Why worms have become the latest pandemic craze

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Christine Gillard works as an environmental educator at Memorial University’s Botanical Garden. Worms, she says, have needs like any other pet. (Henrike Wilhelm / CBC)

The COVID-19 pandemic has boosted sales of items like flour, training equipment and lumber in Newfoundland and Labrador, as people choose new hobbies and take on housework .

But demand for worms has also spiked – specifically, composting worms – as people embark on gardening.

“Since COVID… our demand… has increased, I would say, over 80%,” said Christa Williams, owner of Trouter’s Special Worm Farm at Bay Bulls.

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

The worms are sold to customers for vermicomposting, which is the composting of food waste using worms. The compost can then be used as a fertilizer for plants and vegetables.

The method of using worm droppings, also known as droppings, instead of other types of manure to fertilize plants is not new, but it took off during the pandemic.

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

“People are getting more involved in their gardens, more interested in nutritious soils and growing good vegetables and foods,” said Williams, who has worked in the worm business for 13 years.

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

Williams sells everything about worms like casts, potting soil, vermicomposting kits, and of course, worms by the pound. It even occasionally ships worms to other provinces.

The MUN Botanical Garden in St. John’s offers many hands-on courses for those interested in composting. One of the courses deals with vermicomposting. (Henrike Wilhelm / CBC)

The Botanical Garden at Memorial University in St. John’s is also home to worms for educational purposes. Before the pandemic, vermicomposting classes were part of its program.

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

“They’re like pets and they have demands and things that they like and don’t like,” said Gillard.

“If they’re not happy with the environment they live in, they try to leave. And it’s never fun to find when they’ve tried to escape the trash.”

The vermicomposter of the Botanical Garden is for educational purposes. Before the pandemic, vermicomposting courses were part of the garden course offering, alongside other types of composting. (Henrike Wilhelm / CBC)

Worms need the right temperature and humidity – vermicomposting bins are, unlike traditional compost, intended for indoors – and are also picky about the type and amount of food they receive.

“We always say that ground coffee gets them going,” Gillard said with a laugh.

Faster and more efficient

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

However, it costs more than conventional backyard compost, with a pound of worms costing $ 55.

But some also say that vermicompost is a better fertilizer.

“Worms don’t eat weeds per se. Sometimes when you get manure and stuff, you worry about weed issues,” Williams explained.

Gillard agrees that worm droppings are very concentrated, nutrient-dense compost, but said good food is important.

“What they poop is what they eat. So all we put in our bin is… what you’re going to get out of it,” said Gillard.

Vermicomposting has grown in popularity during the pandemic, but is not as easy as some might think. Humidity, temperature, and food all need to be right for the worms to be comfortable. (Henrike Wilhelm / CBC)

The type of worm is also important. The European red wiggler is the essential worm for composting.

“These worms always work in the top few inches of your soil and eat that organic matter, where some worms move away and don’t look for that,” Williams said.

“You can pick many worms from your garden, but not all of them will be successful in what you are trying to accomplish.”

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