Tucked back on a Thousand Oaks hillside, you'll find one of Ventura County's more unusual commercial farming endeavors. And unless you knew beforehand, one would never guess, heading up its muddied driveway, what was going on here.
No rows of sunbathed vegetation, no dangling citrus. To get a peek of Richard Morhar's specialty--which he raises on a large, sloping back yard--you need a pitchfork.
"You can tell where they are," Morhar says. "The top of the compost is lighter in color and sponge-like where they've been eating." Morhar, pitchfork in hand, gently stabs at the ground and overturns some earth, exposing a tiny population of the worms from which he makes his living.
The business is aptly titled The Worm Concern.
The environmentally conscious Morhar sells his red worms, in part, to those concerned with maintaining their gardens and landscape without the use of chemical fertilizers.
Besides keeping gardens and landscape well aerated, "the worms convert organic matter into humus--or castings," he said. Essentially, "castings" means worm manure--and they are nutrient-laden.
"Worm castings are nature's balanced fertilizer," he said. "They are rich in nitrogen, potassium and all kinds of plant nutrients."
Morhar--first acquainted with worms via an angling hobby--decided to try his hand at worm farming during the early '70s.
"I started small enough so if it didn't work out I wouldn't lose all that much," he said.
First selling his worms to home gardeners and angling brethren, The Worm Concern has diversified, offering numerous worm byproducts--worm castings and other soil amendments being the largest seller.
Here's a list of what else is offered:
* Home Worm Kit: "This is a colony of worms in their own bedding, sold in cubic-foot boxes," Morhar said. "It's for people who want to start their own home worm farm. It has eggs, food and everything already in the soil." Simple concept, raising worms. "They need two things--food and water," he said.
* Worm Compost Kit: These come in various sizes, smaller ones for the household, larger ones for outdoor use. Anything organic can be tossed into these, except meat and bones, Morhar said.
"There are two advantages to using these kits," he said. "No. 1, you recycle refuse instead of sending it to the landfill. No. 2, the worms turn the refuse into compost, which can later be used to fertilize gardens and plants." The small one is to use instead of your garbage disposal; larger sizes for yard trimmings. Morhar said a pound or worms--about 1,200--can eat a pound of waste every day.
* Bottled Super Juice: This is a concentrated organic plant food liquid made by leaching water through worm castings. Buy it bottled or have The Worm Concern come out to spray directly around your landscape.
A variety of wormless, wire frame compost bins for yard refuse are also available. Ladybugs and predator snails take the place of insecticides.
Morhar has ventured into the growing of organic vegetables, raised in his small greenhouses.
"We grow tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, spices, spinach and just a whole bunch of things."
Lest we forget, Morhar also sells a "Healthy Barb-B-Q Kit." Never throw away another Christmas tree. Give it to Morhar. "It bothered me to see all those trees being sent to the landfill," he said, "so I came up with a way to use them." He removes the needles--that is the starting fluid. Branches are cut from the trunk--that is the kindling. And the trunk? "We cut that up and use it for the charcoal material."
Does it work?
"Sure does, real well," he said. "It smells great too, like you're out camping."
Now back to worms.
It seems there is one other use for the crawly inhabitants of The Worm Concern. At least a few folks come hoping to make a meal of them.
There is the French delicacy ver de terre , but that may seem a tad formal. For a simple snack Morhar can offer you a cookbook offering step-by-step recipes for Worm Surprise Cake, Worm Omelets and Worm Cookies.
Does Morhar take part?
"I don't have the heart," he chuckled. "We have happy worms."
According to Richard Morhar, proprietor of The Worm Concern in Thousand Oaks, up to 72% of the dry weight of earthworms is protein. With that in mind, don't you think it's high time to start--if you haven't already--including this nutritious nocturne in your diet? Here's a couple suggestions offered by Morhar.
For the main course:
Earthworm Pattie Supreme
1 1/2 pounds ground earthworms
1/2 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 egg, beaten
1 cup dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons plain soda water