After injuring his foot working at Simpson Paper Mill several years ago, Ned Cruz, 66, decided to open a worm farm with his wife, Robbie, outside their Cottonwood residence.
His injuries still restrict movement as he walks unsteadily among the wooden bins of worm-laden fertilizer.
"I'm okay for two to four hours," Cruz said, but after that, he uses a motorized wheelchair to finish his work day.
The Gas Point Worm Farm at 19601 Gas Point Rd. registered its business license last month after slowly expanding for the last six years in Cottonwood.
Not just a shot in the dark, Cruz operated a worm farm at his old residence on Bowman Road 30 years ago, he said.
For $20, Cruz sells customers a generous pound of worms and their excrement castings for use in gardens or composting.
"With the economy down, people want to do things for themselves," Cruz said about composting.
"I'm going to put a handful at the bottom of each plant," said customer Jean Arnaz, who left with three buckets of the stuff for herself and a friend.
The castings are good for individual plants and for improving the soil quality of an entire garden.
"Castings can help a plant, but it takes time to improve the whole garden - about two or three years," Cruz said.
Cruz's business has been getting attention from drivers-by on Gas Point Road. Cruz was surprised to receive long distance calls for castings when someone posted his business online at Craigslist.com.
Castings is a zoological term for worm excement. What the worms are fed is of utmost importance to the quality of the end product, according to Cruz, who is seeking certified organic status for his worm farm.
He covers the manure and worms with shredded newspapers to maintain moisture in the bins. Since the worms also eat the news print, Cruz said he had to stop using paper with glossy printed advertisements because of silicone additives in the ink.
His Red Wiggler worms crawl about only in manure from the Masami Cattle Ranch in Tehama County that claims to feed its cattle only a vegative diet without hormones. Cruz scapes dried manure off the concrete feed lots and ends up with dried, powdered manure back at the worm farm.
"It has no odor and there are no flies," Cruz said of his 300 wooden bins filled with manure, worms and castings.
Cruz said he would be on hand at the opening of the Cottonwood Farmers Market on April 24 to give away some castings to help fertilize the free saplings that Sierra Pacific Industries will offer during the event. Cruz will also be on hand to sell his product at the Shasta District Fair in mid-June.