July 6, 2008

Couple Make Worms into Successful Backyard Business

By Wendy Leung

RANCHO CUCAMONGA - They're squishy. Children love to play with them. And sometimes, they're at the bottom of your tequila.

But not often do worms play the central role of a business - unless it's Marcia Iannone's.

The Rancho Cucamonga resident, along with her husband Ron, runs a vermiculture compost business from their home, and the slimy, soft- bodied creatures aren't the only things they sell. Touted on their business cards and "wormmobile" is worm poop and worm tea, both for sale and for the benefit of starved gardens.

Vermiculture - the use of nutrient-rich worm waste as a fertilizer - might make some people squirm. But as more people adapt environmentally friendly habits and as more families and schools take up gardening, cultivating worms make sense.

"It's organic, it's healthy, and it eliminates the pathogens in the soil," Marcia Iannone said. "This way, we can put back in the earth what we took out."

Worm-aided composting is also a recycling project because worms eat up a lot of kitchen waste. Feed them your vegetable peels and the rotten head of lettuce in the back of your refrigerator and a worm will gobble it up, eating 11/2 times its body weight.

Sure, there's the ick factor, but the organic matter makes plants happy and drought-resistent - perks that are apparent after a visit to the Iannones.

Their yard is brimming with color, a habitat for boysenberry bushes, banana trees and acorn squash. Under a 95-degree sun, even the poinsettias were thriving.

Tending the worm farm on Friday, Marcia Iannone digs her hands into a poop-enriched pail of soil filled with fed and content red worms.

A gallon of worm manure (pretty concentrated stuff) costs $12 and an 8-ounce bottle of worm tea (liquid from the compost) costs $2. A pound of worms will set you back $40.

Most customers are environment-conscious folks who want a compost system at home but some want the worms for fishing. Once the University of Cairo offered to buy 20 tons of worms but the Iannones declined. For one, they don't ship overseas but they also don't have that many worms at their modest Rancho Cucamonga home.

Marcia Iannone spends a lot of time seeking worm food because the couple's kitchen waste isn't enough to feed the worm business. She goes to coffee shops for their coffee grounds, juice stores for their unwanted wheat grass and restaurants for their expired foods. She even goes into the equestrian community to take manure - so that horse poop begets worm poop.

"What's one man's trash," she says, "is another man's treasure."

More information: (909) 987-2979, www.wormpoop.com

(c) 2008 The Sun, San Bernardino, Calif.. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.