Small-Time Red Worm Farm for a Small-Time Fish Hobbyist
At some point, a fish hobbyist will focus on the type of food they offer. After flake food,
they may progress to raising brine shrimp, white-worms, micro-worms, black worms etc.
Each endeavor is met with some kind of success or failure, largely dependant on ease of care.
Recently, I’ve stumbled across raising red-worms when I was looking for a meal that could
fill the stomachs of my fish (especially pikes), provide good nutrition, and not cost a fortune.
Most of all, I was looking for something that was easy to raise. Red worms fit the bill.
To start, I purchased 1 lb. of red worms (Eisenia foetida) from a worm farm in Florida for
about $20 including shipping. 1 lb. of red-worms contains roughly 1,000 to 1,200 worms.
Since I had only about 30 fish between 2” and 8”, I wanted to keep the operation small until I
could gauge how long it would take my fish to consume 1 lb. The worms were placed into a
standard size fish styro containing a mixture of damp peat moss and potting soil. To help
retain moisture, I also cut strips of newspaper and shredded a cardboard egg carton and added
both to the mixture. The moisture was maintained at a damp level, just a bit drier than what I
would consider wet… somewhat the consistency of pipe tobacco. At first, I placed the
original styro lid on the box but this proved to be too close fitting. The mixture turned moldy
and smelled musty within 2 weeks. I modified the lid by poking a ballpoint pen through the
styrofoam to create 25 holes in a grid pattern. Each hole was no bigger than the diameter of
the pen. This proved adequate enough for ventilation without drying the mixture or allowing
curious worms to escape.
When the worms are shipped from the worm farm, they are dehydrated (slightly) and placed
into dry sawdust or peat moss. Presumably, this not only cuts down on shipping costs, but
forces the worms into a pseudo-dormant state, allowing environmental conditions to fluctuate
without effect. They look so poor upon receipt that it’s hard to believe they will rebound, but
they do. After a day or two in the moist mixture, they gain weight and spring back to life.
As soon as the worms are rehydrated, they can be fed to your fish. When collected, some of
the soil mixture remains on the worms but it is easily rinsed by placing the worms into a glass
of water. If you are concerned about the soil that is inside the worm, you can leave the
worms in the glass of water for a couple hours and let the worms gradually excrete the soil.
Personally, I’m lazy, so I take the worms straight from the mixture and feed them directly to
the fish. I let the filters and water changes do the work, plus I believe there is added benefit
to the fish and aquarium plants if the minerals are available for uptake. If the fish are too
small to consume a whole worm, I simply break them apart in my hands or cut them with a
The temperature of the mixture should be maintained in the neighborhood of 65 and 77°F
with 72 probably being optimal. If they are too cold, they will go dormant and not do
anything but eventually dehydrate and die. This is a long process and can usually be
remedied before any damage is done. However, if the worms get too warm, they will get
stringy and quickly die... it doesn’t take long. In Oklahoma, the heat may be a problem in the
summertime unless you can keep them on the floor inside your air -conditioned house. If you
are fortunate enough to have a ‘fish room’, they can be maintained without any problem in
For worm food, I used fruit scraps and bread products without any trouble. Banana peels,
apple and pear cores, dry baby cereal, coffee grounds with filter, leftover bread etc. were
placed ½” beneath the surface of the mixture. Bacteria beneath the surface decompose the
food and turn it into a wet muck, which is then edible to the worms. If the food is placed on
the surface, molds are likely to grow and make a mess. Initially, I would feed the worms
every three or four days or until I saw that majority of the food was gone. I’ve read that red
worms can consume their weight in organic food each day, thus 1 lb. of worms needs 1lb. of
food per day. I can’t say how much food I fed my worms (I never measured), but I fed them
scraps more or less at my convenience. Remember that shredded newspaper, saw dust, peat
moss and cardboard egg cartons are not only moisture aids, but also organic material that is
consumed by the worms when other food is not available. Note: because of the microbial
activity, I believe it is important to keep the mixture aerobic, so I would turn the entire
mixture over about twice a week to keep air and water moving through the soil. If not, the
mixture will become compacted, anaerobic, hot, smelly, and ultimately lethal to the worms.
Since I was initially experimenting, I fed my fish sparingly; taking only 10-20 worms out per
feeding once a day and a half or so. In about 3 months, I had more worms than I initially
started with, so I increased the fish feedings to a dozen or so worms once a day and cut back
on feeding the worms to once every 10 days. This balancing act continued for over a year,
until the day that I had to dump the entire culture into the garden in preparation for our move
to Oklahoma. For about a year and a half, I never had to buy any additional red-worms. My
initial culture was all I needed. I always had food conveniently available for the larger fish
without breaking the bank (like goldfish will) and the fish seemed to thrive. If the mixture
temperature is maintained at a reasonable room temperature and the worms are well fed, you
will be rewarded with a renewable source of fish food.
As a side benefit, red worms generate droppings, called castings, which are rich in nutrients.
Inside my styro, I divided the culture into two distinct portions: one side had the food, larger
clumps of soil, moisture retaining material and worms, the other side had all the small black
dirt (castings) that was gradually separated from the first section. I would allow the separated
black dirt to set for a week or so to allow any worm eggs to hatch or allow any other worms
to migrate to the food section. Once collected, the organically rich compost is used as potting
soil for all the houseplants. You will not find a better commercially available natural
Brian Carson, OKAA