Laverme's Worms Vermicomposting Laverme's Worms Vermicomposting

Green Barbarians–Ellen Sandbeck

A Buddha A Day–Ellen Sandbeck

Worm Wranglers


Worm WranglersThis Minnesota couple uses
worms to do their composting.

Ellen and Walter Sandbeck are picky about their worms. "Not just any worms work for composting", says Ellen. "The ones that are hearty outside are not good with compost, and the ones good with compost are not much good outside."
Vermicompost, or worm castings, is produced when garbage passes through feeding worms. The castings are added to soil where they accelerate the rate of decomposition and increase the amount of nitrogen available to plants. Walter and Ellen, self-professed worm wranglers,
run a business called Laverme’s Worms from their rural home outside Duluth, Minnesota. It all started when they moved to Minnesota from California in the winter. They couldn’t compost outside because of the extreme cold. They tried, but varmints would scavenge through the compost, scattering it all over the yard. Ellen bought a half-cup of red wriggler worms and set up a compost bin in the basement in an old shower stall. She was hooked. Within a year she was giving away worms. Eventually she started charging for them and the business was launched."I’m not in this to make a lot of money, I just want my worms to get out in the world and do their thing," she says.

Multiply fast "If you started a bin of worms today, with their exponential growth, you’d have worms to sell in six to nine months," says Ellen. Worms mate twice a week and produce one worm per egg case. Those two new worms will lay an egg case several days later. "After a couple of months, there’s your population explosion," says Ellen.Worm Wranglers 2 The worms self-regulate their population in a bin, so you never get too many, she says. If you remove a bunch of worms to start a new bin, the worms will repopulate.

Midwest, but they have sold worms from Colorado to California. "The worms need to be delivered in one day in a gallon container of medium or they are not happy!" says Ellen. They sell worms to households, schools, prisons, and to people on acreages with big gardens. Some of the schools use stock tanks covered with tarps. Big bins full of worms can handle a lot of compost material, says Ellen. Worm castings are concentrated. "You can’t put worm compost on legumes," says Ellen. "It’s too rich for them; they will make leaves and no peas or beans. It should be used only on plants that like to be fertilized, such as corn, squash, basil, tomatoes, or roses." On their acreage, the Sandbecks use 150-gallon plastic stock tubs. Their tanks are so large they can throw in 5-gallon buckets of compost with no problem. They keep bags of composting leaves on hand to feed the worm bins. "Cemeteries are great places to get good, clean leaves," says Ellen. "There are no dog droppings, no trash, and the leaves are always very clean."

Worm WranglerWorm juice Worm juice, another byproduct of raising a bin of worms, is the liquid excreted out the bottom of a bin’s spigot, and is a concentrated fertilizer similar to manure tea. It’s a potent product that needs to be cut with water about 20-1 to give plants a feeding boost. Ellen and Walter’s bins have a special membrane that keeps the worm medium up off the bottom of the bin, allowing for air flow and drainage of the worm juice. "You can make a worm-raising bin out of just about anything," says Walter. "Old coolers are pretty good. You can make your bottom filter out out of the liquid, such as landscape fabric."

Ellen tells the story of a friend who was bringing home a 5-gallon bucket of worm juice to use on her garden. "She needed the bucket badly for another purpose right away, so she poured the whole works out in the gravel driveway. The next spring, a big patch of clover grew in that over-fertilized spot in the middle of the driveway," she says. "You could probably grow things in concrete with this stuff!"

Getting started The Sandbecks sell bins (27-gallon bin is $175), worms (starter kit with 1/2 pound of red wriggler worms is $38) worm juice (32 ounces for $10), and more. Ellen has used her experiences, both good and bad, to write books on worming and composting. including Laverme’s Handbook of Indoor Worm Composting ($6 on, Organic Housekeeping ($19.80 on, Eat More Dirt ($11.25 on Amazon), and SlugBread and Beheaded
Thistles ($11.04 on Amazon). If the books don’t keep you entertained, the worms will, says Ellen. "Worms are at the most active at night. Night is the best time to stand quietly by the side of your worm bin,
listening to the tiny popping noises made by the opening and closing of myriad little worm mouths. It’s very romantic, and makes a great cheap date."



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