“Red Worms For Sale” – Part I
On a fairly regular basis (more so, as of late) I am asked to recommend worm suppliers. It is something I’m always more than happy to do, since it will hopefully ensure that one less person get ripped off by worm dealers who are more interested in making a few bucks (there is only so far you can run with that business model) than providing any real value.
I apologize for the tone of this post – certainly not my usual happy, upbeat nature. I guess you could say I’m feeling pretty ticked off, and I thought it was a prime opportunity to write about it on the blog.
I received an e-mail yesterday from one of our readers, asking for advice regarding the care of European Nightcrawlers. It read as follows:
First off, I’d like to let you know that I am really glad I found
your site. It has plenty of useful information and is quite easy to
Anyway, I recently purchased 1/2 a pound of European Nightcrawlers
but it turned out to be 1/2 a pound of dirt with maybe 8 worms inside
I am new at raising worm (4 days), and I’m hoping you can give me
some advice on feeding such a small population.
Is once a week too much?
By the way, some of these little guys are quite limp (my 2 year old
says they’re sleeping). In your opinion are they old and on their way
out or just reacting to their new home?
Their new home is a 1.5 x 2.0 ft bin with about 6 inches of potting
mix covered by shredded newspaper.
Forgive my ignorance, but I would like to get this right and raise
them properly. So, your input would be greatly appreciated.
I thank you in advance for your help and look forward to your reply.
Here is a innocent person, excited about the possibilities of setting up a family worm composting bin for the first time, and yet they end up getting treated like dirt (no pun intended)! It is beyond me how any “business person” can logically justify this kind of behaviour. Word of mouth is a very powerful thing – especially here in the web age. No longer do people have to sit back while businesses walk all over them – we finally have a way to make our opinions and experiences known.
With that mini-rant out of the way, let me assure you that I have no intention of ‘outing’ the offender here. That’s not my style, and I think that everyone deserves a second chance. I’m hopeful that by writing this post, I will help to inspire all worm sellers to conduct their business with the highest level of honesty and integrity. Hopefully I’ll also be able to help people avoid these sorts of situations altogether!
So how do you find reputable worm dealers?
Well, to be totally honest I tend to believe that there are far more good, hard working, honest worm sellers out there than scammers. Sadly it is the latter group that ends up putting a big black smear on the industry as a whole…but I digress (fodder for another post for sure). Even with so many decent retailers out there, I think it’s not a bad idea to chat a little about what to look for in a worm dealer.
Pricing – This is probably one of the primary ways that people get into trouble with disreputable dealers (just a guess on my part, however). As with most things in life – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! I can still vividly remember my experience with a particular vermicomposting business here in Ontario back when I was just getting into the hobby. They offered “1 lb” of red wigglers for a very low price (we’ll chat more about actual numbers in a minute), and I naively assumed that they were simply providing ‘more bang for your buck’! Given that they were located a relatively short drive away, I asked them if it was ok for me to come pick the worms up. I was bursting with enthusiasm and was hoping they might even let me take a mini tour of their operation (I asked if this was ok).
The first warning sign was probably the less-than-friendly (and short) e-mail replies I received back, but I certainly didn’t let that get to me. After all – everybody has their share of bad days, right?
When I arrived to pick up my worms it was pouring rain – but given the excitement of my very first visit to a worm farm I certainly didn’t let a little rain dampen my spirits…that is until they said “you have to wait out here”, while they went inside to get my worms and castings!! To add insult to injury, when I got in the car and opened up my package of worms I was greeted by the lamest excuse-for-a-pound-of-worms I’ve ever seen. Saying it was likely in the 1/4 lb range is undoubtedly being generous on my part!
To top it off, the ‘castings’ were very poor quality and I’m pretty sure they were even responsible for the bad case of Verticillium wilt my tomato crop had that year (and for a couple years afterwards).
Strangely enough, this individual is no longer in the worm business (as far as I can tell) – go figure!
Back to pricing…
I certainly don’t mean to imply that ‘good deals’ are only offered by disreputable worm farmers – not at all. The pricing for 1 lb of red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida) tends to be in the $15-30 USD range. An example of a highly reputable dealer offering a very fair price is Flowerfield Enterprises, the business started by highly-respected vermicomposting educator, Mary Appelhof (who sadly passed away in May 2005). They offer 1 lb of worms for only $19 (and 2 lbs for $34). This reminds me – make sure you read the fine print if you encounter a site advertising worms for exceptionally low prices. They may in fact be referring to their bulk discount price (eg ‘if you order at least 10lbs of worms, we’ll sell them for $10/lb’).
Also be sure you know what quantity of worms you are getting. While many in the industry seem to agree that 1 lb of red worms is made up of approximately 1000 individuals. What’s interesting is that one of the websites I’ve come across selling really cheap worms actually states that 1 lb is approximately 600 individuals, while another site with fairly expensive pricing mentions 1200 worms in a pound. Creative math at its finest! If a seller provides numbers only (no weight) I would recommend getting in touch and finding out how they sort them – ie. are they hand counted or is it simply an estimate based on weight (if so, what weight ratio are they using for the calculation)?
Friendliness / Response Time – This is a MAJOR one in my books! I pride myself on being a ‘really nice guy’, and it really irks me when others don’t return the courtesy – especially when they are helping me part ways with my hard-earned dollars! I’m a big fan of the bumper sticker that says “Mean People Suck!”, and there is nothing quite as off-putting for me as being treated rudely by a retailer, or made to feel like my needs are unimportant.
Again, to me this just makes ZERO sense! If you are trying to help someone purchase your goods, isn’t it a given that you should AT LEAST be nice to them? Maybe it’s just me!
When trying out a new worm seller (or online business in general, for that matter), I would highly recommend sending them an email intially to see what sort of response you get back. I actually did this myself not too long ago. Prior to Jeff (who also prides himself on being ‘friendly’) offering to send me European Nightcrawlers, I was shopping around for a supplier. I came across a very nice looking website, and they were even located in Canada. Their information was a wee bit vague (I wasn’t 100% sure what kind of worms they were actually selling) so I decided to send them a friendly email to commend them on their site and inquire about their worms. Weeks later I finally received a short response back.
The end result…”No money for you!!!”
After all, if they don’t take their business seriously enough, why should I?
Like I said, everyone deserves a second chance. Obviously we can’t expect people to respond to our emails within an hour and be absolutely brimming with friendliness all the time – that might be a little creepy in fact!
If someone falls short in the response time department, next see what their personality is like. Aside from simply being ‘nice’, are they eager to help with any and all of your questions? Do they seem knowledgeable (assuming you have asked something specific)?
All of these little things can add up to provide you with a pretty good sense of the type of business you are dealing with.
Anyway, this is turning into a novella here, so I’m going to break down this topic into a multi-part series (I may be able to wrap it up with the next post, but we shall see). Lots more to talk about still.