Nothing creeped out Cathy Nesbitt more than worms.
But during the past 16 years, she has become known as Bradford West Gwillimbury’s Worm Lady.
Nesbitt runs her business, Cathy’s Crawly Composters, out of her home — promoting vermicomposting, or composting with the use of worms, across Canada by selling red wiggler worms, composting containers, composter bedding, books, earrings in the shape of worms, and other so-called “wormy accessories,” such as compost pails.
“I really was afraid of worms before starting, (but) I’ve been selling worms by the pound for 16 years. How about that?” she said.
It all began when a friend asked her to take care of her vermicomposting bin while she was away.
“I had (the worms) in my house. It was horrible,” she said.
But the more time she spent with the worms and investigated vermicomposting, the more fascinated she became.
“The worms are the creepy part, (but) it’s just our perception of them. They have five hearts each. That’s 4,000 to 5,000 hearts in one pound of worms. Strange Valentine’s Day gift — not for everyone,” she said, laughing.
“The worms are doing good work. They eat half their weight in garbage a day.”
The “black gold” soil that is a byproduct of vermicomposting is rich in nutrients, she said.
Worm castings, or worm poop, conserve moisture and improve soil conditions, which can reduce dependence on chemicals for gardening, and it will not harm animals or children, according to Nesbitt’s website.
People often think composting with worms must also smell, but it does not, she said.
“Worms digest (the food) before it can smell,” she said, adding it will only smell if there is too much food in the worm bin or if the bin is too wet.
“The green bin is a curse and a blessing. People think it’s composting but it’s not. Does it smell? That’s your first clue it’s not composting.”
At Nesbitt’s Bradford home, her backyard stretches out into a variety of gardens, all covered in soil that has gone through the vermicomposting process.
A one-by-one-metre wooden box with a wooden lid on a hinge sits mid-construction — a large vermicomposter Nesbitt built for a victory gardens project at the Sharon Temple national historic site and museum.
It will fit eight pounds of worms, and the box will be insulated with styrofoam and have a base of limestone to prevent moles from sneaking their way in, she said.
But not everyone needs such a large worm bin.
Nesbitt sells smaller plastic versions with lids that come in several colours and have four legs so they can also act as stools. They are square shaped — just more than a ruler’s length on each side and about 56 centimetres tall.
They have three removable levels stacked on top of each other, with holes in between them for the worms to commute.
One of these composters sits on Nesbitt’s back deck, and she lifts off the bright green lid to reveal a layer of soil topped with shredded paper. This is the bedding, and shredded drink trays or carbon paper can also be used, she said.
Eggshells or agricultural lime are added to help balance pH levels, and then food waste and some water can be added to the mix to get the worms started.
The idea is for this mixture and the worms to be placed in one of the lower levels in the stacked composter, and the worms will eventually work their way up to the next tray once the soil is fully composted.
This can take a few months, and when the worms are ready to move up, one of the compost levels should be placed on top with more soil, bedding and eggshells so the worms have a new place to hang out.
There are several ways to harvest the soil for a garden, including only feeding the worms on one side for a few weeks so they will migrate there, allowing you to collect the soil from the other side, or by dumping out the entire container into piles under a bright light and collecting the soil on top once the worms have burrowed down.
While Nesbitt promotes vermicomposting and has some worms on her property, most of the worms she ships across Canada are grown in a barn in Beeton in quantities of 50 to 100 pounds at a time.
Her business, which she runs with her husband, Rick Nesbitt, was inspired by a garbage strike in Toronto in 2002.
Most of her customers are not in BWG, she said, and she speaks at workshops, camps, garden clubs, and schools around the province to teach as many people as possible about vermicomposting.
“People think they know what they know about worms. If you’re thinking, ‘Ew ew ew’ the whole time, you miss the message,” she said. “I would love to see more people in it. We need more growers.”
Though Nesbitt has spent nearly 20 years in the business of worms, she has expanded her work to also include other health-conscious areas, including growing and promoting sprouts and teaching laughter yoga.
“Sprouts are a superfood,” she said, noting they are hydrating and rich in enzymes.
Nesbitt sells sprout-growing kits — plastic, domed containers to hold beans and water, which transform into sprouts in 24 hours.
“They’re delicious, nutritious and affordable,” she said.
With the additional of laughter yoga to Nesbitt’s repertoire, she said she has given herself a new nickname — Cathy Crawly, the laughing bean queen.
“(Laughter yoga is) a lot less schlepping than the worms. It’s laughter for no reason. We’ve always heard laughter is the best medicine. It reduces stress,” she said. “It’s not yoga at all. The yoga is the breath.”
Nesbitt is hosting laughter yoga classes in her backyard on Sundays throughout the summer.
Participants play games to inspire the laughter, and fake chuckles eventually turn into real laughs, she said.
“It is fake it til you make it. Laughter brings us to the present moment,” she said.
And while Nesbitt’s worms do not join in the yoga, her businesses are all connected through healthy living and being joyful.
“I use humour in my business because I work with worms,” she said. “I make worms fun.”
Want to take a laughter yoga class?
WHEN: Sundays in July and August
TIME: 10-11 a.m.
WHERE: Cathy’s Laughter Club, 43 Thornton Ave., Bradford
COST: $2 suggested donation