Why worms have become the latest pandemic craze

·3 min read
Christine Gillard works as environmental educator at Memorial University's Botanical Garden. The worms, she says, have needs just like any other pet.  (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC - image credit)
Christine Gillard works as environmental educator at Memorial University's Botanical Garden. The worms, she says, have needs just like any other pet. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC - image credit)
Henrike Wilhelm/CBC
Henrike Wilhelm/CBC

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a boost in sales for items like flour, workout equipment and lumber in Newfoundland and Labrador, as people pick up new hobbies and take on household work.

But the demand for worms has also seen a spike — more specifically, composting worms — as people dig into gardening.

"Since COVID … our demand … has grown, I would say, well up over 80 per cent," said Christa Williams, who owns Trouter's Special Worm Farm in Bay Bulls.

The farm is the only commercial-scale worm farm in the province. Its business model centres around vermiculture, the process of rearing worms.

The worms are sold to customers for vermicomposting — composting food waste with the help of worms. The compost can then be used as fertilizer for plants and vegetables.

The method of using worm feces, also called castings, instead of other types of manure to fertilize plants isn't new, but it has taken off during the pandemic.

Especially on social media, worms have gained a large following, with several local groups on Facebook dedicated to the topic of vermiculture.

"People are getting more involved in their gardens, more interested in nutritional soil and growing good vegetables and food," said Williams, who has been in the worm business for 13 years.

"A lot of people come to us in the spring time of the year to look for alternative methods as opposed to … synthetic fertilizer to add to their gardens," she said.

Williams sells everything worm-related, like castings, soil mix, vermicomposting kits and, of course, worms by the pound. She even occasionally ships worms to other provinces.

Henrike Wilhelm/CBC
Henrike Wilhelm/CBC

Memorial Unversity's Botanical Garden in St. John's also houses worms, for educational purposes. Before the pandemic, vermicomposting classes were part of its curriculum.

Christine Gillard works as environmental educator and takes care of the garden's wigglers.

"They're like pets and they have requirements and things that they do and don't like," said Gillard.

"If they're not happy with the environment that they're living in, they try to leave. And that's never fun to find when they've tried to escape out of the bin."

Henrike Wilhelm/CBC
Henrike Wilhelm/CBC

Worms need the right temperature and the right moisture — vermicomposting bins are, unlike than traditional compost, meant for inside — and are also picky about the type and amount of food they're fed.

"We always say the coffee grinds, it gets them going," said Gillard with a laugh.

Faster and more efficient

Vermicomposting, Gillard said, is much faster than conventional composting and worm bins don't take up much space. A container can be kept anywhere in even a small apartment, from underneath the kitchen sink to the bedroom.

It comes at a higher price than conventional backyard compost, however, with a pound of worms costing $55.

But some also say vermicompost is a better fertilizer.

"Worms don't eat through weeds, per se. Sometimes, when you get manures and stuff, you worry about the weed issues," Williams explained.

Gillard agrees that worm castings are very concentrated compost and high in nutrients, but said the right food matters.

"What they're pooping out is what they're eating. So, whatever we're putting into our bin, is … what you're going to be getting out of it," said Gillard.

Henrike Wilhelm/CBC
Henrike Wilhelm/CBC

The type of worm also matters. The European red wiggler is the go-to worm for composting.

"These worms are always working in the top inches of your soil and eating that organic matter, where some worms just move away and don't look for that," said Williams.

"You can pick many worms from your garden, but not all will be successful in what you're trying to achieve."

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