Worm farmers Martin Bratzel and Bodhi McSweeney of Meander in northern Tasmania now know that a pandemic can significantly boost business.

Key points:

  • Worms convert organic waste into compost
  • One worm farmer in northern Tasmania says he’s had to add extra beds to keep up with demand
  • Compost worms do not need restocking as they multiply well

Sales from their worm farm “more than doubled” last year, which the pair attribute to people spending more time at home.

“It was quite obviously connected with people … being drawn back into the garden,” Mr Bratzel said.

A man bends over a raised garden bed to check his worms

Mr Bratzel has installed two new worm beds to help meet demand.(

ABC Northern Tasmania: Sarah Abbott

)

The gentle art of harvesting worms

Mr Bratzel and Ms McSweeney, who have been farming compost worms for more than 20 years, run the “biggest and only” commercial worm farm in the state.

Their worms live in 10 beds measuring up to 30 metres, eat organic cow manure, and are harvested using their natural aversion to light.

“I really do that carefully because I don’t want to stress them too much.”

A stack of branded yellow cardboard boxes marked 'live worms' and two hands putting a box in place in background.

If kept cool, worms can live in boxes for weeks.(

ABC Northern Tasmania: Sarah Abbott

)

Once weighed, the worms are packed into boxes with precise amounts of bedding and moisture that last them up to a month.

“There’s always a little nervousness on my part because … I want them to travel OK,” Mr Bratzel said.

City folk return to nature

Traditionally, boxed worms have left Mr Bratzel and Ms McSweeney’s farm at the rate of about 50 kilograms per month.

But 2020 saw an unprecedented increase in sales through local garden centres, direct pick-up, and particularly online sales.

“We had huge demand over the past eight months or year,” Mr Bratzel said.

Asian greens growing in veggie garden with garden fork planted in soil

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant more time in the garden for many.(

ABC Northern Tasmania: Sarah Abbott

)

Mr Bratzel said most of their customers were city dwellers.

He said since worms usually only needed to be acquired for a household once, their customers had likely never composted before.

Worms, life-support of the world

The recent spike in demand, which led to Mr Bratzel adding two new worm beds, was now starting to “balance itself out”.

But for the couple, the importance of worms — not only for individual gardens but entire ecosystems, including their human inhabitants— is never-ending.

Close up of a handful of pinky-brown compost worms writhing around

Mr Bratzel says the humble compost worm is one of the planet’s key recyclers.(

ABC Northern Tasmania: Sarah Abbott

)

“No life would be possible without worms,” Mr Bratzel said.

“Just like the roots of the tree are needed to support [the tree] … we couldn’t go without the worms.

“I realise I’m a little bit out there, having done it for 20 years but, you know, everyone knows how much love there is between the dog and the owner … and it’s a little bit like that with the worms.”

Year of the worm? How 2020 saw Tasmanian compost worms sales soar
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