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Starting a Worm Business - Interview with Texas Worm Ranch
January 24, 2018
Starting a Worm Business
The Right Way!
If you're interested in starting a worm business the right way, you'll need 100% attitude, and 100% HARD WORK! It will also be very exciting!
In This Issue...
Because you're a newsletter subscriber, I'm giving you a sneak-peek into the Worm Farming Revolution eBook v2.1 for 2018.
I know most of you won't be interested in starting a worm business from scratch, but almost everyone IS interested in people that DO. If you like a product a lot, (ie. Twinkies or Kambucha, no comparison ;) you'll generally like watching how it's made at the factory, right?
Although we won't be watching Heather Renaldi from Texas Worm Ranch "make the donuts", we WILL be talking with her about the business she starting from the ground level.
In the book, I interview a few worm vendors who sell worms or other worm-related products. I show you many different ways to get into "The Business". One thing they all have in common is, It's Hard Work.
I want to be completely honest with you so you'll know exactly the challenges that lay before you. I don't say this because you'd be a potential competitor. I say it because you're an individual just like me who values honesty from one person to the next.
If you DO decide to get into the worm wrangling business (though tough as it is), you're in for a wonderful, nature-approved, and fulfilling experience.
So, without further delay...Here's our Interview.
------ Heather Renaldi operates a small family worm business in Texas. However, there’s nothing small in Texas, right? Her worm ranch employs 100’s of thousands of worms per year. She generates tons in worm castings and has very strict quality control, making for happy worms, happy plants, AND happy customers.
1. How did you get into culturing worms? I am a lifelong gardener. When my daughters were born I became more committed to organic food and landscapes. After several years of buying very expensive amendments, I was researching about soil microbes being the best way to promote soil health and nutrient cycling. I kept coming across worm compost as the best source for those microbes.
Once I was successful with my first vermicompost bin, I was hooked into worms. That first harvest of vermicompost was made into an aerated tea that I used in my community garden plots. After about 2 weeks, the other gardeners asked why my gardens were looking so good, and the Texas Worm Ranch was born.
2. What species of worm do you raise? We try to keep things simple with only raising red wigglers. However, almost all worms you get in North America are going to have a few Malaysian Blue stragglers. Those Malaysian Blues are very good composters, especially for warm regions, but we try to limit that population, because they are harder for new vermicomposters to manage (more likely to try to escape with changes to their environment they don’t like).
3. What do you feed your worms? Our philosophy is to simulate the forest floor. We start with outdoor static composting. There, we compost decomposing wood chips, food waste, and Fall leaves. After that becomes a nice, humus-rich brown, we bring it in to our worm bins. That becomes a bottom layer for our bins. Then, we add larger sifted pieces from our vermicompost harvest process, along with the worms. Food waste from plant based sources goes in a layer on top of that, and then we finally add a nice thick layer of Fall leaves on top of that.
4. What type of containers do you use for culturing worms? We use indoor, wooden bins that are 4’X8’ X 12”. They have plywood bottoms. Pros: 1) The wood naturally becomes inoculated with beneficial fungi 2) it is relatively inexpensive to begin 3) It is easy to keep the bins aerobic (plenty of oxygen) Cons: 1)The plywood needs replacing about every 3-5 years and the boards every 5-7 years 2) Our containers can be very labor intensive (but creates wonderful vermicompost).
5. How do you harvest your worms? We use a vibrating motor on a homemade screen. The large pieces of wood and leaves (along with worms) slide across, while the finer vermicompost falls through the screen. We handpick the worms as they go across the screen.
6. Did you need expensive equipment to start a farm? Not if you are starting small. I began in my climate controlled garage with storage totes and a handheld screen. Now, we have a large trommel screener and several other pricey pieces, but we do try to keep things reasonably simple. I’m not skilled in fixing motors and heavy equipment, and since I grew up on a farm, I know equipment breaks when you need it most! Your equipment needs can grow with your business.
7. How did you initially get your customers? Flyers, Internet, Shows, etc. My first customers came to me because of the difference they could see in my community garden plots. I then started going to the local farmer’s market. I made my first website myself, and started slowly growing my online business from there.
8. Do you advertise? Most of the time I just try to educate and tell our story through social media and our classes. Once in a while, if we have a special event or class, I might make a small Facebook ad.
9. How do you grow your customer base? Many people have heard of us through other online gardening forums, through our satisfied customers, and local garden shops. The best advice I can give is to do more than what you say, deliver as expected, have a genuine care for your customer and their project (could be gardening, fishing, small pet feeding, or just waste reduction), and educate them so they have success. Building relationships and quality products will keep you in business. Beyond that, I try to give free education via updated social media and that encourages people to try worm composting themselves.
10. I’m very impressed with your operation. It takes a Texas-sized attitude and a lot of elbow grease. For others thinking about a business like this, what must someone possess to start this biz? What keeps you going (a passion bordering on insanity, lol?) I think to both start and keep going, you have to have a mission and keep referring back to that when things get hard. Our mission is: To Educate and Empower Healthy People, Healthy Communities, and Healthy Planet.
Through our waste reduction efforts, customers that use our vermicompost instead of toxic chemicals, and educating others to choose healthier growing methods, every day feels like we are making a difference. For years, I have been working the shovel as hard as anyone on my team. In the middle of spring season, that might be 7 days a week of hard physical labor.
Now, I am trying to take a step back from that physical labor and my great staff is allowing me more time to develop educational curriculum, keep up with marketing, etc. If you don’t have a sound business plan, a mission, physical ability, a handle on how to sell your product, and how to keep your finances straight, a worm business might not be a good idea.
11. Give us an understanding of the size of your worm ranch. How many worms or pounds of worms/castings do you send out per month? Our focus is quality over quantity, so we look at a sample from every bin under the microscope. Our building is 12,000 square feet. We have about 80 of our large bins, some smaller bins, a classroom, some office and storage, and our outdoor pre-compost space and educational gardens.
An average month might have 5,000-10,000 lbs of vermicompost and dozens of worm orders (worms aren’t our primary product for sale). We also host classes and do consultations. There’s a lot of variety on a month-to-month basis (except for February-May when we are all about vermicompost).
12. I always tell people to get as much information from several sources to avoid costly mistakes. Can you tell us of any mistakes to avoid? A self-described expert is someone who has stopped learning. Keep researching, keep listening with an open mind, hear the advice of others who have been successful in what you are interested in, while using your critical thinking skills when something seems too good to be true. I often have my ideas challenged when I read new material, and that helps me consider things from a new angle and adapt if necessary.
13. How can someone get a hold of you to purchase worms, take courses, etc? You can find us at: TXWormRanch.com
Head over and check out her worms and worm castings. She also offers workshop classes.
Thank you so much Heather, and keep up the great work! :)
Why did I choose Heather Renaldi to be in the book? Because she is a lot like me in many ways. She delivers quality products with quality service the way it's found in nature.
I can't say I found Heather or she found me. When you listen to nature, you both end up on the same path.
If you're thinking of starting a worm business, there are 5 more cases just like Heather's in the Worm Farming Revolution. Along with the 85 page worm business guide.
Before you start though, make sure you've been worm composting at least 2 years (in my opinion) and be good at it. It's not difficult, but you should be past the learning curves and be making castings and growing you a healthy, productive squirm month after month.
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