hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News & Issues June 2020


Putting worms to work

Business transforms curbside compost into garden gold


Bill Richmond, owner of Adirondack Worm Farm in Kingsbury, N.Y., displays a bin in which red worms consume food wastes and other organic materials collected from area homes to produce compost. Joan K. Lentini photo


Bill Richmond, owner of Adirondack Worm Farm in Kingsbury, N.Y., displays a bin in which red worms consume food wastes and other organic materials collected from area homes to produce compost. Joan K. Lentini photo


Contributing writer


When Bill Richmond bought his 40-acre farm two decades ago, he had the idea that he would one day use the property for an agricultural purpose.

He also knew it would be a dream deferred. At the time, he and his wife, Tracy, were knee-deep in raising their two sons, William and Noah. And Richmond’s job as vice president at Behan Communications in Glens Falls kept him more than busy.

Still, he always had an ear to the ground, so to speak, for the perfect opportunity to use his land for an enterprise that would afford part-time hours. The eventual result was Adirondack Worm Farm, a composting operation that employs several thousand worms to turn out its product.
Though he hasn’t quit his day job, Richmond decided, with his sons now in college and high school, that the time was ripe for a venture in vermiculture.

“Vermiculture stems from the Latin word for worms and is basically anything to do with worms and composting,” Richmond explained. “It produces natural, nutrient-rich fertilizer and is a great way to convert waste into compost.”

Richmond serendipitously became aware of the subculture of vermiculture three years ago while doing online research on gardening. He decided to order a trial batch and learn the ropes of worm wrangling.

“There are more than 9,000 species of worms in the world, but only a half-dozen are good for composting,” he said. “I use red worms, which are specific to composting.”

These worms, he explained, are 3 inches long and live at top levels of the soil, where they consume decaying plant material.

He began his worm farm inside his home, with plastic bins of worm-rich soil, which he said is a common practice for vermiculture enthusiasts.

“I found the entire process fascinating and was impressed with the results we saw at home,” Richmond recalled. “And I liked the idea of being able to reduce food waste,” which he pointed out is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions when it’s left to rot in landfills.


From wastes to healthy soil
The crux of the vermiculture cycle is this: The worms eat waste and in turn produce excrement known as worm castings. Hardly considered waste, the castings, also known as vermicompost, serve to nourish and protect budding plants, whether vegetables, flowers or shrubs.

After getting started in the house, Richmond decided to take worm wrangling to the next level by expanding operations to his barn.

“The worms like temperatures that people tend to like,” he said. “They work best in a controlled setting between 65 and 75 degrees.”

The fully enclosed barn keeps the bins of worms cool in the summer, and in the winter, Richmond keeps his brood comfy with a combination of insulated bins and strings of Christmas lights placed around the inside edges of each bin.

“Between the insulation and lighting, the worms survive the winter,” he said. “With the proper conditions, you can have usable vermicompost in 60 to 90 days.”

Richmond’s worms consume a diet of various composting materials including all manner of food scraps, coffee grounds, pet hair, office paper, cotton T-shirts and threadbare jeans, old house plants, dryer lint and even the contents of vacuum bags.

The two-to-three-month composting time yields nutrient-rich vermicompost, the benefits of which Richmond said extend beyond fertilization.

Richmond pointed to research published in the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture that he said shows vermicompost enhances soil fertility “physically, chemically and biologically.” It’s a natural alternative to chemical fertilizers and has been shown to yield increased pest and disease resistance, he said.

“The worms transform waste into something valuable, not just usable,” Richmond explained.
With each pound of soil containing about 1,000 worms, Richmond estimates his current inventory to be up to 15,000 red composting worms, all toiling away in industrial-sized bins made of wood with slats on the bottom to collect the castings.

“It’s truly a green process that reduces waste that would otherwise be dumped in landfills,” he said.


Curbside composting
Richmond is quick to point out that achieving usable vermicompost is a collaborative effort. To do their job, the worms need compostable material, and for that, Richmond relies on the surrounding community.

Adirondack Worms began offering a pick-up service for food scraps, yard wastes and other compostable items from homes in Hudson Falls, Glens Falls and Queensbury. And this spring, Richmond expanded this curbside composting service to include Fort Ann, Lake George, Moreau and South Glens Falls.

“We provide them with five-gallon buckets, and we pick the buckets up curbside style,” Richmond explained. “Our most popular level of service includes picking up every other week and leaving a clean bucket in its place, for $20 per month.”

After a year of continuous service, a curbside composting customer will receive free vermicompost.

“It provides them back a useful product made from the waste they kept out of the garbage stream,” Richmond said. “If a customer does not want their allotment of compost, they can request that we donate it to a community garden.”

The company opened less than a year ago, and this will be the first full summer growing season for Richmond. His target audience is home gardeners and small farms.

“Because the vermicompost helps promote plant growth and speed development, gardeners will get a better growing yield in our short season in the Northeast,” he said. “We’re not really cost-effective for large farms, but we’re considering doing it in the future. Right now, we’re not ready for a large scale like that.”

Adirondack Worms offers vermicompost via online orders at a cost of $15 for five pounds. In addition to handling retail sales, its website also has a blog as well as educational information on vermiculture.

A boon for gardeners
Before officially opening for business, Richmond said he gave some of his vermicompost to Paul Messina, a friend and avid gardener, to gauge the value of his product.

“I wanted a field test that went beyond theory,” he explained.
Messina, who grows a variety of vegetables in his home garden, experimented with two batches of tomatoes and peppers he’d grown from seedlings.

“We started one group indoors with a heaping teaspoon of vermicompost mixed with the starter soil on April 1 of last year,” Richmond recalled. “At the end of May, we transplanted them to the garden and again added a heaping teaspoon to the hole. As a control, we planted and transplanted tomatoes and peppers without the worm castings, using granular fertilizer instead.
“Messina said that the plants with the worm castings grew more quickly, and at harvest time, he noticed the peppers grown with castings were about an inch longer and plumper.

“There’s a lot that science doesn’t totally understand as to why worm castings are so beneficial to plants,” he added. “It’s not really comparable to synthetic fertilizer. Commercial fertilizer is more difficult to take into the roots, so they put more of it in, whereas with ours, it’s not as difficult to absorb. It’s part of a natural system.”

Vermicompost also eliminates the risk of plants being “burned,” as sometimes happens with synthetic fertilizers, Richmond said.

“Worms have existed for eons,” he explained, so plants are well adapted to absorb nutrients from worm castings.

On a smaller scale, Adirondack Worms also sells bait worms using European night crawlers.
Richmond also gives community talks on vermiculture to spread the word to home gardeners.
“Vermiculture is a green practice, and it’s also a nice, low-maintenance endeavor, because the worms are very self-sufficient,” he said with a chuckle. “You can go on vacation and leave them. They’ll be fine.”

For more information about Adirondacks Worms, visit www.AdirondackWormFarm.com or call (518) 615-4696.