AN EARTHWORMS MOMENT IN TIME
Earthworms For A Living?
Did you ever want to raise something live at home without all the fuss of daily cleanup and feedings.? How about Earthworms? They can be purchased cheaply if you take certain steps. Containment and feedings are easy. And they can mate with each other without the aspect of having a designated male or female in place. On top of that, lots of offspring are produced quickly.
I am talking about “red worms or wigglers” specifically. They are perfect as bait for fishing and can turn almost any type of animal waste products into perfect fertilizer for your flowers, trees, and vegetable garden. You buy them in bulk at a low price, and then fatten them up. After a few weeks, you can sell them in bulk at a markup in price with their surrounding soil included with the process.
I did that business and have a tale to tell about the pitfalls that I encountered. This is my story of what I did to make it happen and what I learned as I went along!
Surviving A Construction Meltdown
If you are born in the southern states and spend most of your early life in California, moving to Phoenix, Arizona is a real shock. The searing heat in the summertime is unreal. I remember days well over 100 degrees and rainfall was almost nonexistent!
I learned how to do construction there, and it was probably the hardest work I have ever done. You start work just before the sun comes up, take a short lunch break, and quit early. Along with that scenario, you must be careful how you drink water. That educational experience lasted long enough for me to graduate into the realm of building custom homes in Scottsdale, but after awhile, everything came to a halt.
Back then, interest rates on mortgages had climbed up to 18% and home sales plummeted as result of that high cost of owning a home. Even in a high profile yuppie area like Scottsdale which had become the upper class section of Phoenix, things came to a standstill. There were concrete slabs all over the area with weeds growing up around them, but no houses on top. Layoffs were rampant and I had to find some other means of making money.
A Newspaper Article Caught My Attention
One day, while reading the newspaper, I noticed an article about a local entrepreneur growing and selling earthworms for a living. I also noticed that it was a hot item for other “would be” earthworm startups. People were lining up to buy these wriggly creatures to start their own operations, and hopefully make some extra cash doing the same.
As stated earlier, you have to buy your product really cheap and sell a large quantity at a time to make it worthwhile. Paying the price this local dealer was selling at would have been prohibitive if I were going to get into this business. So I began to do some research.
It turned out that people who had earthworm farms in Southern California were placing ads in our local paper. These bits of information gave notice that they wanted to sell everything they had, really cheap. Since my wife’s parents lived in the Los Angeles Metro area at the time, I figured we could make that the destination of choice and stay with them while there. We would be able to buy, at an excellent price, all we could haul back to Arizona in our trailer and visit with them while there.
My Homemade Hauler!
I needed a mechanism that could haul loads earthworms along with the soil or earth they lived in. I also didn’t know, or bother to find out, whether the load would pass through the state border agricultural inspection station check points. Even though they were primarily set up to watch out for infected fruits or vegetables crossing state lines, I wondered if they would also consider my earthbound load a commensurate threat as well. So I figured I’d take the risk and see what happened.
With all that in mind, I forged ahead. First, I located an old farm trailer that consisted of a beefy metal frame on top of a heavy duty axle with truck sized wheels attached. There was no containment area or trailer bed on top of the frame. Nevertheless, I figured that was a good starting point, so I purchased that trailer for a really good price and hauled it home.
Next, I built a large 14′ wooden box-type cargo area out of 2x material and plywood. I didn’t have extra money for 2 new tires (it had a single axle), so I had to make the existing ones do (It is noteworthy here that they had almost no tread left). With this setup, I planned to carry the earthworms in their soil. No individual containers, just earthworms and dirt in bulk. The trailer would be towed behind our pickup that had a slide in camper in the bed.
The destination was about 400 miles and took about 6 hours to drive one way. So I became an earthworm entrepreneur. We would hookup everything on a Friday morning and make the long haul westward. We were hoping nothing went wrong on the way there, or back. Of Course, what could possibly happen with this hefty “home built” monstrosity, I thought!
Disaster Transporting The Buggers!
If you are guessing that this part of the story is leading up to a notable event, you are right. One trip that we made involved carrying a “heavy” load of worms and earth soil back home and we were about 20 miles west of Blythe, California on Interstate 10. Suddenly, one of the tires on the trailer exploded and disintegrated right off the rim. I think I saw some sparks and fire on the wheel through my rear view mirror.
We immediately pulled into the soft-sanded center area between east and westbound lanes. I made the decision to unhook the camper truck from the trailer and go to Blythe and see if I could find a tire to replace the one that was missing. After leaving the unit and my wife in tears, I made the trek to town. While there, I located a dealer that offered me a used tire at an inflated price. Without other options available to me, I bought the thing and went back and installed it on the trailer. That was the first part of the ordeal.
When everything was ready and we tried to leave the center divider, the weight of the trailer caused the truck tires to start sinking into the soft sand. Fortunately, a Good Samaritan driving a Jeep Wrangler with monster tires spotted us. He stopped and offered to pull the truck, with the trailer attached, out of the soft sand. My wife was behind the wheel while I stood outside watching. That endeavor almost ended in a second disaster.
This guy was so focused on pulling us onto the highway that he didn’t pay attention to a semi 18 wheeler bearing down on him. Fortunately, my wife noticed the potential disaster bearing down on us just in time and hit the brakes. This caused the Jeep to lurch and start bobbing all around, but that feat saved him from becoming a victim in a terrible accident. Anyhow, after he recovered from that near miss and finished towing us out, we finally made it back home with no further incidents.
Making Money Selling Worms?
We probably made 4 or 5 trips back and forth in all. I would meet with the people in California that were selling out, then buy everything they had in stock. Since the operations were small, what they available fit nicely in my trailer. I just emptied their bins into it and didn’t include any containers. I would bring the load back home to Arizona and divide the contents equally into 4 to 6 plywood boxes that I had previously “prepped” ahead of time.
Note: You are probably not going to like this next part of the story. However, I learned something very interesting while getting my earthworms ready for their new home.
Since we lived in a semi-rural subdivision on the outskirts of Phoenix, I made use of the fact that we had a dairy farm situated across the street that went past our house which was filled with a large number of cows dumping manure in their pens each and every day. I would take 55 gallon drums over there and the owner would load them with the crap and not charge me for his efforts. I would then bring the stuff back to my place and fill each bin about halfway. Unfortunately, the manure was too hot for the worms. So I planned to wait until the temperature neutralized before introducing the critters to the mix.
As soon as I engaged this procedure, however, something interesting happened. Flies would lay their eggs in the stuff and maggots would appear shortly thereafter. The heat in the manure didn’t bother them. They would eat the manure and turn it quickly into a viable worm bed, while cooling the stuff off in the process. Then they would transform themselves into cocoons and become you-know-what next! Since the flies had already gotten what they wanted from the cow poo, they went back to the dairy farm. It may have been the only time I have had a symbiotic relationship with such a vile insect.
It really turned out to be a crazy business back then. I would get walnut meal and fatten the worms up before selling them. I would then advertise them in local publications with the bins included. People would go crazy trying to take them off of my hands. The bins would normally sell out in a weekend giving me a profit of more than a $1000 when all was said and done. This was in the year of 1975 when gas prices were low and a $200. a week paycheck was good money.
This operation lasted for 4 about or 5 months before the whole craze petered out and came to an end. When it was all over, I figured I would not do anything like that again as a business, but I did learn something in the process: Earthworms are marvelous little critters in their own right.
Most of the ones you see in your yard are the larger Nightcrawlers. Mine being the Redworm variety, I didn’t know if they would survive outside of a protected environment. But the fantastic byproduct they produced by passing soil through their guts can be used anywhere to grow everything you can imagine. Good rich soil with a perfect nutrient balance is their contribution to the earth.
The worm’s castings have many nutrients in high percentages that are released slowly into the soil along with superior binding characteristics and water retention capabilities. They also offer excellent aeration, porosity and structural properties to the mix, and those nutrients are available for a longer period of time. “Available” means that the nutrients in castings can get to the plants for easy absorption because they’re water soluble. Worm castings will also greatly improve your soil’s texture.
Quote from Vegetablegardner.com:”Why You Want Redworms and Earthworms (Nightcrawlers) in Your Garden”_November 19th, 2009.
I would not recommend doing it the way I did. Still, you may have to travel a long distance to get them from where you live. As for me, now that I live in a rural area, I may try it again for my own gardens and such. I just will make sure the tires on my newer utility trailer are in excellent condition before I try!
I am requesting that my readers click on the links provided and download a sample read of each book and give a review on Amazon. You will have free access to the first four chapters of each book. My hope is that you will like the story lines enough to obtain either an eBook version or a paperback copy that you can put on your bookshelf as a masterpiece when you are done. FATE STALKS A HERO I: RESURGENCE, FATE STALKS A HERO II:THE FIJI FULCRUM, and THE SAGA OF HERACLES PENOIT. I will be giving excerpts on these works in upcoming blogs to familiarize you the reader with exciting details about the contents of each one. Thank you!