Location: 411 Tia Juana St., Suite A
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday
Earthworms and red worms are good for fishing and for gardens — but good for business?
If you don’t think so, just ask Ken and Jay Williams, a father-son business team who started researching worms as a business a few years ago and opened their first retail location last week.
It took a while, because it turns out some worms are picky eaters.
“Believe it or not, we had some trouble figuring out exactly what the African earthworms would eat to thrive,” Jay said. “And we finally did it. We feed them all decayed vegetable matter. That’s all they get, organic vegetable matter.”
Not so with American earthworms, which thrive with any kind of food — even manure.
“They’ll eat anything,” Jay said. “But we have the Africans figured out, and they’ll do well in any garden.”
The two men spent about a year working out of their garage, and then moved to a warehouse at Powers Boulevard and Airport Road. From there, they grew the business through social media and word-of-mouth until they could open their first retail spot.
Ken is the enthusiast of the two, while Jay is responsible for marketing and works at the retail location during the week.
“I just am fascinated by the things they can do for soil,” Ken said. “And when Jay moved back here from Virginia, I talked and talked about it until he nudged me into starting the business.”
That was in 2010. Since then, the two have cultivated a relationship with two local nurseries: Phelan Gardens and Rick’s Nursery. They also grew customers last summer from routine visits to the Farmer’s Market at the Margarita at Pine Creek.
“We just talked it up,” Ken said. “That’s really our customer — people who want to grow vegetables without using chemicals.”
To his surprise, Rocky Mountain Worm Company also has another group of customers interested in organics: medical marijuana growers.
“You know, they’re selling that stuff for people to inhale in their lungs,” he said. “It makes sense to make sure it’s organic, with no pesticides or no chemicals. This is the right time to be in this business,” Ken says. “People are more focused on where their food comes from, and they don’t want chemicals or pesticides. That’s where we come in.”
For commercial groups — like the medical marijuana growers or commercial nurseries — the Williamses sell worms by the ton.
Worms by the ton? Yes, and worm poop, called “castings,” as well, the two men said. They also sell cocoons as part of the mix. When worms burrow deeper in the winter, or die off, they leave cocoons behind. Once soil temperatures reach 70 degrees, baby worms hatch from the cocoons.
Customers can buy the worms themselves in a rich mixture of soil and castings. Or they can buy castings to put on their lawn or garden. The worms can aerate the soil, making sure that water gets deep to the roots.
“That’s important when you can only water your garden twice a week,” Ken says. “The worms and the castings both can really hold the water in the soil, making the grass and gardens more productive.”
While they prefer selling in large amounts, they also sell worms by the pound and castings by the five-gallon bucket. There’s a discount if you bring your own bucket.
And people headed for a day of fishing can stop by to buy a pound or so of worms to spend the day at Pueblo Reservoir.
“We had a guy come in and buy pounds of worms,” Ken said, “and told us that they have big parties on the boat out in the reservoir. In a single afternoon, they go through 500 worms.”
A single pound of worms costs about $3.50. But gardeners will need more than that. People who are using the worms, castings and cocoons as fertilizer, will need about 10 pounds for every 100 square feet of lawn or five to eight pounds for every 10 square feet of garden space. For those people, the Williamses sell 22 pounds for $50. If you bring your own bucket, it’s $40 for the earthworms.
Both of them are natives of Colorado Springs, and so were their parents and grandparents. They know the area, and they know what the soil needs.
“We’re proud to be selling in Colorado, proud to have a local product for local companies,” Ken says. “From here on out, it’s just about educating people about what we do, what they need.”
Now that they’re set up in their own retail space, the Williamses believe the next few years will be all about growing their business — after all, the hard part is over, they said.
“The biggest challenge was finding the right mix of food for the worms,” Jay said. “To be honest, that was it. We had to find something that they were happy to live in, happy to eat. And now that we’ve cleared that hurdle, it seems to be going really well.”