Fidgety, gluttonous Eisenia fetida — red wiggler worms — could be the new critter for Southern California gardeners… if only they were easier to find.
The demand for compost worms skyrocketed during the pandemic as people stuck at home discovered (or rediscovered) the joys of gardening. Additionally, a new state law mandating that food waste stay out of landfills has sparked more interest in vermicomposting.
Most local farmers aren’t great showmen, but we found 13 in Southern California who currently have red wiggler worms for sale, with prices ranging from $25 a pound to $75 a pound.
A supply chain challenge: Once a worm farmer’s supply is exhausted, rebuilding stock can take a while as baby worms take 90 days to be old enough to reproduce.
“When the shutdown started, my business quadrupled,” said Stan McCall, whose business, McCrawls Red Worms, has been selling worms for about 10 years. He grows red wigglers in his backyard and sells them at his shop in Cypress, where he runs his other business – Custom Creative – Stone Polishing. Since then, demand has fallen but is still strong, he said, with sales of 5,000 to 10,000 worms a week.
A pound of these hungry compost worms can devour half their body weight per day.
A pound of these hungry, composting worms can gobble up half their body weight a day under optimal conditions — with the help of beneficial microbes, which worm breeders say break down food into microscopic worm-sized bites. But even better, their droppings – known as cast – are pure gold for plants and therefore highly sought after by organic gardeners – especially cannabis growers whose many medicinal products make organic growing a must.
As a soil amendment, worm droppings act as a fertilizer, helping plants grow stronger and produce higher yields. And when the excrement is made into “tea,” it also helps protect crops from a variety of pests, said Chris Jung, aka the Worm Wrangler, who raises and sells worms from his home in Glendale.
Mike Matosian of Oaktree Worm Farm & Soils stopped selling worms after the Creek fire destroyed his Sylmar nursery in 2017. He’s only been raising worms for their droppings ever since, but he’s had so many inquiries about buying compost worms that he decided to resume selling the worms in early April.
“Cannabis growers love using it,” Matosian said. “I mean, they don’t tell me they’re a cannabis breeder, but I can usually tell. They always say something like, “I’m going to grow some tomato plants,” but auditions don’t come cheap. I sell regular compost for about $25 a yard, but I get paid $450 a yard for casts, so it has to be you motivated. The only growers who can use it on this scale are cannabis breeders.”
Excrement is a natural by-product of worm farming, but it’s also labor-intensive to collect, which is why it costs so much more than compost, according to worm farmers. By breeding their own worms, plant lovers can avoid the high price of excrement while reaping the benefits in their gardens and keeping methane-producing food waste out of our landfills.
That’s a double win for the environment, and according to LA’s youngest worm farmers, there’s another bonus. You can use the worms for racing – and save for college.
Will Hatanaka, 7, and his sister Alyssa, 8, own Will’s Worms in Studio City. They chose that name because “it’s shorter,” explained their father, Kevin. They raise and sell a variety of compost worms with the help of their father and their three guinea pigs, Phyllis, Patches and Tuxie.
How Do Guinea Pigs Help Raise Worms? “They poop a a lot of‘ the siblings shout at the same time, and then Alyssa explains, laughing. “The worms like to eat the droppings of vegetarian animals.”
These mini-entrepreneurs know their stuff, rattling off the types of worms they breed and their benefits, the time they devote to caring for them each day (about 1½ hours), and a list of their other weekly “favorite activities” – Children’s Choir , Chinese lessons, karate (both green belts aiming to be brown belts this summer), hula hoop, basketball and of course playing with their guinea pigs.
Will and Alyssa got into worm farming at the start of the pandemic in 2020 when they discovered their father’s neglected worm-compost bin in the backyard. They found some live worms and used them for racing, placing them in the center of a garbage can lid and cheering on whoever got to the rim first, Will said.
After a while they wanted more worms, Kevin said, “But I said, ‘You can’t just keep buying more worms as toys or pets; You have to do something productive with them. I’ll buy the worms for you, but you’ll need to take the time to learn some business skills.’”
Now the siblings have trays and stacks of red wigglers, the preferred compost worm, plus purple African night crawlers, which they say are also good for composting, and some trays of European night crawlers for anglers. They have since paid off their father’s initial investment and are now the ‘owners’, although they still rely on him to manage their advertising and inquiries. Almost all of her earnings go into her college savings fund.
After a fast-paced tour of their farm, with brief stops for tree climbing, rope swings and trampoline jumping, Alyssa and Will corral their guinea pigs together to bring them back inside. As they collect the frightened animals, a few small black globules appear from beneath them and Alyssa squeaks in triumph.
“More worm food!”
Where to buy worms in Southern California
Below is a list of where to find compost worms and related products in Southern California. Most of these farmers also sell vermicompost and/or tea. Worms are usually sold by weight, with around 600 to 1,000 worms per pound depending on their size. Unless otherwise noted, all of these farmers offer worms for collection but ask customers to call ahead or order online to ensure the worms are available when they arrive. Did we forget someone? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we can add her to our list.
- Aguanga (about 20 miles east of Temecula) in Riverside County
- (866) 775-6241
- $44 a pound
- Camarillo, but mail order only, no personal pickup
- (805) 445-9981
- $65 per pound plus shipping ($15.50 for two days, $27.50 for overnights)
Hart’s worm farm
Jewlz Dirty Soil Cultivators
- ocean side
- (760) 239-9228
- No website – request orders by phone
- $45 per pound, $25 per half pound
McCrawl’s Red Worms
Oaktree Worm Farm & Soils
- 13326 Little Tujunga Canyon Road, Sylmar
- (818) 890-9569
- $55 to $60 per pound (starting with the worm sale in early April)
peach hill soils
- 10951 E Los Angeles Avenue, Moorpark
- (805) 529-6164 (call 24 hours in advance)
- $62.50 per pound
The Scarlet Worm Farm
The vermicomposting guru
- 3775 Laurel Canyon Boulevard, Studio City
- (818) 468-7683
- $75 per pound
The Worm Wrangler (formerly Compost Worms & More)
- Glendale (no address or website)
- (818) 472-2593
- $25 per pound
Worldwide worm farm
https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/story/2022-03-21/where-to-buy-composting-worms-los-angeles Where to buy compost worms near Los Angeles