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Buried Treasure

New business touts benefits of worms.

“How many people have pet worms?” Susie Grabski asked, standing over a row of four or five bins housing Jon and Aubrie Gross’ precious bunch.

Pets? Not quite. The Grosses put their Eisenia Fetida, affectionately known as red wigglers, to work breaking down food scraps into castings – worm poop that is all natural, nutrient-rich fertilizer.

For the Grosses, what began as a hobby three years ago has grown into a business. They started Molokai Worms in May and plan to hold regular workshops, sell supplies, and teach residents about the benefits of worm farming.

On Saturday, they hosted their first Wormshop on their Ho`olehua farm. About 15 people attended the workshop, which covered the basics – how to house your worms, what to feed them and what to do with their valuable waste.

Happy Worms, Happy Plants
Successful worm farming starts with the right bin. Commercial bins sell for over $100, but Aubrie Gross showed how she fashioned her own from a large storage container, and then layered newspaper, shredded office paper and coconut husk to make bedding before adding worms.

For food, the Grosses throw in fruit and vegetable scraps, grains and leftovers. They recommended avoiding citrus, acidic or oily foods, which are harder for worms to break down, and meat or bones that will attract unwanted animals. Add washed, crushed egg shells to balance a bin’s pH level.

The key to farming, according to the Grosses, is observation. They’ve learned, for instance, that papaya seeds limit the worms’ reproduction, while feeding them coffee grinds makes for light, fluffy castings.

“And they’ll get jacked up on caffeine and they’ll work faster for you,” Aubrie Gross said excitedly.

After a few months, the bins are emptied, worms removed, and the castings spread like typical fertilizer. Not only do castings reduce chemical use in the garden, they can repel bugs and build plants’ disease-resistance.

“It’s amazing what results you can see from it,” Jon Gross said. “We’ve had some plants that were really hurting and this has turned them around.”

The Gross’ farm is a testament to the healing power of castings. Vegetable and herb gardens surrounding their home bloom with an intensity impressive for arid Molokai.

From the Ground Up
The couple began worm farming after attending a similar workshop on Maui. The idea of starting the business followed soon after.

“It was always in the back of my mind – maybe we could be the ones selling worms on Molokai,” Jon Gross said.

At the end of Saturday’s workshop, they had sold three bins and a few pounds of worms – proof, he said, that there is business to be had in worm farming here.

Indeed, many at the workshop said they were encouraged to start their own worm farms.

“I like the idea of an effective way to use compost and a natural way to improve soil,” Grabski said.

Molokai Worms is planning to host another Wormshop in August and every other month after that. For more information, call Molokai Worms at (808) 757-3947.

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