YERMO Beneath what might appear to be empty beds of soil and manure on Larry Staggs' property in downtown Yermo, the ground is teaming with life, in the form of millions of worms.

Staggs has been in the worm business for more than 30 years and now makes it a full-time job. He sells red worms and meal worms as fishing bait or animal feed, but the he sees the worms' true value in what they can do in the garden.

Worm castings, or manure, are one of the most effective forms of fertilizer, Staggs said, and the worms have the added benefit of providing waste disposal. The worms will eat their own weight in livestock manure, leaves and grass clippings, table scraps and other forms of waste every 24 hours and produce an equal amount of castings.

"This is a good natural organic plant food there's no chemicals," Staggs said. "Worm castings just make plants grow like nothing else."
Information posted by the California Integrated Board of Waste Management noted that the worms' digestive process creates fungus and bacteria beneficial to plants, and the castings contain chemical compounds that promote their growth.

Staggs said vermicomposting, or worm composting, is gaining popularity as more and more people go "green."

He got his first batch of 1,000 worms while living in Bellflower, where he ran a drywall business, in 1977. The worm farmer who sold them to Staggs told him they liked rabbit droppings, so Staggs also bought a rabbit, which ranged freely in his office, making a mess and chewing on power cords, he said.

He moved and started over numerous times over the years, but Staggs said he likes to live by a motto he saw once in a print shop: "There's no such thing as failure unless you quit."

He had no idea when he started how all-consuming the worm business would become, however. Now Staggs ships about 80 pounds of red worms from the Yermo Post Office every Monday, to individuals, schools, businesses and even monasteries. He also spreads the word to his neighbors, from local kids who come to do a day's work on the farm from time to time, to friends who now use the worms in their own gardens.

"He gave me a bunch of castings because I wanted to do an experiment and see if I could grow a lawn in the desert," said fellow Yermo resident Chris Becker, who also helps out on the farm.

It worked so well that people would stop to take pictures of her yard, she said.

Charlotte Begley, another friend and helper, got her first batch of worms five years ago and now grows everything from corn to kale in her garden in Barstow.

"I really like to eat it right out of the garden," she said.

Staggs said one of his favorite parts of the business is talking about worms to groups of school children and seeing them raise their hands when asked how many want to be worm farmers when they grow up.

"And some of them will," he said.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4123 or asewell@desertdispatch.com

Composting with worms:

You can raise red worms at home to dispose of waste and create compost for your yard or garden. Among the things worms will eat are: table scraps (except meat and dairy products); rabbit, horse, cow, or pig manure; grass clippings and leaves; paper and cardboard, and nutshells.

For more information on worm composting, call Larry Staggs at 760-254-2307 or 760-217-1963.