Lincolnville entrepreneur Letizia “Tish” Vinduska harnessing the power of African Nightcrawlers’ digestive systems turning worm poop into profit as “Letizia Ann’s All Natural Soil Enhancer.”
“I’ve seen what these worms can do,” Vinduska said. “I’d like to make this a legit business, move it to a bigger building, get some employees, and help put Marion County on the map.”
She said using her soil enhancer results in large healthy vegetables and a wonderful garden.
Her African Nightcrawlers create what is called “vermicompost” — a nutrient-rich, organic fertilizer. What they eat combines with digestive enzymes and bacteria and natural soil microbes to improve soil texture, and provide water-soluble nutrients for plants.
Technically, any compost aided by worms’ digestion is called vermicompost, but African Nightcrawlers have traits that make their vermicompost more efficient producers, Vinduska says.
“Normal nightcrawlers can’t take the heat,” Vinduska said. “My worms don’t have to be refrigerated, and they reproduce faster. If you can keep the mice out, you could have a million worms in a year.
“I used to have some worms the size of my finger, but mice got in once and ate their weight in worms.”
Since then she has installed ample traps to combat rodents’ appetites.
Vinduska started raising African Nightcrawlers a year ago in her kitchen after county lake resident Troy Davidson told her about the worms’ unique talents, and gave her some pointers to get started.
Davidson had heard about the worms from an out-of-state friend who he said became a millionaire selling vermicompost nationwide.
“I think it’s a great small business idea,” he said. “It takes very little money and work to get started. The worms eat and procreate like crazy.”
Davidson wants to start a similar business someday, but right now, he raises worms as a hobby to help his home garden.
Is didn’t take long for Vinduska’s worm colony, housed in a single bucket, to require a housing upgrade.
Her husband, Joe, built what they call their “worm room” in a workshop. Now, they have 20 buckets of worms, and most of those buckets are 18-gallon tote containers. Each worm bin has a light shining on it to help keep the worms inside.
“They like the dark,” she said.
Worm bins are filled with peat moss and shredded Marion County Record newspapers. She wets the mixture down, adds worms, and feeds them.
“They come to the top to eat and reproduce,” Vinduska said. “They really like apples and coffee grounds, but they’ll eat whatever we give them.”
She uses a food processor to reduce vegetable scraps, fruit peals, oatmeal, eggshells, and other all-natural ingredients into worm food, which they then turn into a fertilizer she says is more beneficial to plants than chemicals or regular compost.
“They break it down into worm castings or ‘poop’ as the lady at the bank says,” Vinduska said. “Joe says I take better care of the worms than I do him. I tell him ‘You don’t produce the type of poop they do.’”
Sometimes Vinduska plays TV for the worms when she feeds them.
She is experimenting with different variables but once she decides the soil enhancer is ready, she uses a cement mixer to harvest.
“We have a couple different sized screens that separate stuff out,” she said. “At the end, all that’s left in the mixer are the worms.
“I dropped a container once and they were going in all different directions. They’re like livestock, I guess, but they’re sure easier to catch than cattle.”
The vermicompost is then portioned into bags for sale, and worms are split up into bins.
Her soil enhancer typically contains 2.3 percent nitrogen, 0.56 percent potassium, and 1 percent phosphorus, but varies depending on what she feeds her worms.
In addition to soil enhancer, an organic bug deterrent spray can be created by soaking the vermicompost in water for about a week inside a porous bag.
Orders for Vinduska’s soil enhancer are taken by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cost is $7.50 per every 3.5-pound bag. So far, Vinduska’s sold about 35 bags.
She learned that there is no advantage to mixing more than a 20 percent concentration of worm castings into soil.
“I’m no expert, but you can overdo it,” Vinduska said. “It takes about four 3.5-pound bags to cover a 10-by-10 foot garden plot.”