MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kelly Hammel never expected to become a worm farmer, but a work accident led him to the hobby, which has now become a small business.
In 2015, Hammel, who owns Worm Hippie Worm Farm, was pinned by a cow and got hurt while attempting to push the cow off. He had two surgeries, one of which led to complications, forcing him to be bedridden for a couple months.
“I had a lot of time on my hands so I just searched the internet for things you could do at home and I came across this,” Hammel said.
He was a biology teacher until 2013, so worm farming piqued his interest, he told The Mercury . He started farming in January 2016, and it eventually became a business, though he doesn’t spend too much time marketing his worms or compost. He sells worms to Manhattan Reptile World and to individuals who call him interested in buying worms for compost.
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Hammel got started with two metal planter boxes full of horse and cow manure, fruit and worms. One box has red wigglers and the other has European nightcrawlers.
“Their favorite foods are cantaloupe, watermelon and pumpkin,” Hammel said.
Next to the boxes, Hammel keeps a pile of extra fruit, waiting for it to rot and soften for the worms.
When he outgrew his two boxes, Hammel created a worm room in a shed.
A large wooden box against one of the walls in the worm room has about 5,000 African nightcrawlers in it. The room’s temperature controlled because African nightcrawlers only survive in warmer temperatures. The rest of the walls are lined with shelves where Hammel keeps about 40 buckets with approximately 500 worms in each.
“These are called breeder buckets because if you put a lot of worms in a small space they don’t get very big but they reproduce rapidly,” Hammel said. “And then when you get a bunch I put them into a larger bucket and then they get bigger.”
Worms lay between one and three eggs each week. Eggs take one to three weeks to hatch and contain about three to eight worms, Hammel said.
“Worms are hermaphroditic, they have both sexual organs,” he said. “So a worm, they have a swollen place called clitellum, and they will line up side-by-side and then they exchange sperm.”
Both worms are then able to fertilize the eggs inside them, which leads to worms populating quickly.
The worms are all composting worms that can also serve as fishing bait. They don’t burrow far into the soil because they eat debris like dead leaves, vegetables, manure, grass clippings and straw, Hammel said.
When his farm was smaller, he used a wooden framed metal screen on wheels to separate the composted dirt from the worms. He has since built a taller wooden stand with a metal screen with a slant. Hammel attached a reciprocating saw to the taller end of the wooden frame to move it back and forth, separating the worms and compost.
“What I get here, this is actually called the verma compost, or all the castings,” Hammel said. “So, all the worm farmers call it black gold.”
The compost is what Hammel sells most because it’s a natural fertilizer. He said he currently has about 1,000 pounds of worm castings.
His son came up with the name “Worm Hippie Worm Farm” and the logo of a worm with hair wearing a colorful headband. The worm is inside a rainbow colored peace sign with the business name in a black circle around the sign. His son also helps manage the farm’s social media account.
Hammel said he enjoys worm farming and can see himself continuing the business.
“It’s something that I think I can do for the rest of my life,” Hammel said. “At some scale or another.”
Information from: The Manhattan (Kan.) Mercury, http://www.themercury.com