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Some may remember my experiment with 5 gallon buckets. Well today is the day I'm going to empty them and document the results.

As a reminder for those that didn't see the original post, I started with 3 buckets: one with 1 lb, one with 1/2 lb, and one with 75 worms. All were prepped the same way and treated exactly alike for the entire length of time. If I added water to one, I added the same amount to all. If I added paper to one, I added the same to all. I added 1/2 cup of pre-composted rabbit manure three times - at the beginning, after about 2 weeks, and at the middle of the experiment. Otherwise I added only shredded newspaper to provide minimal bedding. I've added nothing in the last two weeks and now the castings are pretty muddy.

I've had the lids off for 48 hours with hopes that will make separating a little easier.

Results of bucket with 75 worms:

This bucket was the least composted, but with fewer worms that is to be expected. I had to sort through the material twice and I'm still not sure I counted every last one of them, but 75 worms multiplied into 102 worms for a 36% increase in worm numbers. Not too bad, but I'll admit I was hoping for something more along the lines of a 50-60% increase. Based on the material left in the bucket and the quantity of pods I found, I'd say a 50-60% is possible (with 3 more weeks of processing time).

The worms are healthy and active with mostly breeders in the bucket.

Results of the 1/2 pound bucket:

I underestimated the effort that would be required to sort this bucket. After two hours of hand sorting, I was only 50% finished. I had to take a break.

The worms are much smaller than the worms in the 75 worm bucket, but that's not surprising. There was less food available per worm.

The worms are healthy and active with mostly small sized juveniles in the bucket. I found very, very few breeder worms in the bucket.

Surprisingly I ended up with only 3 oz. of worms, which is less than the 8 oz. I started with. I didn't count them one-by-one, but I know there are many more in number than I started with, but they are teeny tiny worms. The 1/2 lb I started with was mostly breeders (bigger worms = more weight). I can only guess that the breeders have died due to poor bedding and lack of food, but before expiring they generated a lot of pods that have now hatched out. If I grow these out to breeder size my worm herd will have multiplied exponentially.

Results of the 1 pound bucket:

Mostly the same as the 1/2 lb bucket. (I've provided a few more details in the comments below this post.)

I wonder if I do the same experiment, but add 1/2 cup of rabbit manure weekly, if the worms would be larger in size (and weight), but fewer in number. Based on the effort in counting and sorting these buckets, I doubt that I'll try to validate that hypothesis anytime soon.

Continuing reading about my 5 gallon buckets here.

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Comment by Pat James on October 17, 2010 at 3:36pm
Have you thought to provide the worms with a full bucket of food at the beginning and see where they take it? Either in terms of numbers, size overall weight etc...
Comment by Andrew from California on October 17, 2010 at 5:06pm
Brian, it's raining today, but I'll harvest my 5 gal. bucket of worms and leaves tomorrow.
Comment by bpearcy10 on October 17, 2010 at 5:14pm

I used mostly cardboard and shredded newspaper in these buckets and that created a lot of tightly compacted castings. My main goal was to keep everything the same (as a control). I like using the buckets, but they get very wet. If I try this again, I'll do it without a lid so it stays dryer (I'll need to leave the light on them).

I need a bedding that doesn't compact so much that can be mechanicall sorted.

I have three more 24 inch x 18 inch plastic containers that I have another little experiment going. I sorted through one of those on Saturday. I started with 1/2 a block of coconut coir in each container, and added egg cartons, lots of coffee grounds, and a little shredded newspaper. The quality of casting was perfect -- nice and fluffy, but there very little worm mass improvement (i.e. growth in #'s).
Comment by Pat James on October 17, 2010 at 5:22pm
The reason I asked my question was because it seemed that overall food availability might have influenced the results....Does that look like the case? If so, provide them with a surplus to eliminate the variable. I wasn't sure if you original intent was to see the influence of food availability or population density (space per worm).
Comment by bpearcy10 on October 17, 2010 at 6:16pm

I guess I was doing a version of the Brian Paley experiment with my buckets. I'd say that the experiment worked in that it created an increase in # of worms. Your suggestion would probably help with the size of the worms.
Comment by bpearcy10 on October 17, 2010 at 6:22pm
Here's a similar experiment with 75 worms and A LOT more food supply. 75 worms multiplied to approximately 1,200 in this version within 6 months.

I'm going to do three buckets with various levels of food supply next time, but I don't know if I have patience for 6 months. I think my maximum interest timeframe is about 10 weeks.
Comment by bpearcy10 on October 17, 2010 at 7:03pm

At first I thought maybe I had the same worms after 10 weeks, but I ruled that out because I only counted three or four breeders in my 1/2 lb bucket. There are thousands of little worms, but no breeders. How do I know that? I spent more than 4 hours sorting the worms one by one by hand.

My wife thinks I am crazy for spending so much time, but I love that kind of thing.

In 10 weeks the juveniles I put in the 1/2 bucket to start should have become breeders. In my opinion the worms I have now were hatched from pods within the bucket. But, I've been wrong before....
Comment by bpearcy10 on October 17, 2010 at 7:18pm
I should also add that the 75 worm bucket had lots and lots of pods in it. It actually had lots more pods than the 1/2 lb bucket. I attribute that to the pods hatching out.

I should also add that in all three of my buckets, there is 6 inches deep of solid castings. Also, in the 1/2 lb bucket you could not reach in the bucket and pick up any quantity of castings, no matter how small, and not get many, many worms. They were everywhere, but very small. Undoubtedly, the 1/2 lb bucket has thousands more worms than I started with.

Now I've got to fatten them out.

When I added the rabbit manure, they devored it in a day or two at most. I'm going to do this again but fill the bucket 1/3 full of cardboard and shredded newspaper and 1/3 full of rabbit manure all mixed in the bedding. I'm going use 75 worms in each bucket to start.

I also need to get some more buckets.
Comment by Susan B on October 17, 2010 at 11:04pm
If your goal is to produce as many worms as possible, I think you'd have more luck if there was drainage and a way for air to get into the bottom of the buckets. It can still be 5 gallon buckets, but stacked instead of pyramid. Yes, there will be movement of worms if you do this, but you'll get more worms.

Worms eat the bacteria on the food more than directly eating the food (they do both), and the more air flow available, the more bacteria.

You can either do what larry showed on a video or drill holes in the bottom of the bucket. I'm not handy like larry (duh, 2 X genes), but I can use a drill. I put about 20 holes in the bottom. Larry attached something to the outside of the buckets so that the buckets wouldn't fall in. I put a gatorade bottle in the middle of my bucket for the next one to rest on.
Comment by bpearcy10 on October 18, 2010 at 3:37am
Hi Susan,

Thanks for the suggestion. I definitely got more worms in my experiment, but more air and more food might increase their size.


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