“If it weren't for the lowly earthworm nothing would be here we wouldn't be here, the dinosaurs wouldn't have been here, grass would not have grown. The worm is the number one soil builder and producer of life,” said Norm Borgmeyer of Norm's Worm Farm, who is a vendor at Rolla's Downtown Farmers Market.

Starting two years ago, Borgmeyer discovered the “best fertilizer known to man,” by using the European Night Crawler, a composting worm that produces a worm casting; a product that worms make when they eat.

“The good stuff is what has been composed through the worm,” explained Borgmeyer. “It is really clean, odorless, and you can make a tea out of it and pour it on your plants for a liquid fertilizer.”

A lot of people will take an old coffee pot and move the worm casting into the pot, put a filter in and use it like used coffee grounds. The casting will melt into that, and eventually, there will hardly be anything left, and it will liquefy into a tea form.

“And it is advisable to add honey because the honey helps break down the microbes and the plants like it a lot better,” he said.

Worms expel their waste, and as that waste builds up, Borgmeyer can harvest it. He has learned to take a cultivating fork and tap it on the ground because the worms don’t like the vibration, so they burrow back down in the soil. Borgmeyer rakes that soil a little bit, and that makes the worms burrow further.

He then leaves the soil for about half an hour, returns and takes a scoop and scrapes it off the top and places it in his homemade sifter, continuing to turn the crank until the fine stuff falls out.

“A composting worm has to have a composting type material, and I use horse manure and peat moss for them to bed in. I feed the worms fine cornmeal and fine soybean meal mix together, and I dig a little trench and pour it in there,” explained Borgmeyer.

He then wets the mix down and keeps it moist, making sure he covers the combination that attracts flies and rodents, and “the worms just eat it up.”

“Whatever goes through a worm is enhanced with microorganisms over 20 times over. So if you have compost and you feed it to a worm the horse manure it eats and the peat moss it eats is enhanced by 20 times over. This stuff has nitrogen, phosphate, potassium, magnesium zinc. Everything you can imagine with trace minerals,” said Borgmeyer.

It will not burn the plant like chemical fertilizers and will lie on the ground until the plant wants it.  

“People don’t realize that plants don’t eat the same stuff all the time. Plants will eat something for the root, something for the rose and something for the seed. And they need different things at different times and this provides that,” said Borgmeyer.

On the other hand, chemical-based fertilizers are salt, and according to Borgmeyer, chemical fertilizer will ruin the land because of the salt make-up and the chemical fertilizers will kill the worms creating what he describes as the Mojave Desert.

“Chemical fertilizers eliminate the need for bacteria and the nematodes (roundworms). The plant produces food for those bacteria, and when you fertilize it the plant takes in the fertilizer, and there is nothing there to feed those bacteria,” he said.

The European Night Crawler that Borgmeyer uses grows from egg to fully mature in four months, and each capsule within the egg contains between 2 and 12 baby worms. They continue to do that eight times a year, and that is why the worms multiply so fast.

“These worms are something else. This particular worm is so prolific if you had 1,000 breeders, potentially in a year’s time you could have 1.5 million worms.”

Norm’s Worm Casting is available every Tuesday and Thursday at Rolla’s Downtown Farmers Market.