The business began when owners Tim Quick and Howard Kennedy answered an ad to grow red worms for waste reduction. When that turned out to be a scam, they decided to pursue the idea anyway and began raising European red worms,
which are excellent for bait and for pro-ducing compost.
We thought the worm castings would be the main part of the business, but the demand for bait worms was so high that we ended up concentrating on raising worms and selling the castings as we could, explained Kennedy, who now has over two million worms bedded into 1,200 plastic tubs.
The partners began with family members helping out, and their business has grown into a 3,200-sqaure-foot, temperature-controlled facility with seven seasonal employees working five days a week. They are contracting with 25 bait wholesalers in six states. I had no idea there were this many fishermen, chuckled Quick, who also cooks at his family-owned Hungry Tummy Restaurant in Beulah, as does Kennedy.
The worms eat a whopping 2,300 lbs. of organic waste every four days, from coffee grounds to the morning newspaper. They are European crawlers, which the company purchases from farmers in Holland to be bedded, fattened and to lay eggs. Quick and Kennedy are working on incubating worms, and hope to produce 30% of the more than half a million worms they sold last year.
The critters also produce about 100 tons of worm castings annually, also known as vermicast. One hundred percent organic, non-toxic and odor-free, vermicast is billed as the best plant fertilizer available.
Due to its high percentage of organic matter, castings contain a storehouse of nutrients that are readily available to plants. Studies have shown that vermicast is higher in phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium and packs three times the calcium of ordinary topsoil. Due to the bacteria and micro-organisms in the worm casting, plants are healthier and more resistant to bugs and disease.
Results from some of the research done on worm casting is impressive:
Vermicompost outperforms any commercial fertilizer I know of, states Professor. Clive A. Edwards, who began his earthworm research in his native England in the early 1970s before coming to Ohio State. I think the key factor is microbial activity. Research that I and others have done shows that microbial activity in worm castings is 10 to 20 times higher than in the soil and organic matter that the worm ingests. (Worldwide Progress in Vermicomposting by Gene Logsdon in BioCycle, October 1994.)
The product has excellent soil structure, porosity, aeration and water retention capabilities. The product can insulate plant roots from extreme temperatures, reduce erosion and control weeds. It is odorless and consists of 100% recycled materials. (Vermigro Premium Earthworm Soil Product literature, sold by Canyon Recycling, San Diego.)
The activity of the earthworm gut is like a miniature composting tube that mixes, conditions, and inoculates the residues. Moisture, pH, and microbial populations in the gut are favorably maintained for a synergistic relationship, and then a terrific byproduct. (Dr. Bill Becker, The Benefits of Earthworms, Natural Food and Farming, July/August, 1991.)
Earthworm castings are the best imaginable potting soil for greenhouses or houseplants, as well as gardening and farming. It will not burn even the most delicate plants, and all nutrients are water-soluble, making it an immediate plant food. Earthworm castings, in addition to their use as a potting soil, can be used as a planting soil for trees, vegetables, shrubs, and flowers. They may be used as a mulch so that the minerals leach directly into the ground when watered. The effects of earthworm castings used in any of these ways are immediately visible. They make plants grow fast and strong. Nematodes and diseases will not ruin gardens or plants if the soil is rich enough for them to grow fast. It is the weak plant in poor soil that is destroyed by nematodes and diseases. (R.E. Gaddie and D.E. Douglas, Earthworms For Ecology and Profit, Vol. I Scientific Earthworm Farming.)
Benzie Organics Solution sells their worm castings in 25 lb. bags. The castings are available at these local outlets: Plant It Organic and Keystone Perennials in Traverse City, Sweet Meadow Farm in Lake Ann, Market Basket and Eden Hill Greenhouses in Beulah, Crystal Gardens in Frankfort, Pleasanton Greenhouses in Bear Lake, Ace Hardware in Benzonia, and Honor Building Supply in Honor.
You can also catch them at the downtown Traverse City Farmers Market most Saturdays this summer. Check out their website at: Benzieorganicsolutions.com or call 877-362-WORM.