The word on worms

Mark Purser

Photo By Tom Angel

Mark Purser, part owner of The Worm Farm at Lasell Ranch in Durham, has millions of invertebrate employees that he never has to pay. Purser’s worms are kept busy day and night, turning agricultural waste into top-quality compost and castings.

What got you started in the worm farming business?

Well, about six years ago I was riding down the freeway and saw a sign that said, “Earthworm growers wanted.” So I called the number, bought some worms from the guy and came up here and started doing worms.

My father-in-law, his father owned this ranch 80 years ago. There used to be chickens here.

Is the worm business any better than the chicken business?

Oh yeah, a lot better than the chicken business, because we sell worms as well as compost. That’s our biggest product, is compost. We would not be able to make a living just selling worms.

Do worms eat dirt?

No, they eat food, and the food is almost anything that is decomposing, like horse manure, almond dust, leaves, chips, grass.

These are red worms—we use them for composting. Sometimes the people in their homes will set a bucket underneath their sink and put table scraps in it, then they’ll put the worms in there and they’ll eat the table scraps.

[Pointing to a worm bed] This is horse poop and almond dust mixed right here. See how they love it?

How many did you start out with?

We probably bought 200,000, which is 200 pounds. There are about 1,000 worms per pound.

I guess you don’t bother to name them anymore.

[My grandson] started naming them, but I think he ran out of names.

Are they good for fishing?

Yeah, I’m selling some. I’ve got 40 pounds over there I’m selling to Oro Dam Bait Company. Fourth of July weekend’s coming up, so they’ll put ’em in little containers and sell them in supermarkets.

Do you have any trouble with birds stealing your worms?

We do. I’ve got a big shotgun. Just shoot it up in the air, and they’ll go away. I haven’t seen any out there lately. During the wintertime, when [the worms] are up at the very top, birds will come and try to eat them, but during the summertime [the worms] are just too hot. They’ll go down beneath the surface where the birds can’t get them.

Tell me one more interesting thing about worms.

Well, they tend to crawl away if you don’t watch them. You’ll lose all your stock if you’re not careful. We put lights on the field and keep lights on at night so they don’t crawl away. Especially when it rains. They crawl when it rains.