Have you ever heard the expressions “the early bird gets the worm” or “you’re opening a can of worms”? Worms tend to come up in conversation with little thought. A worm farmer might tell you that there is merit behind these commonly used phrases and the science behind a worm’s behavior.
Anthony Arubcias always wanted to be a farmer. He aspired to own a business that offered a product or service that made a positive impact on society. In 2019, Anthony purchased a nine-acre property in Dodge County and began an unlikely endeavor – he became a worm farmer.
Anthony’s goal was to create a product to improve soil and plant health through naturally occurring microbiology. The product is worm castings, or vermicompost, an organic fertilizer made from the excrement of earthworms.
“Has anyone ever told you that when you have worms in your garden you have healthy soil?” shared Anthony. “That is the business Lush Farms is in – putting those nutrients in the soil without the worms.”
Anthony worked with a business partner, Dan Trzinski, to convert a dairy barn into a worm farm. As a start-up, he had to get creative in building his business infrastructure.
“Some of the equipment we bought new, some we bought used and some of it we just made and that’s been a real joy for me – the skills I’ve had to learn,” said Anthony.
The worms are housed in large stainless-steel bins called worm beds that are filled with soil materials for the worms to live in. The base of the worm bed is rich, environmentally neutral black peat moss. The peat moss base is added to a repurposed feed mixer to be mixed with a grain-based nutritional supplement from the local cooperative. The supplement is carefully balanced to provide vitamins, amino acids and grit for the worms.
“We’ve all heard the expression ‘the early bird gets the worm,’” shared Anthony. “We leave the lights on in the worm room 24/7 so the worms think it’s daytime and stay burrowed underground.”
Quality control is key to a consistent product. Lush Farms raises African Nightcrawlers, a species of worms that is particularly susceptible to temperature changes and external pressures. Therefore, moisture and temperature are monitored daily. Worms are counted manually before they are placed in a bin. Counting the worms is an important step of the process to ensure the worms are getting the proper amount of food. Anthony can accurately predict how much a bin of worms will produce based on the count. Worm beds are lab tested to ensure the inputs are compliant with organic standards.
“We try to be very disciplined in everything about this,” said Anthony.
Lush Farms hatches its own worms to maintain quality and consistency. Eggs help to keep the stock of worms fresh. The eggs are moist and large and will typically sort themselves through the trommel screens. The collected eggs hatch and grow for the first 10 to 12 weeks of life before their bin is ready to be flipped and the worms are in production.
A worm can live for several years but reaches peak productivity around 13 months. This is when they are the most active and will produce the most eggs. An African Nightcrawler can consume one and a half times its body weight in a day. One worm will make the journey from the bin through the trommel nearly 40 times during its lifespan at Lush Farms.
“The more they eat, the more worm castings they are going to produce,” Anthony shared.
Worm castings enhance soil microbiology and structure. Castings improve aeration of the soil which leads to higher water holding capacity. They can reduce or eliminate the need for synthetic fertilizers. The diverse microorganisms in worm castings help to improve soil health and fertility.
“One handful of worm castings contains tens of thousands of microbiology,” said Anthony.
Community outreach and involvement are important to Anthony. He values supporting other farmers and other area businesses. Anthony welcomes area schools and hosts open houses to share his work with the community. He is also proud to partner with the Dodge County Farmers for Healthy Soil Healthy Water Producer-Led Watershed Group.
Anthony developed infrastructure from the beginning to meet maximum demand and function as a commercial business. Lush Farms products are distributed across the country with customer volumes ranging from bulk commercial orders to small bags for hobby gardeners.
Anthony is proud of the product and the real results that it yields.
For Anthony, worm farming combines the joy of owning and managing a farm with the benefit of providing a product that gives people a great experience in growing their lawns, flowers and vegetables.
“There’s two things that really excite me: the growth of our operation and the ‘wow’ factor people get when they try our product for the first time,” Anthony said.
When you try worm castings for the first time, it will be like ‘opening a can of worms’ because you will want to try it on all your flowers and plants.
For more information about worm castings or to try some in your own field or garden, visit www.4lushfarms.com.
Story and non-supplied photos by Rachel Gerbitz. Originally appeared in the April|May 2023 Rural Route.
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