Easily Harvest Worm Castings From Your Worm Farm

Sixteen pounds and a few ounces of pure garden gold Baby! Yay! I was so excited when I harvested my first bounty of worm vermicelli, aka: wormie poo.
Even with all the teasing from my friends and noses in the air by my kids, I went with my gut and started a worm vermicomposting farm last growing season, and boy am I glad I did! 
I did a good bit of research before I set up the  wriggler's homestead, therefor was pretty confident that the operation of the farm would produce that coveted black gold efficiently.  And it did. Well sort of. For the most part, things went well, but as with anything created from scratch, a few things had to be adjusted or tweeked from time to time until I found just the right environmental happiness that suited my hungry little Eisenia fetida best. 
One thing I have been a bit surprised with is the speed in which the castings were produced by the worms in my farm.  Too fast? No. Sadly, not fast enough. And I now realize it was not fast enough based on a few bad choices I made in the original set up and feeding of my farm worms. 
I will go into that at the end of this post, but now I will show you just how easy it is to harvest worm castings. Don't turn up your nose! It's easy, and it's not yucky at all. 
Here are the steps to harvesting worm castings: 
Evict Your Worms: 
The first step is to naturally transition as many worms as possible and can take a couple weeks, maybe even three, based on the amount of food scraps that are currently unconsumed by the worms. Keep this in mind and allow the time for your worms to pack up and move out from their current foodless farmhouse and into the new one that is stocked with groceries.  
Here's how to evict your worms:
Several weeks before you are ready to harvest castings stop adding food to the bin in which you will be harvesting from. Instead, add another level to your farm and add food to this new level only. For the first layer I also add in a bit of compost with my food, but I'm not sure that is a requirement.  It is though important to make sure the new level which holds the new food also has many holes drilled in the bottom of the new bin and the bottom of the new bin sits directly on top of the soil of the current bin. This is how the worms move through the holes to find their new pantry.
I have found that using the exact same type bin for each layer is best.  So plan ahead for new levels when initially setting up your farm bin.  It's easy to get extra bins during the initial set up and store your extras until needed.  To learn how to initially set up an easy and inexpensive worm farm, read my post labeled "Organic Gardening: Vermicomposting: SAVE THE WORMS!".  

Plunder Their Castings But Free The Hostages: 
So if you have evicted your worms from their farm by coaxing them into their newer digs you are now ready to gather what you will need to actually harvest the castings. 


Hopefully most of your worms are now living in their new digs (the new level you added), but there are still going to be quite a few worms that refused to move. Today is true eviction day as you are about to pack their bags and toss them from their castings into the new pantry level! Don't worry, they will eventually realize it was for their own good! 

Here's how to harvest the castings:

  • Place the tarp on the ground.  I use my garage for casting harvest so, that is why you see my car wheels in the picture. 
  • Slowly pour out the castings onto the tarp, carefully scraping as much casting material out of the bin as you can get.  I noticed I even had castings stuck to the outside bottom of my bin too. It's such great stuff, don't miss any! 
  • Divide the castings into smaller, more manageable mounds all around the tarp. My mounds ended up to be about 2 gallon sized mounds or so each.  There's no real science here...just make some piles. The reason you do this is because the worms that are left in the castings are not going to want to see the light of day, so when you make the piles they are going to dive down as low as they can go leaving the tops of your mounds nice and worm free.  
  • Start sifting through the mounds by hand.  As pictured above, I pick up handfuls of castings and carefully break it up over a bucket or in a new pile as I carefully look for rogue worms. When I find them, I carefully remove them from the castings and put them in their new digs, the pantry bin. Then I softly whisper, "you are welcome", as I know they are finally so excited to see fresh food again! Okay, I don't whisper to them, but still...I'm sure they are grateful, right? 
  • Move from mound to mound sifting from the top with your hands. Your mounds will get smaller and fewer as you go, but you will find more and more worms as you go because as I stated, they will dive to the bottom of the dirt pile wanting to flee from the light. Also, if you come across scraps of food that have not gotten consumed, just toss it over in the new bin too. The worms won't care! 
  • Continue this process until you find no more worms and you have a pile of clean, wormless black castings ready to go to work for you in your organic garden.   

Above is my final results.  It still has some egg shell in it, but I do not mind. Egg shells provide extra calcium to my castings, plus I just think it looks pretty.  Yes, I just said worm poo looks pretty. From my bin I collected 16.1 pounds of castings. WOO HOO! Black gold for my little 'maters! They are so going to love me for this, but I think I have learned how to farm castings quicker by getting the food to the worms in a more digestible consistency.  I'll tell you about that soon in an upcoming post.  

Now, off I go to spray worm poo off my hub's tarp and to wash my hands.  But just so you know, if farmed properly, worm vermicomposting is not dirty at all.  It does not smell bad and is not slimy.  If yours is...well, there's issues to resolve.  We will leave that to a future post about worm farming.  

Until we meet again...
FLIP MORE DIRT! 

~PJ

A special Thank You goes out to Uncle Jim at Uncle Jim's Worm Farm for so many tips and resources for worms and worm farming.  His website is very helpful for new worm farmers.  If you are thinking about raising worms for the castings, do it, and read all you can at Uncle Jim's Worm Farm! Such an awesome resource!  



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