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Wormdorf Astoria

Back in the seventies the sons of my next door neighbors the McGowens had a small roadside business selling worms to fishermen. As memory is vague, I seem to recall some kind of storage container where they fed the worms and kept them fresh. They may have packaged some and sold them to the Mazama Store for resale to fisher people. All this was almost 50 years ago so I must be shamelessly vague.

When Gloria and I moved here full time in 1981 we came to a place whose only structures were a barn from the 1920s and a log cabin I built. The cabin was inspired by Richard Proeneke’s book of his Alaska solitude, One Man’s Wilderness, currently being offered as a donation reward from the Public Broadcasting System during its current fund raising drive.

So here we were on over five acres, a jungle of cottonwood, birch, alder, ozier, willow, aspen, serviceberry and lesser flora. Where there were a few clearings we proposed gardens. What had been a swamp became a pond at the front door of the log cabin, fed by the Rockview Ditch. Our first garden was in a clear area and here we planted comfry, heralded at the time as a fine cash crop. It wasn’t. But in the process, reading books like Five Acres and Independence we realized our soil had to be enriched, and being dedicated back-to-the-Earthers at the time, worms seemed to be the panacea for all the ills of soil inadequacies.

To put this in chronological perspective the North Cascades Highway was still a two-lane 45 MPH road. There were no personal computers, no Google to assist in our quest for knowledge. There were books, magazines like Mother Earth News. On our party line we only had to dial (not press) four numbers for local calls.

Well, we cleared more land and decided to get some livestock, just for ambiance. A bison or two, or maybe a pair of Texas longhorn cattle. This was secondary to our gardening efforts and to that end I had built a 12 by 10 greenhouse at the rear of the log cabin. It was roofed and sided with corrugated fiberglass and had benches, a potting area and ...wait for it... a wormery. I’d left space under the benches for worms both for our gardens as well as sale to fishermen now that the neighbors were not selling them anymore. I ordered three thousand worms, a thousand each of three kinds that were raised in Georgia.

When the worms arrived in small cartons I transferred them from their overcrowded cells to three suites in the Wormdorf Astoria and they thrived. They got cornmeal and other such comestibles to eat, fresh water regularly and they thrived for months.

Things were going well. I bought about 500 styrofoam containers and lids for packaging the worms. Business at the old store was good, even though we had been using yogurt containers. I was after a touch of class. I made a sign: ‘Trout-fed Worms.’

We loaded up the VW pickup for our trip. It was late spring. I soaked the worm beds extra well and laid soaked cloths atop them in case it got warm while we were gone.

We did our touring, went to the auction and headed home to the Methow, where it had turned to summer. Hot summer, unknown for how long. The greenhouse recording thermometer showed over a hundred degrees. The worm beds were cakey and dry. The inhabitants--those that could be discerned--looked like short pieces of dried spaghetti. There were a few sluggish survivors: as an act of contrition I put them into a compost heap that was deep and cool.

This ended my venture into cornering the Methow worm market. We did get a pair of longhorn heifers: that also was ultimately an exercise in hilarious futility. But at least we could eat them.


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