Cheap and Free ways to start vermicomposting
This is a slightly different twist on pjames' Cheap and Friendly Vermicomposting thread. I think the original intent of that discussion was to get folks started with cocoons that could be mailed for ~$1. For those of us who are not good at spotting cocoons, we can ship a cup or two of 1/8" screened vermicompost from a high worm density bin (total package weighing less than a pound) for ~$5. There are sure to be enough cocoons in such material to start a small worm bin. However, when it starts to cost more than $10 or takes multiple shipments to get one person started, it sort of defeats the whole concept. Again, this is not meant to derail pjames' "pay it forward" vibe. I'm both a beneficiary and a participant in that movement. This is just a summary of ideas for people to consider.
I'm sure this topic has been brought up repeatedly through the years in this forum, but times change and sometimes new methods become available. I'll start with ideas for ways to find free composting worms and then throw in a few sources that cost less than $20. Feel free to add other ideas and make suggestions on how to improve ones already listed. Stories of success or failure are also welcome.
Obviously the ideas listed here will require more effort and time. Remember to use email & phone calls before wasting gas to drive around chasing leads. If you do NOT "have more time than money", then consider putting aside a dollar a day in a can/envelope/piggy bank. You'll have enough to order a full pound of worms in a month. The waiting time could be used to prepare the worm bin and get a good microbial ecosystem going in the bedding.
Friends & neighbors who have compost bins: Ask if they would allow you to dig to the bottom of their compost bin/pile and collect some composting worms. Be sure you know how to tell the difference between a burrowing worm and a composting worm. The former will not be happy in a worm bin.
Farms or horse stables: Ask if they have any old manure piles (horse, cow, rabbits, llamas, etc.) and if they would allow you to dig around to look for worms. If you find them, ask if you could also take some of the old manure.
Freecycle & Craigslist: Ask members of these two online communities if anyone can spare you a "cup of worms". Make a good case for why you want to compost with worms and why you can't afford to buy the worms. Post a photo of a prepared worm bin if possible...you have a good home, just need some worms.
Bait worms: Again, you will need to know how to identify the worms. Traditional Canadian nightcrawlers will not work in a worm bin. By most accounts, Walmart now sells E. hortensis (European nightcrawlers). $3 for 30 worms. They may or may not be refrigerated. Some may not be in great shape, but usually at least a dozen will survive longer than a week. Someone on another forum counted over 100 cocoons from 25 bait worms in 1 month. I'm guessing he'll have over a pound in 6 months and 4 lbs. after a year.
$1 bag of composted steer manure: This one is a bit of a crap shoot. I had one of these bags sitting in my garden for months. It was opened, only 3/4 full and had gotten wet. It had quite a number of red worms. I bought another bag recently, but it was dry and had no worms. I've put it on the ground in a shady spot and will keep it moist. I don't know if there are already cocoons in the bag or if "wild" E. fetida will find their way into the bag. I'll have to wait and see.
$18 for 1/2 lb. E. fetida: I don't know how reliable this worm seller is, but this is the cheapest shipped price I've seen for a good quantity of worms.
1/2 lb. 'Starter Pack' Red Worms Bedrun - $19.95 This worm seller has a good reputation. You can call them to confirm, but my understanding is the worms come packed in a good quantity of their vermicompost bedding (including cocoons and babies). The worms are weighed "naked" before being added back to their bedding.
Remember when you are starting small that a small bin will allow the worms to more easily find each other to mate. Mason jars with cotton cloth for lids, plastic containers with plenty of air holes, anything from between a quart and a gallon in size. Absolutely no direct sunlight! Put clear containers in a paper bag or cardboard box. Feed by the teaspoon...once a week. Keep moist. Fill ~75% with damp egg carton/cardboard bedding and literally a pinch of garden soil or sand. Add some old leaves if you have them.
Happy hunting and good luck.