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I've recently attained a culture of about 20-50 red earthworms, and I'm planning to use them to feed my turtle. I'm currently leaving them in a 14 inch * 5 inch * 5 inch deep planting pot, with soil of about an inch deep. The soil I'm using is some soil we had previously from a plant in a pot we're no longer using.

I'd like to know the basic directions to raising this culture. I want to know what I can add for the soil to make it more "nutritious" for the worms as well as gut loading them for the turtle. Moreover, I'd want to know if the size enclosure I'm using is appropriate, and how often I need to water the soil and whether I need to add more.

optional: How long should I expect them to take until they reproduce? And should I avoid feeding them to my turtle till then?

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    Do you have a vermicomposter? That will take care of the housing and feeding. – J. Musser Sep 29 '14 at 17:19
  • @J.Musser I don't quite have one, but essentially it's just a container with worms and a substrate that has organic waste right? – Mozein Sep 29 '14 at 17:43
  • What I have is more complicated than that, but makes everything easy. – J. Musser Sep 29 '14 at 17:44
  • @J.Musser This seems like a great product which I'll consider buying in time, thanks for the note on it. Currently though I'm planning in sticking to a more simple method since I don't plant too often and only have one turtle to feed. – Mozein Sep 29 '14 at 17:55
  • You may find this article helpful. – J. Musser Sep 29 '14 at 17:56
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You can buy a vermicomposter or build one. The size of the worm bin will depend on what species or how many worms you are culturing. If you will be raising them outside, your climate and temperatures will impact the productivity of your worms.

Lumbricus terrestris earthworms require cool temperatures (50-70 °F). European earth worms (Eisenia hortensis) can tolerate 40 °F. Red wigglers (Eisenia foetida) are smaller than either and might be a good choice as a whole-prey item as they don't need to be cut into pieces. Below is information on E. foetida specifically, but you may be able to adapt the guide to other species as well.

Red wigglers are the most popular for composting, they are small and tolerate a wide range of temperatures (40-100 °F) but do best between 70-80 °F. If your turtle likes to eat them, they are perfect choice. Make sure they are palatable, as some reptiles, especially garter snakes, do not like them and they may even have toxic properties to them. (Source: http://www.gartersnake.info/articles/2006/feeding-earthworms-red-wigglers-vs-nightcrawlers.php)

You might want to consider two containers, one for breeding and one for gutloading them to make them more nutritious for your turtle.

For breeding your colony, 2 large (64-72 quarts which is around 64 liters) plastic bins can be used: one will have drainage holes and the other will catch the liquid that is produced by general decomposition via worms and microbes. Use substrate such as shredded paper, coco fiber, or peat moss, submerged in water then placed into the bin. Do not use dirt, clay, sand or other soils: no earth for the earthworms. Keep a damp piece of burlap cloth on top to keep moisture in. Aerate the soil once a week by digging material from the bottom up with a blunt tool or your hands. Add water if it feels dry or just add more moist food to the top and make sure to cover with damp cloth. You can dump the liquid in the bottom bin whenever you wish. Pour out into the garden or lawn, it's good fertilizer but a bit smelly.

Here is a good guide on starting your homemade worm bin: http://www.worms4earth.com/getstarted.php

Feed your breeding colony a variety of kitchen vegetable scraps. Avoid meat, dairy and processed salty foods. Worms eat microorganisms growing on the food as well as very tiny bits of the food, so chopped and/or cooked food is best. Do not overload your bin with food, you will get odors and pests. The bedding you use will also be eaten, so you don't have to "feed" too much. Vermicomposters and gardeners have different needs for their worm bins so they can put in a larger variety of plant matter to compost.

For worms you are going to feed out to your turtle, you can put them in a smaller bin (16 quarts which is around 15 liters) with no drainage holes and slightly drier bedding. Put a mixture of tropical fish flakes, oatmeal, and a calcium supplement for 1-2 days before feeding to your turtle. In the wild, earthworms are high in calcium due to minerals in the soil but calcium is lacking in most kitchen scraps. You could also include high-calcium veggies like dandelions or other greens and high-vitamin veggies like squash and sweet potato.

You should be able to harvest some worms within a few weeks, but be sure to leave the biggest ones that are breeding.

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What J.Musser said is a good idea. You don't have to have anything that complicated, but it's a nice design. Basically a vermicomposter is a worm habitat. It just has the side benefit of making really good soil for plants.

I really like to grow and I'm just getting into composting and vermicomposting, having always used miracle grow. So the fresh greens you could grow with it are good for you, but you could also grow fresh greens for your turtle, and unlike store bought greens, you'll know they're packed full of vitamin and nutrients. You'll also know exactly which if any chemicals went into it.

So to set up a good, cheap vermicomposter, based on my internet research, you can simply get a cheap Rubbermaid bin from a store like big lots or the dollar store and drill a bunch of .25" holes for air and drainage. Youtube has a lot of videos on the subject. You also need to get a container to put under it and catch the liquid that comes out. I assume it's a combo of deteriorating food, worm juice, and the water you add to keep it damp. It's basically a very nutrient rich watering liquid and you should water your plants with it. A lot of people I've seen either use another of the same container or something similar with a spacer to keep them main tub off the bottom.

You'll have to find a recipe for soil, it's not straight worm casting. You'll also have to sift the worms out of the castings and feed them, but you'll have to do that regardless. It's just a matter of what you do with the waste, toss it out or use it. You'll have pretty much an endless supply of worms, get rid of kitchen waste and have good veggies.

I've read that regular earth worms don't do well and you need to use red wigglers, but I don't think the turtle will mind. I'd use the worms to make castings, feed the excess worms to the turtle, and use the casting and compost (bought or made) to make soil to grow him some good turtle chow. It might not be as balance, but will probably be much healthier than turtle sticks. Good luck.

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