As those of you who read these pages on a regular basis are aware, I have been dedicating a certain amount of my time in the last little while to taking a look at some of the so-called "business opportunities" that are being offered to people interested in becoming "worm growers", "worm breeders", "wormers", "vermiculturists", or simply "people with a lot of worms (and hopefully even more money as a result of these worms.)"
Well, the information I requested from those of you who were willing to get involved in this situation, is still coming in, and could be for some time. However, I now know a lot more about what is being offered out there, and I think it is a good time to make a few suggestions, or at least some observations.
I'm certainly not going to give my blessing to any of the offers I have looked at, or heard about, and neither am I going to condemn them outright, for a very simple reason, which involves a matter relating to a subject I am very familiar with....namely "semantics."
You see, one of the first things I noticed is that all the material I have been sent (material distributed as part of these offers), has one thing in common (which is not so strange since most of it was put out by a very, very small (group?) of people. The common thread is that nothing is really being promised! Possibilities are listed, potentials (very unrealistic if you know anything about this topic) are presented like promises, but each time, when you get right down to it, there is always a disclaimer included which defines the previously-mentioned potentials as estimates, hypothetical situations, or reliant on meeting almost impossibly ideal conditions. No matter how badly the new "breeder" fails, it will always seem possible for the dealer to sidestep the responsibility for that failure, or the need to make reparations.
You will notice I used the phrase, "seem possible", in that last sentence, and that is because it is very difficult for a person to convince anyone to fork over anywhere from $100.00 to $100,000.00 without making some kind of promise to the person with the money. In a situation like that, one of the most effective techniques is to make the promises about things the "victim" knows very little about, and may not have the time to look into (once money is invested, the motivation to discover that the offer is really a scam, may not be too strong, and this certainly works in the dealer's favor.) Since the only thing I have invested, however, is my time and effort, I have been able to look thoroughly at what I have been presented with, and due to my familiarity with this topic (vermiculture), I have been able to spot a few things that might be simply honest mistakes, and those I have chosen to ignore. There are other things, however, that I suspect quite strongly to be wrong, and very misleading, and these things I will point out. Finally, I have spotted at least one or two things which are definitely wrong, and which may even constitute grounds for legal reparations, since I find it inconceivable that any dealer claiming to have years of experience with worms, could "accidentally" make such claims. I will also point out at least the most obvious of these.
But first, there is one thing I need to say to those of you who have been sending in information pertaining to this matter.
Since I am not a legal expert, and certainly not regarding American liable laws, I would like to suggest to you (as it was suggested to me), that you refrain from using specific names of companies or people if you are going to leave messages on my guestbook. I don't want to see anyone getting hit with a liable suit by a company which has a lot of other people's money with which to fight you. If you have something personal to say, use my e-mail address, and it will be treated confidentially. Also, and this is very important, do not use other reader's names, descriptions, or locations, since they may have money at stake which could become a tool for any unscrupulous dealer who wished to retaliate. Just consider the following information to be my opinion regarding a type of offer, rather than the person or people behind the offer. If the things I describe help you to see a few things that you might not have seen before, don't use it to attack any specific individual, but rather to avoid a specific situation. Anyone who wants to sue me, however, is welcome to go for it....I have no life.
This first point is actually pretty minor, but it will give you an idea of how one small (mistake?) can be piled upon another (mistake?), until the truth simply collapses from the weight.
I was asked by a reader if a particular statement made in one of these documents wasn't simply out-and-out false advertising. The answer is a great big YES.
The statement in question makes the following claim:
"xxxxxxx is the only fertilizer you can buy that contains worm castings.....and actual live worms and worm eggs!"
The dealer then goes on to explain how this fertilizer (due to the worms and their eggs) reproduces itself! Pretty amazing stuff! Now here's what you want to consider.
"The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that worm castings contain: One and one half the lime (calcium) found in good top soil. Three times the exchangeable Magnesium found in good top soil. Five times the available Nitrate found in good top soil. Seven times the available Phosphorus found in good top soil. Eleven times the Potash found in good top soil."
Not really too bad when you think of it (I love consistancy .) Five statements....all wrong. The figures are the same as those derived from the research, but there is a slight difference at the end of each sentence which completely changes things. The original researcher did not claim these figures in relation to good top soil (whatever that means), but in relation to the "surrounding" soil. You see, when an earthworm ingests a gutful of "food", that material will consist of everything that soil contains, including the nutrients mentioned above. After absorbing what it needs to live on, the worm "casts" out the remainder (which also includes those nutrients mentioned above.) The resulting cast now contains roughly the same amount of nutrients as before, but in less overall material, thus raising the proportion of those ingredients. However, if the particular "soil" the earthworm has ingested, had no potash to begin with, it will still have no potash when it is cast out (this is not true of the calcium content, however, since earthworms possess "calciferous glands", and thus actually add calcium to the matter which passes through their gut.) In short, if the earthworm is fed on a substance which is lacking in a particular nutrient, that nutrient will still be lacking in the resulting "cast." A "good topsoil" would have a balance of all the proper nutrients, and in that case, could prove to be a better plant-food overall. I strongly suspect the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture would not make that basic a mistake. Unless the live earthworms contained in the associated "fertilizer" are fed the same diet they were fed originally, in all the same proportions, the new "fertilizer" they produce will have a composition different from the original, and that doesn't fit with the claim of self-reproduction. Whereas the first product might meet the requirements of a "fertilizer", there is no real reason to assume the new product would be anywhere near as effective.
Now I said that the first point was a minor one to be certain, but let's look at how that same type of "mistake" can result in an extremely important, and very misleading statement.
In much of the literature I have been sent, reference has been made to the matter of the U.S. government passing "legislation", which requires that by the year 2000, "organic waste landfills" (do you people really have separate landfills for organic, and non-organic materials....nifty) in California, must reduce their size by fifty percent. Since I am Canadian, I have no real knowledge of Californian legislation (I do know from Baywatch, however, that none of your women look anything like my ex-wife) but we have set a similar goal here in Canada, and I can't help but wonder if the difference is not another case of "accidental misquotation" (I think I just invented a word!)
The actual difference between your "legislation", and our "goal" is that you apparently want to reduce the amount of waste that is currently in your landfills (note the word "size" in the last paragraph), while we are attempting to reduce the amount of material being sent to our landfills (our goal is nationwide as opposed to just the one state mentioned in the literature I am referring to.) If you really believe that you have developed a method of using worms to "shrink" an existing landfill, I am sure there are many other countries besides my own (I'm very serious) that would like to understand the process. Have the problems such as lethal heat, toxic gases, anaerobic environmental conditions, leachates, and massive compaction truly been overcome by a worm (which according to another of those famous disclaimers), requires a constant temperature of around 72 degrees F., as well as "optimum" moisture and pH levels, if it is to reproduce according to plan. Personally, even knowing how much sturdier L. rubellus is compared to P. hawayana , I wouldn't claim they could manage such a herculean task.
I suspect the truth of the matter lies more in the area of reducing the future waste stream, and hopefully eliminating (or at least slowing down) the need for "new" landfill sites. In that case, the actual composting will be done at the individual level, by each citizen, rather than by a large organization. This is why it is so important to teach our children the benefits of composting, so they will never develop our old habits of "hiding" our garbage, and hoping it will go away. The waste that is in our current landfills is indeed a problem, but not one I expect to see solved by worms, which would simply present a situation of "too little, too late."
Now, let's assume for a moment that we were going to attempt to use worms for this particular task (cleaning up existing landfills.) Would we use a worm that will survive a temperature range between 35 degrees and 80 degrees farenheit (such as L. rubellus or E. foetida), or would we use a worm that requires a constant temperature of "around 72 degrees farenheit"?) Would we decide on a worm that is known to be a rapid breeder, or a worm that will breed "adequately" if you maintain exactly the right temperature at all times?
Which brings me to another point, and quite possibly the most blatant "mistake" in the entire batch of literature that I have been going through. In the one-page document I am referring to, each of the following words appears: "potential", "hypothetical", "information only" (that's a heading, and your guess is as good as mine as to what that means), and the almost-standard disclaimer stating that all the enclosed information is a mere approximation which assumes perfect temperatures, moisture, and pH levels. If that's not enough, there is still the statement that no liability is accepted for what the chart states (maybe someone could explain to the chart-maker that it's RESPONSIBILITY they should be accepting....not liability.) Anyway, according to this chart, if you start with 10,000 worms (20 pounds), two months later you will have 20,000 worms which weigh 40 pounds, and at six months, you will have 80,000 worms weighing 160 pounds. By 14 months, and once every 2 months after that (it is claimed by this unloved chart that no one will take responsibility for), you can sell 640,000 worms for a possible $12,800.00, and still have 640,000 worms left over!
Well, let's look at this from a couple different angles, and see what the deal is.
O.K., how about we try this from the front end first. The chart says, if I start with 10,000 worms, or 20 pounds, at 2 months I will have 20,000 worms, weighing 40 pounds. But wait a moment. The chart might be right about the number of worms, if lots of early breeding goes on, allowing the cocoons time to hatch. But, (and I admit I'm awaiting research materials which will give me precise figures) even if all the necessary cocoons hatch, none of the resulting worms is going to have anywhere near enough time to sexually, or physically mature, so even if there are 20,000 worms, I won't have even close to 40 pounds worth. The next figures will also be wrong, since at 4 months, the first batch of babies still won't be sexually mature, and the few that start breeding early will have just laid their cocoons, and those cocoons will not have had time to hatch. Hmmm!
I know, let's jump to the other end of the chart, it's got to work from there, since we're starting with 640,000 worms (1280 pounds!) Let's see now, around month 14, I sell 640,000 worms, and get to keep just as many to carry on my "business" with. Oops...problem. The chart says I can do this every two months by the time I reach this level, and make $12,800.00 doing it each time. However, in order to make sure that the 640,000 worms I sell equal 1,280 pounds in weight, I have to sell all adults. And two months later, I have to sell all adults again! Remember, it's not that I'm saying two months is not enough time for a worm to grow to full size (though I will state that it's highly unlikely), but you have to allow time for the development, and hatching of the cocoons (which in L. rubellus takes approx. 21 days, and I'll put Willy and his friends up against any of the worms we commonly use for vermicomposting, let alone this particular species.) That means these worms have to go from spawn to adulthood in roughly 4 weeks, and that is something I find extremely unlikely.
But hang on a second, let's cut the poor chart a break (it has no one to take responsibility for it.) We'll assume that everything works perfectly, as the chart indicates, and here we are in month 12, the proud owners of 640,000 worms (rapidly becoming 1,280,000 worms.) I wonder where we'll keep them. The chart says that the 640,000 worms will require 22 bins (a separate chart indicates the price of these bins as $250.00 each, or $5500.00 total, and then doubled?) The question mark indicates a question, since the chart fails to say anything about the extra 22 bins I will require. You see, if the first batch require 22 bins in order to meet their "optimum" size, then so will the 640,000 that I plan to sell (unless I sell them only partially developed, in which case I'll need maybe twice as many to maintain the weight requirement.) By the way, these 44 bins will require 1408 square feet of indoor space, if you are planning to maintain "optimum" environmental requirements. I don't think there is anywhere (even in California), that can guarantee constant temperatures of approximately 80 degrees farenheit (to maintain a soil temp. of 72 degrees, the air temperature has to be somewhat higher, since the evaporation of the moisture in the bedding will keep the bin cooler than the surrounding area.)
However, I'm no quitter! Let's try one more thing here. We'll assume that in spite of all these minor problems, everything has worked out just the way we were told it would. So all that's left to do is sell our millions of worms to all the anxious land-fill operators who are beating a path to our door. Oh, oh. It just occurred to me, if these worms can survive all of these things, and they breed so quickly, and environmental conditions mean nothing, then why won't these landfill operators simply buy 10000 of these worms, and let nature (or the chart) take its course. In just 14 months, they'll have over a million worms, and I can't even estimate how many in just 18 months, since they have no reason to sell any (or buy any more.) If there are 100 landfills in California, and they each buy 10000 worms, we can sell our first million. After that, however, markets might become scarce. Either the worms need to be constantly replenished, in which case, they're the wrong worm for the job, or, the worms will breed like crazy, eliminating the need for a future market. I relly don't see how you can have it both ways.
You know what? Maybe I could take my extra worms, and some of these bins, and maybe I could find some poor trusting person, just getting interested in worms, and if I could just convince him.....
These Icons obtained from Ender's Realm