1. Worm beds (made up mostly of moistened cow manure and peat moss) are set up under the rabbit cages, where the droppings will feed the worms and help them multiply.
2. The worms are taken to a cooler and darker growing area where they will be fattened with more rabbit manure pellets (crushed into powder using a blender), cow manure and peat moss. The worms will develop a clitellum, a reproductive ring that will mark a worm as an adult breeder. The worms will feed, fatten and reproduce for the next six weeks.
3. After six weeks, beds will be harvested for the eggs (each bed can produce up to 2,000 eggs)
4. Eggs are placed in peat moss and cow manure for hatching (worms can lay eggs every seven to 10 days; eggs will hatch in 21 to 35 days; and worms will become adult breeders 65 to 72 days after hatching).
5. The castings (worm excrement) produced by the worms are harvested in a turn-filter, separating the worms from the castings. Worms can be used for bait or placed back in the cycle again. Castings are ready to be used as fertilizer.
Dennis Holman's crop is ready for market, though in his case, it's the fertilizer produced by his more than 1 million wriggling earthworms.
The Georgia Red Wiggler Farm specializes in the raising of the Georgia Red Wiggler worm, or Eisenia fetida, an earthworm ideal for composting. The worm droppings, or castings, are used as fertilizer for natural farming. The castings can also be used to create worm tea, which is simply liquid fertilizer.
"People think worms are just a big, slimy mess, that they are dirty, ugly and stink," said Holman, who owns the farm. "But they don't stink. They're actually one of the cleanest. Done right, they're odorless, along with the castings and the worm tea. I mean, God put them here to compost. They're here to fix the soil for us."
Holman said business is booming; since launching his website and the market bulletin ads he placed on Craiglist, the demand for worm castings doubled his first year and doubled again the following year. The demand had outgrown his own capabilities to where he has to import castings from South Georgia to keep up.
The farm rests on four acres; the worm castings Holman cultivates is used to raise a variety of vegetables, including squash, beans, herbs, Catalpa trees, zucchini and much more. The farm currently sells all of its squash to Whippoorwill Hollow Farms.
"I can't say that I'm organic because I'm not yet certified - Andy (Byrd, owner of Whippoorwill Hollow Farms) is helping me get certified right now - but everything on this farm is naturally produced," said Holman.
Along with the Red Wigglers and produce, the farm also raises rabbits, mostly Californian and New Zealand white rabbits. The rabbits are well-kept and well-fed, with some New Zealand whites weighing upward of 20 pounds. One rabbit in particular, named Big Terry, weighs 24 pounds. Each rabbit on the farm bears a name, like Big Bubba, Mindy Loo and a Lionhead rabbit named Charlie Murphy.
Holman explained that because of its high concentration of nutrients, the rabbit droppings are primarily used to feed the worms. Some rabbits are sold to the public, but he has to keep enough in-house to produce the manure required to feed the worms.
"I basically, I feed the rabbits and they feed the worms, it's a simple cycle," said Holman. "They're beautiful rabbits and they've done really well for me."
Just three years ago, Holman was a construction contractor. The financial crisis in 2008 found him without a job and no real prospects.
"I asked myself, ‘what am I going to do?'," said Holman. "My grandparents did organic gardening and I decided to give it a try. I did research on composting and red worms kept coming up. So I went out and bought 10 pounds and never looked back."
Holman hosts a workshop for the public every month to educate them on benefits of worm castings and composting, or vermiculture and vermicomposting. Attendees are taught to raise their own bed of worms to self-sustain. They will also be able to purchase materials necessary to get started.
Most attendees are inner-city, like Atlanta, Midtown, Alpharetta, Roswell and Little Five Points.
"I've tried to sell this method to many local farmers and markets around here and they rejected it," said Holman. "They said how they have used 10-10-10 their whole lives and wanted nothing to do with it and I just gave up. But the inner-city folks are responding tremendously."
Holman believes the business will double again next year and he plans to expand and double the size of the facility to accommodate the worms and rabbits. Currently, the farm houses a million worms and about 100 rabbits.
"For me, this is about giving," said Holman. "It's not about the money, it's about educating people."
For more information, visit www.gawigglers.com.