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Wriggly, voracious Eisenia fetida — red wiggler worms — could be the new livestock for Southern California gardeners ... if only they were easier to find.

The demand for composting worms skyrocketed during the pandemic, when people stuck at home discovered (or rediscovered) the joys of gardening. On top of that, a new state law requiring food waste stay out of landfills has generated more interest in worm composting.

Most local farmers aren’t big self-promoters, but we found 13 in Southern California who currently have red wiggler worms available, with prices ranging from $25 per pound to $75 per pound.

A challenge to the supply chain: Once a worm farmer’s supply depletes, rebuilding the stock can take a while because baby worms need 90 days to be old enough to breed.

“Back during the start of the shutdown, my business quadrupled,” said Stan McCall, whose McCrawls Red Worms has been selling worms for about 10 years. He raises red wigglers in his backyard and sells them from his shop in Cypress, where he operates his other business — Custom Creative — polishing stones. Demand has tapered off but it’s still strong, he said, with sales of 5,000 to 10,000 worms a week.

A pound of these hungry composting worms can devour half their body weight in a day under optimum conditions — with the help of beneficial microbes that break down the food into microscopic worm-size bites, according to worm farmers. But even better, worm poop — known as castings — is pure gold for plants and thus highly coveted by organic gardeners, especially cannabis farmers, whose many medicinal products make organic growing a must.

As a soil amendment, worm castings act as fertilizer, helping plants grow stronger with higher yields. And when the castings are made into a “tea,” they also help protect plants from a variety of pests, said Chris Jung, a.k.a. the Worm Wrangler, who raises and sells worms at his Glendale home.

Read the rest at the Los Angeles Times