The Hidden Worm That Can Kill Your Goats & Sheep

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The Hidden Worm That Can Kill Your Goats & Sheep

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I lived in ignorant bliss for years. Like many keepers of small ruminants up north, I was more complacent than I should have been about the possibility of parasites. As a general rule of thumb, these organisms have been more of a problem in southern locations for longer than they have in the north, but are gradually making their way to all regions of the country.

About six months after I purchased two doelings and integrated them into my herd, a visiting animal health expert noticed some worrisome symptoms in one of the young goats and took fecal samples back to her office to examine under a microscope. The next day, she called me with the results: the animal was loaded with barber pole worm.

I had never even heard of barber pole worms, and I set about learning all I could about it by asking other goat owners, seeking information from animal health experts, and searching online.

What Are They?  

Barber pole worm, or Haemonchus contortus, is a parasitic organism which thrives in the abomasum—or last stomach—of ruminants. It is highly contagious, often deadly, and once contracted is nearly impossible to eradicate.

Research revealed that my first order of business was saving the life of my goat. How-to’s varied widely among all the sources I consulted, many of them directly contradicting one another on everything from types of medications to frequency and dosage. It was scary and confusing, to say the least.

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A person in my goat network took the time to tell me the story of what worked for her, and I believe her help is the reason my goat survived. She recommended I use a specific type of anthelmintic—the scientific term for a chemical de-wormer—called levamisole hydrochloride.   The information I found online supported her advice. Levamisole is available only via mail order in my state, but the lady happened to have some on hand and offered it to me at her cost.

Lest the treatment described above sounds like a panacea, it most assuredly is not. Different drugs are more or less effective by region, by farm, by animal, and by a whole host of other factors. But if a treatment worked at a farm nearby, that is a good place to start.

Before continuing with information about barber pole worm, it is worth noting that I am not a veterinarian. Any knowledge I have of animal health and parasites is gained through my own research and experience as a goat owner, and should never be taken as advice in lieu of consulting an expert.

First, a few barber pole basics. It is the adult worms, striped like a barber pole, which take hold in the stomachs of ruminants. From there, they lay eggs which are passed out of the animal’s body through its feces. Once on the ground, the eggs develop into larvae and are ingested by ruminants as they graze. Back inside the digestive system, the larvae become adults and the life cycle continues.

Symptoms of Barber Pole Worm

The Hidden Worm That Can Kill Your Goats & Sheep

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Visible symptoms of the possible presence of barber pole worms include diarrhea, hanging tail, dull coat, lethargy and depression. It is important to remember that these signs can be indicative of other maladies, as well, so while these symptoms indicate that something is wrong, it is not always barber pole worm.

If barber pole worm progresses, edema—fluid buildup in body tissues—sometimes becomes visible, particularly in the face and jaw.

An excellent way to diagnose the presence of stomach worms—of which barber pole worm is a likely candidate—is by determining whether the animal is anemic. This can be achieved using a diagnostic tool called “FAMACHA.” This is basically a chart showing how to compare the colors of the tissue under the lower eyelids of the animal—pink tissue means there is plenty of healthy blood flow and white means anemic—and providing guidelines of when to treat.

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Another excellent diagnostic method is a fecal exam. Veterinarians typically offer this service, but it can be costly and cumbersome for multiple animals and follow-ups. For this reason, many people learn to do it themselves. Examining fecal content is not nearly as off-putting as it sounds.  Training can be attained for little or no money, often from another ruminant owner. My own microscope training was provided to me by the professor who first diagnosed my sick goat, but since that time my state cooperative extension has begun to offer quarterly microscope training workshops.

The expense of owning a good quality microscope can seem daunting, but groups and clubs can potentially share ownership in equipment, giving each member easy access without being solely responsible for cost or storage.

It is important to be aware that fecal exams do not always tell the full story. The presence of parasite eggs in fecal matter does not necessarily correspond exactly with the presence of adult stomach worms. When in doubt, always consult a veterinarian.

It is critical to catch barber pole early. Unchecked, it can be deadly. In late stages it is even possible for the treatment itself to be dangerous because the sudden die-off of parasites can render an animal too compromised to recover.

As with most things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is wise to screen new animals for parasites before putting them in with your existing herd, even when buying high quality stock from a reputable dealer. Once barber pole was present on my farm, the only option from that point forward was to manage it.

Some livestock owners get desirable results by routinely administering anthelmintics to the entire herd or flock. However, current school of thought recommends treating only sick animals. The reason for this is to avoid the risk of creating a medication-resistant super-organism.

Hot to Prevent Barber Pole Worm

When my goat was first diagnosed, I treated my entire herd. It was important at that time to make a complete break in the life cycle of the parasite. I carefully monitored the fecal egg counts after the first dose and treated only sick animals from there on.

Parasite activity is minimal in winter in cold climates. It flares up most in spring and fall, so diligence is most crucial during those seasons. Some individual animals and certain breeds are naturally more resilient, and young stock is generally far more susceptible than are adults. Resilience—the innate ability to thrive in the presence of barber pole worm or avoid getting it at all—is an excellent trait to keep in mind when culling a herd.

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The Hidden Worm That Can Kill Your Goats & Sheep

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Some of the best ways to manage barber pole worm are really more about managing the livestock, pasture and infrastructure. Parasite eggs and larvae thrive best in warm humid conditions, multiply most easily in crowded conditions, are most plentiful close to the ground, and have a more profound effect on less healthy animals. With those facts in mind, good parasite management includes:

  • Keeping indoor quarters clean.
  • Allowing ample space in the most-used paddocks.
  • Rotating pastures and sticking to the highest and driest during damp seasons.
  • Keeping hay and feed up off the ground by using hay and grain feeders.
  • Hanging water buckets on walls to minimize spills and feces contamination.
  • Keeping feed and water containers clean.
  • Providing mid-level browse. Sheep tend to graze and goats prefer browse, but both will eat vegetation higher off the ground if browse is provided. This will help limit the likelihood of the larvae being ingested.
  • Maintaining overall herd health.
  • Staying abreast of any health changes in individual animals and within the overall herd, particularly during seasons when parasites are most prevalent.
  • Doing fecal exams often.
  • Being responsible regarding biosecurity: Use due diligence to prevent yourself and visitors from carrying barber pole worms to other farms.

Two other preventative treatments being increasingly recommended by veterinarians and farmers are copper and tannin. Many sheep and goat owners use copper boluses—capsules filled with copper pellets—as effective treatment. The drawback to these is that they can be challenging to administer, because they need to be shot with a special gun down the animal’s gullet in order to remain intact and not chewed. An easier yet arguably less effective method is to offer free-choice tannin. This is easily found in the bark of softwood trees, but comes with a warning: certain pine trees are toxic to goats and sheep. Pine trees native to my region pose no danger, but that is not the case in all areas of the country. The bark of other trees, most notably cherry, can be toxic, as well. If you are not certain, consult your veterinarian.

No small ruminant farmer wants to have barber pole worm show up in his or her herd, but it is becoming increasingly common in most areas. But with attention to self-education and adoption of careful practices, barber pole worm can be monitored, managed and mitigated.

Have your sheep or goats ever had barber pole worm? Share your advice in the section below:

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Parasitic Worms

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parasiticwormEM

parasitic worm

It’s important to realize that there are infections not commonly seen today in developed countries that may become major issues if a disaster throws you off the grid. Knowing which disease-causing organisms exist in your area, even if they are not major problems today, will be important to keep your loved ones healthy.

The word “parasite” comes from the Greek word Parastos, meaning “someone that eats at someone else’s table”. When we think of para- sites, none give us the creeps more than having worms.

Parasites like ticks, fleas, mites, and lice live on our skin or just beneath; these are called ectoparasites. Worms, also known as helminths, are endoparasites. They live deep in our intestines or other core organs, often gaining sustenance by sharing our partly-digested food. They are also egg-laying machines, with some depositing tens of thousands a day into their host.

Many different worms are known to infest the human body: nematodes, trematodes, flatworms, and flukes, are just a few. The diseases they cause are a major health issue in underdeveloped countries due to difficulties with sanitation. Even in developed nations, any disaster that impairs access to safe food and water could cause cases of parasitic worms to skyrocket.

Worm infestation is usually caused by ingesting soil that contains their eggs. While this may seem an unlikely happenstance to you, areas where people defecate openly and fail to wash their hands leads to contaminated soil. Some of this soil ends up on people’s hands, and then goes to their mouth when they touch their face.

Parasitic worms range in size from microscopic to very long, depending on the species. The most common infection we’ll see in the U.S. is the tiny Pinworm, which causes anal itching in 40 million Americans. However, almost a quarter of the world’s population has some type of worm infestation. Children are especially vulnerable and may experience stunted growth and developmental problems as a consequence.

Worm eggs or larvae enter the body through the mouth, nose, anus, or breaks in the skin. Amazingly, many helminths actually require human stomach acid to dissolve their egg shells to allow them to hatch. Once hatched, the acid-immune larvae travel from the stomach and attach themselves to the walls of the intestinal tract. Some species infest the liver and lungs as well.

SYMPTOMS OF WORM INFESTATIONS

Colonization by worms may be asymptomatic or, as in the case of pin- worms, just involve some itching in the anal area. With some species, however, a large concentration of organisms can cause serious problems.

Each type of worms cause different symptoms, but you should suspect their presence in otherwise-unexplained cases of:

  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Abdominal swelling or gas
  • Abdominal pain or cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Constant urge to have a bowel movement.
  • Unexplained skin rashes or sores.
  • Anal itching
  • Constant fatigue.
  • Chronic muscle and joint aches.
  • Malnutrition

The above represents a broad array of symptoms, and makes me wonder if the number of cases of worm infestation is underestimated, even in countries with modern infrastructures.

CONSEQUENCES OF WORM INFESTATIONS

In rare cases, the population of internal parasites is so high that it causes an obstruction of the bowels. Worm species that invade the liver or lungs can cause respiratory distress or a weakened metabolism. All of these complications may result in the death of the patient.

Your body knows when it has been invaded and sets up an immune response against the worm. Success is limited, however, and all the energy put into defense may weaken the ability to fight“secondary” infections that may occur. The more issues the body has to deal with, the less effective it is in fighting them.

Some worms actually compete with your body for the food that you take in. A species known as Ascaris, for example, will attach to the wall of your intestine and eat partially digested food that comes its way. This competition prevents you from absorbing nutrients effectively, and malnutrition results.

TYPES OF WORMS

There are numerous types of helminthic infections based on the species involved. Infections are often named for the species with the suffix “-asis” (for example, ascariasis), as opposed to other infections/inflammations, which often end with the body part affected and the suffix “-itis” (for example, tonsillitis).

Although there many worms that infect humans, some of the more common types are

 

Pinworms

pinworm-cycle

Pinworm life cycle

Pinworms are a type of nematode called a roundworm. Reaching only 1/3 inch in length, they lay eggs around the host’s anus, usually at night. This leads to an itching sensation which can become severe. Pinworms are the most common parasitic worm infection in the United States

A cycle then develops where contaminated fingers from scratching come in contact with the mouth. This transports the eggs inside the body where they hatch.

You can test for pinworms simply by placing adhesive tape on the anal region of the patient. Inspect the tape for worms (eggs may also be seen with a low-power microscope) after a few hours or the next morning.

 

Hookworms

1982 Dr. ?? This enlargement shows hookworms, Ancylostoma caninum attached to the intestinal mucosa. Barely visible larvae penetrate the skin (often through bare feet), are carried to the lungs, go through the respiratory tract to the mouth, are swallowed, and eventually reach the small intestine. This journey takes about a week.

hookworms

Hookworms are another roundworm and one of the most common helminth infections worldwide. The parasite feeds on blood from vessels in the intestinal walls. Hookworm infestation is sometimes asymptomatic, but can cause anemia as well as abdominal symptoms.

Occasionally, a larval (juvenile) hookworm that uses a non-human host may penetrate the skin of a human. Although it can’t go into the organs, it can cause a skin disease called “Larva Migrans”, once known as “creeping eruption”.

With Larva Migrans, you can see serpentine vein-like lesions with itching in the skin. As the larva move, areas where they previously were may become crusty and very itchy.

 

Ascaris

parasiticworm

ascaris super-infestation

The largest intestinal roundworm, reaching 14 inches, is known as Ascaris. It is thought that there are 2 billion people that carry this worm, mostly in poorly developed countries.

Ascaris eggs, when ingested, become a larvae that enters the blood- stream through the small intestine. It reaches the lung, where it leaves the circulation and is eventually coughed up, swallowed, and goes back to the intestine, where it matures. Once mature, the female worm can produce up to 200,000 eggs a day.

Ascaris effects may include bloody phlegm, fever, cough, and abdominal symptoms. If the concentration of worms is high enough, they may begin to leave the body through the anus, nose, or mouth.

 

Tapeworms

tapeworm

tapeworm with 12 inch ruler at bottom for comparison

Tapeworm is a type of infection caused by a flatworm that lives mostly in Asia and Africa. The worm is, indeed, flat. Tapeworm eggs can form
walled-off areas called “cysts” in body tissues and organs. If larvae are ingested, however, they will mature into adult tapeworms in the intestines. The adults are segmented and reach prodigious lengths up to 55 (!) feet long.

Symptoms are typical for other helminth infections but symptoms related to the infested organ may also be seen.

TREATMENT OF WORM INFESTATIONS

Medications that can kill parasitic worms are called “vermiculicides” or “vermicides“. All are prescription drugs, although persons with travel plans to underdeveloped countries shouldn’t have trouble getting these from their physician.

Albendazole (brand name Albenza for roundworms) 400 mg once or twice.

Mebendazole (only available in generic form; most specific for pinworm infestation) 100 mg twice a day for 3 days or 500 mg

Pyrantel pamoate (common ingredient in heartworm meds for dogs) 11 mg/kg once, some species once daily up to 3 days.

Praziquantel (brand name Biltricide for tapeworms, various dosages depending on worm species)

Dosing may vary with some of these medications dependent on the type of worm. A second course of therapy is administered if the patient is not cured in 2-4 weeks.

Naturally anti-helminthic plants also exist. Garlic, ingested fresh and raw, is thought to be an effective way to eliminate worms. Wormwood, Clove, Papaya, Pineapple, Cinnamon, Turmeric, and Plumeria have all been reported to be helpful. Interestingly, some believe that tobacco may help eliminate worms.

Careful attention to hygiene, wearing shoes when outside, and, among medical providers, strict glove use will decrease the likelihood of passing worms or their eggs from person to person. Hand washing, especially before preparing food, is considered especially important in preventing  community-wide outbreaks.

Joe Alton, MD

AuthorJoe

Dr. Alton aka Dr. Bones

 

How to Start Worm Composting

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How to Start Worm CompostingThe very first time I heard about worm composting I was intrigued. The idea that you can feed food scraps to a bunch of worms and they’d turn it into rich nutritious compost for your garden…And you don’t need a ton of space to do it…And, you can even do it inside…Well, that’s something I definitely wanted to try!

This month, I finally got my chance to try it. And today, I’m gonna show you what I did to get started so you can try it too.  

What is Worm Composting?

Worm composting (a.k.a. vermicomposting) is the process of using worms to recycle food scraps into a high nutrient soil amendment called vermicompost or worm compost. To put it simply, the worms eat your fruit and veggie leftovers and their waste, (a.k.a castings) becomes your garden’s black gold. Nice, right?

Why Compost with Worms?

Because it’s good for your garden (and good for the Earth). Healthy soil is the key to growing healthy plants. When you add worm compost to your garden you are putting organic matter back into the soil which has the nutrients plants need.

Organic matter is simply any type of living or dead plant or animal material. Worm compost is one type of organic matter that you can add to your garden soil. And, it may be the best. More organic matter in your soil means enhanced soil structure, better soil drainage, and a better environment for nightcrawler earthworms to live, eat, poop, and tunnel. ~wormcompostinghq.com 

Also, like I mentioned earlier, vermicomposting doesn’t require a lot of space (It can even be done inside!) so it’s a great way for urban families to start composting.

What Do You Need to Get Started?

Worms

Obviously. :) But will any old earthworm, do? No, not all worms are suitable in a worm composter. The best type of worms for vermiculture are Red Wiggler (Eisenia foetida), Brown Nose Worm (Lumbricus rubellus)  or European (Belgian) Nightcrawlers (Eisenia hortensis) variety. You can find these types of worms at bait-and-tack shops or online.  And once you find a supplier, you’ll need 1 pound or approximately 800-1000 worms to start.

Bedding

Inside a worm composter, worms don’t live in dirt. They live in bedding and the bedding is made up of “browns” which is carbon-based materials. “Browns” include shredded or torn newspaper, office paper, cardboard, leaves or combination of these items.

Food

What do worms eat? Your recycled kitchen scraps! Worms love fruit and vegetable scraps (raw or cooked) and their favorites are tomatoes, lettuces, melon rinds, banana, potato and carrot peels. They even eat egg shells, coffee grounds, bread and tea leaves! But be sure to skip the onions, citrus, meat, fish, dairy, fats and oils.

A Worm Bin

You can make your own worm bin or you can purchase one like this cool Worm Factory 360 eartheasy.com sent me. The Worm Factory is a compact, nice looking system that includes everything you needa durable, plastic, stacking tower, bedding made from coconut coir, pumice and shredded paper, thermometer, hand rake, mineral rock dust, an instruction book and DVDto get started. You have the option of purchasing the factory “with worms” or “without worms”. If you choose the “with worms” factory, like I did, it comes with a worm voucher. Basically, you go to the website listed on the voucher, type in a code and they send you the worms by mail.  Easy peasy.

How to Start Worm Composting

The Worm Factory 360 consists of a plastic tower made up of 4 stacking trays that have holes in the bottom. To give you an idea of how this works, the worms start in one tray and as they eat and fill that tray with compost, you’re adding additional trays with newer food to the top of the tower. The worms migrate upwards towards the new food and you’re able to harvest the compost from the lower trays.

I really like the Worm Factory 360. It’s a done-for-you option. Everything you need to get started comes together and you can easily set it up in minutes.

How to Set Up a Worm Bin

You want to make sure your bin is set up and ready before your worms arrive.

Here are the exact steps I followed:

1.Find a good location for your worm bin. Place your bin in a location where temperatures get no higher than 90º F and no colder than 40º F.  Some places to consider are a porch, patio, balcony, garage, basement, laundry room, or even under the kitchen sink. You can also keep the worm bin outside in the yard as long as it’s in the shade and is protected from wind and rain. Since the height of the Worm Factory 360 is taller than the space I have under the sink, I opted for the garage.

2. To start, you will use one stacking tray as the “starter tray” and set the other 3 stacking trays off to the side.  

3. Mix up the bedding.  The Worm Factory 360 came with a brick of coconut coir, minerals, pumice and shredded paper.  I moistened the coir in a mixing bowl, added the shredded paper, some pumice and 1 tablespoon of the minerals and mixed it all together. It’s a good idea to add one or two cupfuls of garden soil or compost because it contains organic organisms that will make the environment hospitable for the worms and help them digest the food. The bedding mixture should be moist, not dripping. It should feel like a wrung out sponge.

How to Start Worm Composting4. Take one or two sheets of dry newspaper and line the bottom of the first stacking tray. Then add the bedding mixture and spread it evenly around the tray.

How to Start Worm Composting

5. Add 2 to 3 cups of food in one corner.  The Worm Factory 360 instructions recommends feeding worms an even mixture of “browns” (shredded newspaper, cardboard, leaves) and “greens”(fruit and veggie scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds).

6. Gather 5-10 full pages of newspaper and wet until it is damp. Fold the newspaper so it fits in the stacking tray and lay it on top of the bedding to create a moist newspaper cover. Place the tower lid on top of the starter tray and wait for your worms to arrive. 

What to Do When Your Worms Arrive

When your worms arrive, open the worm bin and remove the moist newspaper cover. Add the worms (including all the bedding they came in) to the bin and replace the moist newspaper cover. 

How to Start Worm Composting

Replace the moist newspaper cover and put the plastic lid back on the worm bin.  It’s a good idea to leave the worms alone for two or three days so they can acclimate to their new home. 

After a few days, open the lid and lift the moist newspaper. If the worms aren’t moving around in their food, replace the newspaper cover and lid and wait two more days. If the worms are moving around in their food and feeding, it’s time to start adding food to your worm bin.

If you’d like to learn more or see how my worms are doing, join me in GROW…my Facebook group for beginner gardeners. 

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The Easiest Way To Compost During Frigid Winter Months

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The Easiest Way To Compost During Winter

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Were you one of those children who loved to pick up wiggling worms after a rain? You can still play with these helpful friends as an adult gardener. Worms are actually quite the composters themselves and through the art of vermicomposting, they are helping us grow healthy, organic food.

What Is Vermicomposting?

Vermicomposting is a process of composting whereby worms of many different varieties are used to make rich compost – in this case, worm poo. Red wigglers are the most common worm used, as they eat the most and the quickest, followed by white worms and earthworms. In addition to worms, you must include healthy food scraps, moist bedding and vegetable waste. Worms don’t like extreme temperatures, so you will have to keep this in mind.

This worm and waste mixture creates a fertilizer that is natural, organic and rich with nutrients. It is a great way to compost indoors during the winter, and you can do it year-round. This type of composting can be done anywhere, even in apartments.

Why Use This Type of Composting?

Vermicomposting is quick and easy. All the worms need to do is eat and poo. It doesn’t smell, though you need to make sure you do it properly.

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Another reason to use vermicomposting is it is natural and creates a rich fertilizer you can use on everything. It is also very convenient as you usually will have it right at your fingertips.

How to Vermicompost

What you will need

  • Container
  • Bedding
  • Worms
  • Scraps
  • Water

Steps to vermicompost:

  1. You can buy worms if you want a good jump start. Red wigglers are often recommended. They consume a lot more than the regular garden worms, and live in small spaces very well.
  2. Keep your worms and compost at room temperature. Do not let temperatures drop to below 10 Celsius or 50 Fahrenheit. Also, don’t sit your worms in hot, sunny areas, either. Keep your worms inside all year long; it is much easier this way.
  3. Put your compost and worm bin in an area that is easily accessible, for example: a bathroom, basement, warm garage or under the kitchen sink.
  4. Place a tray under your bin or container to collect any moisture or drips. You can use this moisture to fertilize any indoor or outdoor plants.
  5. Moist bedding is needed in the bin for your worms. Shredded newspaper, (not magazines or glossy flyers) works well. Make sure the bedding is moist, but not soggy. Worms need a layer to be covering them all the time.
  6. Do not pack the bedding down. It may be a surprise that not all worms are good at burrowing. At the beginning, add a handful or two of dirt, not too much. Vegetables, fruits – even used tea bags and coffee grounds as well as eggshells are good to add to compost often. Eggshells will help control acidity.
  7. Some food scraps should be avoided. Pineapple and papaya in particular contain an enzyme that can kill your worms. Also avoid adding too much citrus, onions and garlic which can cause the soil to become acidic and send your worms crawling up the sides of your container instead of making valuable compost.
  8. Collect food and “feed” your worms twice a week. Chop the food into small pieces and put it in the bin. Cover the fresh food with a thin layer of bedding. Overfeeding will attract fruit flies and cause a smell.

How To Maintain Your Worms

vermicomposting 3 -- growingagreenerworldDOTcomFeeding: Keep feeding on a routine and harvest whenever needed.

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Check dirt: You must keep an eye on the moisture content of the bin, as your worms can drown if there is too much that is wet. To help with this issue, you can put holes in the bottom of your container or bin to help drainage and prevent soggy conditions. It is a good idea to check regularly, and add bedding when needed.

Use properly sized container: Containers need to be about eight to 12 inches deep; this will help the worms eat easily. If the container is plastic, do not close the lid tightly. Leave it loose when closed.

Bedding and its sources: Shredded cardboard, shredded paper, peat moss and commercial worm bedding are all good. Bedding should make up 2/3 of the container or bin. Wet the bedding with water, and squeeze it all out before adding to the container.

Acquiring worms: You can order worms from garden centers, catalogs, bait stores or even gardeners who are already vermicomposting and have a good stock. You will need about ½ to 1 pound of worms to start.

Watch the diet: While worms are omnivores, adding meat scraps is not recommended as it can attract rats and mice that will not only eat the worms, but take up residence in your home. Vegetables and plan-based scraps are best. Remember to start slowly; it takes time to build up enough bacteria for the composting.

Worms are a simple, easy and affordable way to always have compost at your fingertips. Vermicomposting is one fun way of ensuring a truly organic garden. It can be done by those of all ages, and it doesn’t matter if you are new to gardening or an old pro. The worms won’t judge.

Have your vermicomposted? What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:  

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