adage, "A good workman is judged by his tools," like all other rules, has its exceptions.

Be that as it may, no matter how mediocre Darwin's equipment was, his method of keeping records of his experiments was in complete contrast to his carelessness anent his tools and instruments.

His measuring rule may have been a fraction of an inch inaccurate, his microscopic lens weak, his micrometers loose and uncertain, but the notes he made, the time he spent mentally preparing his material which was to be given to posterity through the media of papers, pamphlets and books, required labor with tools that had to be accurate -- and those tools were words,

But let us turn to Darwin himself:

"I will add," he says, "that with my large books I spend a good deal of time over the general arrangement of the matter. I first make the rudest outline in two or three pages, and then a larger one of several pages, a few words or one word standing for a whole discussion or series of facts. Each one of these headings is again enlarged and often transferred before I begin to write in extenso. As in several of my large books facts observed by others have been very extensively used, and as I have always had several quite distinct subjects in hand at the same time, I may mention that I keep from thirty to forty large portfolios, in cabinets with labeled shelves, into which I can at once put a detached reference or memorandum. I have bought many books, and at their ends I make an index of all the facts that concern my work: or, if the book is not my own, write out an abstract, and of such abstracts I have a large drawer full. Before beginning on any subject I look to all the short indexes and make a general and classified index, and by taking the one or more proper portfolios I have all the information collected during my life ready for use."

Wise, indeed, is the individual who will systematize his knowledge as did Darwin, and from the above quotation the prospective earthworm farmer should receive lasting help.

These two characteristics of Darwin were purposely brought in here to impress upon the reader that equipment -- which will be fully discussed in this volume -- need be neither expensive nor ostentatious.

What counts is studious attention to the earthworms and their habits. This makes for success.

All the needed-to-be known points which the earthworm farmer should understand are made clear within these pages. Neither I, personally, nor any other individual can make a success of an earthworm farmer. The quality to be successful lies within the individual engaged in earthworm production.

And so, with these friendly pointers. I bring you now the fundamentals of earthworm farming, leaving this introduction with just one more repeated, important sentence -- the average man or woman can become a financial success through breeding, raising and selling earthworms if he or she will wholeheartedly apply known and proved facts to the business.

Lesson 1

Natural and Man-Made Enemies of the Earthworm

Every living thing has natural enemies -- U. S. Department of Agriculture quoted regarding enemies of earthworms -- The Argentine and Pharoah ants -- Greatest enemies -- How to defeat them -- Earthworm farmer has little to worry about, except for these ants -- Be careful of Cyanide in any form -- Anything that kills earthworms should be shunned by all farmers, nurserymen and gardeners

LIKE all living things, the earthworm has a long list of enemies. It is distressingly unequipped to "fight back," is minus all trace of either defensive or offensive apparatus, and would, if left alone, be a paragon of pacifism and isolation. Its complete cycle of existence is devoted wholly to seeking nourishment for itself and propagating its kind. Beyond those two interests it is not concerned.

While we are not especially interested in the natural enemies of the earthworm as they apply to the earthworms under the watchful eye of the earthworm farmer, it is nonetheless advisable that we consider this aspect briefly.

The writer feels this is best done by turning to the United States Department of Agriculture's Bulletin, Number 1569, from which the following is lifted:

"In addition to the fisherman with his ever-ready garden fork and tin can, the earthworm has numerous natural enemies that are constantly alert. Song and game birds, as well as domestic poultry, patrol the meadows and woodlands during the day, while the ubiquitous toad with his huge appetite and sticky, darting tongue, stalks earthworms during the early hours of spring and summer nights. Some of the smaller species of harmless snakes feed largely on earthworms at times. The Bureau of Biological Survey has identified earthworms in the stomach of no fewer than 45 species of birds. The crow seems to get more egg capsules of the worms, and the jacksnipe, woodcock, starling and robin seem to get more adult worms. Earthworms are an important item of food to the four species named.

"This warfare, however, is not confined to the mere surface of the soil. The earthworms are by no means safe even in the fastnesses of their underground burrows. Here they are pursued relentlessly by the voracious shrews and moles, which subsist largely upon these creatures. Centipedes and 'thousand leggers' follow the worms even to the depths of their longest tunnels.

"In addition to these formidable foes, some kinds of earthworms have still another enemy in the form of a two-legged fly, which superficially resembles closely the common house fly (Musca domestica). In point of fact this insect, which is known as the cluster fly -- Pollenia rudis -- and often enters houses in large numbers in the fall, is commonly mistaken for the house fly. By the use of a low-powered magnifying glass, however, the cluster fly is easily distinguishable from the house fly as it has a downy coat of yellow hairs upon its back and sides. This down is entirely absent in the house fly.

"For a long time the manner of life of the cluster fly was unknown, but this problem was solved in 1908, by David Keilin, of the Quick Laboratory, at Cambridge, England. He found that the larvae or maggot of this fly was parasitic upon certain species of earthworms. The fly's eggs are deposited on or in the soil and hatch in from five to seven days. The minute maggots then seek the worms and bore into their bodies, where they continue to feed until eventually the worms are destroyed. Subsequent investigations carried on by American entomologists confirmed in a general way these facts as applied to the life history of the insect in this country, but it was found that in summer the eggs hatch in about three days. It was found, also, that there may be several generations of the fly in a year and that it is possible for the insect, under certain conditions, to undergo its complete cycle of development in from twenty-seven to thirty-nine days. The cluster fly itself falls a victim in great numbers to a fungous disease which attacks it during the warm, humid weather of mid-summer. At this time even the newly-emerged flies may be observed, stilled in life-like poses, attached to the leaves of plants, where they have been killed by the action of this fungous enemy."

Not mentioned in the foregoing, though probably the earthworm's greatest enemy in farms, nurseries, truck patches and gardens is the ant or emmet.

In the development of the domesticated earthworm for commercial use it was definitely proved that, of all the handicaps to overcome in the highly-selected breeding of this type of worm, the various species of ants offered the groatest difficulty. To defeat the destructive ability of both the grease-eating and the sugar-eating ants called forth every effort on the part of the experimentalists. Numerous insecticides were used, some with no results, others with fair results. Only one commercial insecticide out of nearly one hundred was found that proved itself a definite destroyer of the two most pernicious species of ants on the West Coast -- the Argentine, or sugar-eating ant, and the Pharoah, or grease-eating ant.

As we have seen in Lesson 2 of Part I, the earthworm's digestive system is highly sensitive and a prey to environment. While its system absorbs the needed food energies from the large quantities of soil it swallows, the earthworm shows a preponderance of favor for fats and a general interest in sugars. In fact, these foods may rightly be called the staples of the earthworm's diet.

Inasmuch as all ants are lovers of fatty or greasy foods, it is readily understandable how an ant colony may eat or otherwise dispose of the fats in the soil in which earthworms are dwelling. A colony of ants, being energetic and tireless workers, will, in a comparatively short time, devoid the soil of fats, thus taking from it one of the chief food necessities of the earthworm.

The Argentine ant, existing in large numbers in and about the southern portion of the West Coast, is the only sugar-eating ant of the seven species catalogued in that section. In northern Mexico and many sections of the United States southwest, the Argentine ant is known as the "honey ant." It lives exclusively on sweets and is one of the hardest insects to destroy through the media of insecticides.

In developing, breeding and culturing earthworms for commercial use, the ant should be considered their most dangerous and destructive enemy. With culture beds always under control by the earthworm farmer, he has little to worry about from the general run of earthworm enemies -- except the ant.

Though largely carnivorous, frequently fatally attacking animals much larger than themselves, ants do not prey directly on the bodies of the earthworms, principally because the annelid spends most of its time beneath the surface of the soil. But because the ant does not attack the earthworm directly does not reduce its ability to destroy it indirectly.

Experiments were carried on for many months by California earthworm farmers regarding the potency of ants as denuders of the soil of sugars and fats. These experiments were performed in carefully-secluded and prepared earthworm culture beds. The work of the Argentine and Pharoah ants was painstakingly watched, checked and recorded. In all instances, the energetic ants denuded the soil of sugars and fats to such an extent that the earthworms began to show a decided decline in activity. As the worms began to weaken and die, the experimentalists gathered the remaining worms and placed them in culture beds free from ants.

The results of this change were immediately noticeable. Able to secure the needed starches and desired sugars, the earthworms showed instant signs of gaining a new lease on life. In a few days all trace of the lethargy, generated by the deficiency in sugars and fats in their food, disappeared.

It was while these experiments were in progress that efforts were made to procure an insecticide that would satisfactorily discourage or completely destroy these enemies of the earthworm.

It was found that insecticides definitely destructive to certain species of ants did not kill other species, and, inasmuch as all ants are enemies of the earthworms, it was essential that a suitable and potent insecticide should either be found or developed.

In time, a West Coast insecticide was found that did satisfy the experimentors. Of the seven known species of ants on the West Coast, none were able to withstand the new concoction.

The user of insecticides, and other poisonous solutions or powders to destroy such pests as shrew, moles and centipedes (all enemies of the earthworm), should employ judgment in placing the poison.

Most poisons used by farmers and orchardists to rid their premises of pests contain cyanide in one form or another. The earthworm breeder who promiscuously spreads any of these should realize that such lethal preparations, sufficiently potent to kill insects and animals, will also kill his worms, were they to come into contact with them.

Moles and other small burrowing animals that are enemies of the earthworm, may be safely destroyed by sprinkling poisoned grain at the entrance of the burrows. In this way, it is usually beyond the reach of the earthworms. In areas where moles abide, earthworms are known to penetrate deeper into the soil. By keeping as far away from the moles as it can, the earthworm is clearly expresing a natural law -- self-preservation.

Under no conditions should the breeder of earthworms attempt to destroy enemies of earthworms without realizing that what will kill the goose will also kill the gander -- a poison that will kill a mole will likewise kill an earthworm.

And so, I close this lesson with an emphatic warning -- be careful when you begin to rid your earthworm culture bed of enemies.

If you are not careful, you may destroy both the enemy and the friend.

Lesson 2

The Trout Farmer's Problem

Raising fish in captivity age-old art -- Approved today by national, state and private institutions -- Original feed for fish in captivity -- Change to by-products of meat and fish packing concerns -- How pet food threatens this industry -- Remarks regarding pet food by well-known bio-chemical analyst -- Advice to cat and dog owners -- Possibilities of the earthworm as food for fish in captivity

FOLLOWING the course of human, industrial and commercial progress there is always a wake of disturbing conditions, causing personal unrest, uncertainty and financial loss. In time, these disturbances mold or blend in readjustments necessary to meet the change is ultimately assured. Sometimes the new mode is introduced quickly; in other instances many years pass before an equilibrium is reached.

One example should suffice to clarify this point.

With the advent of the automobile, the horse, mule, harness accessory, carriage and wagon industries suffered greatly. Many of these businesses suspended operation; others blended amicably with the new conditions brought about by the "horseless carriage."

Today, one of the oldest arts in the history of man faces the grim outlook of being caught in one of these wakes of the good ship progress. In fact, there are those who believe that the art will find itself held high and fast on a sand bar thrown up in the current of progress.

The writer refers to the art of pisciculture -- feeding and fattening breeding, rearing and preservation of fish by artificial means.

Much older, indeed, is this art than the ordinary person imagines. It dates back into the central period of ancient Egypt. Later, across the Mediterranean Sea, the Greeks practiced it, and half way around the globe from Greece, the Chinese reached a high degree in its development.

During the past century, pisciculture has shown remarkable strides, especially in America. Its greatest forward step was taken when science discovered that the ova of the fish could be taken from the female, impregnated with male milt, and hatched in tanks. This took away much of the element of chance (customary under natural spawning conditions) that the milt would fertilize the maximum number of eggs.

For the past quarter of a century, the art of artificially-raising fresh water fish -- though the artificial culture of oysters, clams, mussels, lobsters and other crustacea is also profitably practiced -- has come into general favor.

Our national government, under the American Fish Commission, has deeply interested itself in this art. It is practiced in the United States, Canada and many European countries on a surprisingly large scale. Many of our states, too, have piscicultural departments, and, of course, there are thousands of "fish farmers" scattered throughout the nation.

With national and state governments taking a thoroughgoing interest in this art, it has shown great improvement and has become an important department of our commercial life. Millions and millions of fish are "planted" annually by our governments and privately-owned piscicultural institutions.

And now, believe it or not, this productive industry is facing a possibly insuperable barrier.

Curiously enough, cats and dogs are innocently responsible for the clouds of possible doom that are gathering above the art of pisciculture; cats and dogs and their owners, who seem to fall easy victims to anything and everything that saves them a few minutes work.

During the past decade, the fastest growing industry in the nation has been that of packing and canning pet food. So enormous has become the sale of these prepared pet foods that their manufacturers are buying practically all of the by-products of meat packing houses and fish canning concerns. In addition to this, they are more or less responsible for the slaughter of wild horses on the ranges of our northwestern plains.

In discussing this problem in 1938, the Rainbow Angling Club and Hatchery, the largest west of the Mississippi, declared that national, state and privately owned fish hatcheries will have to have considerable ingenuity spent upon them if their managers and owners can not do something about feeding their fish if the trend toward greater sale of pet foods continues.

On the surface, all of this may sound like material for Robert Ripley. Yet when the matter is analyzed, it is not as fantastic as it at first appears.

Let us consider the food proposition as faced by the Rainbow Angling Club and Hatchery and see how cats and dogs, indirectly, were causing them no little amount of worry.

The Rainbow Hatchery deals exclusively in rainbow trout. The hatchery and propagation plant is located about fifteen miles from the source of Mill Creek at springs high in the San Bernardino mountains in Southern California. Mill Creek supplies 18,000 gallons of mountain water every minute to the hatchery, in which there are one and one-half million trout.

To this piscatorial metropolis, 7,500 pounds of ground meat and fish meal, a similar amount of cereals, are necessary every week. This is about 780,000 pounds annually, or approximately 400 tons, half of which (about 200 tons) is ground meat.

There are few, if any, streams in the world capable of caring for 1,500,000 trout; certainly none that could supply this number with adequate food the year around.

Fish in their natural state feed on either other small fish, insects or insect larvae. In captivity, under artificial conditions, such natural food is not available in an amount even vaguely bordering on sufficiency, and the only substitute known with enough food energy are the by-products from meat and fish packers.

For many years experiments have been carried on in the hope of finding a suitable substitute for fish food other than these by-products, but to date no success can be reported. Ground meat -- made from these same meat by-products used in pet foods -- contains vitamins and proteins necessary for a balanced diet for fish.

The feeding of cereals to fish in captivity is done merely to "fill" the fish. Cereals have no food value as far as fish are concerned. Being cold blooded vertebrates, they have no need for sugars or starches.

Fish food must be of the proper quality and the proper quantity if the hatchery man would successfully raise fish. The water, always running, should be between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

The "range," that is, the number of fish to a given area, must be such as to avoid crowding. Crowding is dangerous, retarding growth and spreading disease.

Young fish are fed frequently, often as many as ten times a day. As they grow, this frequency is tapered off until, at maturity, they are fed but once a day.

"When I first became engaged in the pisciculture art, the staple food for fish was liver," they told me. "But the public was told that liver was beneficial for them. They were advised to eat it -- and the price of liver rose to such a figure that we could no longer afford to feed it to fish.

"It was then we turned to the general run of by-products of the meat packing houses. Here we found we had an ever-present and seemingly unending supply of food ideally suited for fish in captivity. Then came the pet foods. Companies making them began to buy more and more of the meat packers' by-products. In a few years, the demand began to run nip and tuck with the supply and the meat packers boosted the price of their by-products -- by-products that a few short years before were a drug on the market.

"Our difficulties are now becoming acute. Not only is it becoming more and more difficult to buy these by-products, but the price has risen to a point that is dangerously close to a figure too high for our consideration. At the present time I can see no signs that the price of this commodity will come down -- which is fine for the meat packers (and I hope, for the farmer!) but it is certainly not a pleasant picture for fish hatchery owners to visualize.

"Here on the West Coast, there is one pet food manufacturer who has five boats plying Pacific harbors buying all the by-products from the fish canneries available."

It might not be amiss to insert here a reference foreign to the subject of fish hatcheries, yet of sufficient import to readers of this part who have a pet cat or dog to warrant its inclusion.

Many of these pet foods bear the phrase "government tested" on their labels. Discussing this phrase, J. W. Patton, experimental biologist of East Lansing, Michigan, says:

"... This phrase means one thing on a dog food canned in an establishment in which Federal inspection is maintained, and canned under the same conditions that exist for canning meat; but quite another on scrap and offal from inspected animals ... 'Made from U. S. Inspected Meat,' 'U. S. Inspected and Passed' -- passed for what? Edible or inedible? Food or fertilizer?"

Such phrases may be on a can that, "may contain 50 per cent lung and 50 per cent weasands handled like coal..." "Made from U. S. Inspected Meat" is openly used by unscrupulous manufacturers of the most unworthy feeds on the market; not only to cover up their inferiority, but to imply superiority -- and the dog and cat suffer.

Such food manufacturers, Mr. Patton claims, "may purchase scrap or even fertilizer from inspected establishments and use it without restriction." Such firms, we are informed, mix the foregoing with "meat from a desiccating works and still advertise that they are using U. S. inspected meat. Bones and trimmings from the meat market, although they may go to a rendering plant and are shipped to a pet food manufacturer, are still 'U. S. Inspected and Passed.' True enough, they were formerly inspected and passed, and at the time were clean and wholesome... There is no authority in the meat inspection law to control them" (the pet food manufacturers).

And this is the business that threatens the very existence of fish hatchery operators!

"What are we going to feed our fish when the pet food industry monopolizes the meat and fish by-products which are necessary food for fish in captivity?" is a question thousands of fish hatchery operators in the United States are asking today.

Elsewhere in this work the reader has been presented with the advantages derived from feeding earthworms, through Intensive Range, to poultry and game birds.

It is the writer's personal conviction that properly-fed and properly-controlled earthworms, in properly-prepared beds, may produce the necessary food elements required by growing fish.

Earthworms may become a new and lasting substitute food for fish in captivity.

The attention of the reader interested in this feeding phase is called to the lesson, "Putting the Bluebottle Fly to Work," elsewhere in this series.

Similar contrivances to those used to supply hens with live larvae may also be employed by fish farmers to their advantage, and also by frog farmers, as we shall see in the next lesson.

Seemingly, the only objection raised to this form of live food feeding is the resultant odor of the matter used to attract the bluebottle.

Nonetheless, both the fish and frog farmers should be able to select a place for the bluebottle to "blow" that will not be an offense to the olfactory nerves of humans in the vicinity.

A complete description of preparing the tray to hold the matter attractive to the bluebottle, and the most feasible place to suspend the tray, will be found in the following lesson.

However, the reader, if interested in pisciculture, must realize the enormous quantities of earthworms that will be required to care for the appetites of large hatcheries.

This, though, is not a handicap, for the writer knows that earthworms can be produced in sufficient quantities to meet the demand of hatchery owners.

Readers of this part wishing further information on this subject will be advised of the progress of the current experiments carried on by the writer. I hope, in the space of a few months, to be able to produce a small booklet covering these experiments and this I shall make available at a price that will cover the actual cost of the booklet.

I would suggest in closing that persons interested in this subject drop the writer a card. The names of such persons will be carefully filed and the writers advised when the experiments are concluded, the results tabulated and the booklet ready for distribution.

And now let us glance at some of the problems of the frog farmer.

Table of Contents
Part I
-- Introduction
Lesson 1 -- History of the Earthworm
Lesson 2 -- The Habits of the Earthworm
Lesson 3 -- Habits of the Newly Developed Earthworm
Lesson 4 -- Potential Markets for Earthworms
Part II -- Introduction
Lesson 1 -- What Is Food?
Lesson 2 -- The Life Germ and Better Poultry
Lesson 3 -- Economical Poultry Housing
Lesson 4 -- The Interior of the Economical Hennery
Lesson 5 -- Intensive Range
Lesson 6 -- Putting the Bluebottle Fly to Work
Part III -- Introduction
Lesson 1 -- Natural and Man-Made Enemies of the Earthworm
Lesson 2 -- The Trout Farmer's Problem

Lesson 3 -- Feeding Problem of the Frog Farmer
Lesson 4 -- Housing the Earthworm Stock
Lesson 5 -- General Care and Feeding of Earthworms

My Grandfather's Earthworm Farm
Eve Balfour on Earthworms
Albert Howard on Earthworms
The Housefly

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