They eat. They crawl. They defecate.
And each time they do, worms excrete yummy morsels for plants to feed on.
Worm castings, their excrement, not only help plants grow, they ward off many detrimental insects.
A little more than a year ago, Dan Rasure started Hutchinson-based FednHappy, a worm livestock company that helps farmers and gardeners keep their crops and vegetables healthy.
Since he was a kid growing up in Goodland, Rasure knew worms were special. He used to play in the dirt where his grandfather, a fisherman, tossed his bait. When Rasure grew up, he realized just how crucial these tiny invertebrates were to the environment.
"If it grows, there’s an application for it," said Rasure, who rents out space in an old industrial building near Hutchinson Regional Airport.
The worms are kept in rows of dirt. Minimal processing is used. To keep the livestock content, the lights are kept off.
"They like to be treated with care," Rasure said. "We’re continually looking for ways to reduce stress."
Kansas farmers and gardeners can make their own castings, also known as vermicomposting, but making large amounts can be difficult.
"It’s an organic source of the major nutrients," said Scott Eckert, Harvey County Kansas State University extension agent. "Compared to composts, they have more nutrients."
Terry Rogers, of TNT Pharms, grows industrial hemp in Pretty Prairie. She started using FednHappy’s castings several months ago and is amazed at how much her plants like the nutrients.
"It’s made a huge, huge difference," Rogers said. "We don’t have to use as much fertilizer."
According to Rogers, her plants that utilize these castings are healthier than her plants that do not. Daniel Buck, who grows lettuce hydroponically on 4B Farms in Grinnell said he is also seeing the castings’ impact. Buck started his plants on the nutrient last month.
"It definitely works," he said. "We’re seeing real good results with controlling aphids. The plant health is just tremendous."
Vermicomposting expert Rhonda Sherman is not surprised. Sherman, the director of the Compost Learning Lab at North Carolina State University and the North Carolina extension solid waste specialist, has researched worms, castings and vermicomposting for decades. Along with lecturing worldwide, Sherman is the author of "The Worm Farmer's Handbook: Mid- to Large-Scale Vermicomposting for Farms, Businesses, Municipalities, Schools, and Institutions."
"It’s (vermicomposting) more widespread than people realize," Sherman said. "It adds to the microbiology. It’s really an amazing source of nutrients."
Vermacomposting, which includes excrement and other undigested bits of material, possesses a large variety of microorganisms. Sherman said the byproduct of the worms is dependent upon what the worms eat and how they are taken care of.
"They repel plant diseases and plant pests," she said.
Rasure feeds his worms a variety of foods, including shredded paper, spoiled forage and food waste. He also has a location in Colorado, where he obtains brewers grain, the leftovers from brewing beer, to feed to his little ones.
"They like a scrumptious meal," Rasure said. "They can eat about half their body weight per day."
Although Rasure grew up with night crawlers, he uses red wigglers, eisenia fetida, for his castings. Currently, FednHappy manufactures vermacompost in 2,000-pound bags. Sometime next year, the company hopes to break into the consumer market with 25-pound bags.
"Everything we do is focused on fed and happy," Rasure said. "If they are fed and happy, everything else will take care of itself."
Along with their website, FednHappy can be reached on HitchPin’s website, a site that connects farmers with products and services.