Worm rancher welcomes locals to pumpkin patch

Brian Faus, owner of Texas Big Worm in Bertram. (BELOW) The trommel screener used in the worm harvesting process.  (Courtesy Photo) (BOTTOM) Pumpkins are available in all sizes at Texas Big Worm Pumpkin Patch. (Katie Amsler Photo)

Brian Faus, owner of Texas Big Worm in Bertram. (BELOW) The trommel screener used in the worm harvesting process. (Courtesy Photo) (BOTTOM) Pumpkins are available in all sizes at Texas Big Worm Pumpkin Patch. (Katie Amsler Photo)

By Christine Bolaños

BERTRAM — Locals searching for the perfect pumpkin for their jack-o’-lantern or fall decorations need look no further than the pumpkin patch at Texas Big Worm.

Located in Bertram, the business specializes and prides itself in green waste recycling using vermicompost to process green waste into soil. The source that makes this possible are the squiggly, slimy and pinkish creatures otherwise known as worms. Three types to be exact, says Brian Faus, owner of Texas Big Worm.

Sometimes dubbed the “Worm Wrangler,” Faus said he uses 80 percent red wigglers, 10 percent European night crawlers and 10 percent African night crawlers for his business. He feeds his worms the compost and the worms’ droppings, referred to as castings, are sold as a natural fertilizer. Faus said it is considered among the best additions for soil.

“The red wriggler is the smallest of the three worms that I raise,” Faus explained. “They are the most prolific composters and will produce compost faster than any of the other worms.”

The African night crawlers survive in hot temperatures common during central Texas summers.

“They really go to town and work when it’s 105 degrees outside,” Faus said.

European night crawlers aren’t as efficient at composting, but are ideal for cooler weather.

“As temperature cools down they do well for people that fish,” Faus shared. “It’s very similar to the fishing worm, the big night crawlers you buy at a bait shop. They don’t have to be refrigerated and at the same time they do some composting.”

Faus sells fertilizer, compost tea to boost plant growth and supply nutrients and the worms themselves.

“People buy them to have a small little composting bin at their house,” Faus said. “I sell a small portion of worms for fishing to bate shops, but most are used for composting.”

Faus said his customers are predominantly wholesale and include tomato, jalapeno and pepper growers. They include Taylor farmers and Mexican restaurants in the area.

He has about 350,000 worms on site and has sold up to 150,000 of them.

“I need to be closer to half a million to 750,000 worms to keep up with production,” he said. “Worms breed and reproduce very quickly. I have a bunch of breeder bins so hopefully by spring time it’ll be closer to half a million worms.”

There are several variables that factor into the number of worms including heat, temperature and humidity.

“Most of the time they’re fed once a week,” Faus explained. “I raise the bins off the ground. I try to keep them on the ground, but fire ants have been a problem.”

As part of his five-acre property, Faus reassembled a small airplane hangar and big industrial shells to be used for worm bins. He feeds about 1,500 worms once a week and depending on temperature conditions, those worms can grow to about twice as many in two to four months.

He uses a trommel screener, which he describes as a big circular tube, for the harvesting process.

“The worms will go through that and they are fed from one worm to another,” he said. “There’s a quarter inch screen which the cocoons or worm eggs will fall out of the bins to multiply my population.”

Texas Big Worm hosts school and homeschool field trips sometimes and allows children to witness the worm harvesting.

“They build their own worm bin by adding shredded newspaper and food and I explain how everything works and go from there,” he said. “Sometimes kids will take worms home. Last year we did one or two of those and we’ve got a lot more people requesting those.”

The casting business kicks off in the spring time when it’s cool enough for the process and it is the time people start working on their gardens.

“It seems every demographic has bought worms from me to do composting,” Faus said. “I have people locally to Austin and I will ship worms through the mail if it’s not too hot. Most people buy worms in bulk, but I also sell to someone who wants to have a little backyard compost set-up.”

Faus said he grew up with rabbits and worms but didn’t get into the green waste recycling business until about two years ago. He completed stints as a financial advisor and worked on everything from RVs to IT service and engineering.

“I wanted to do something with my hands,” he remembered. “I was purchasing organic soils and realized one the main ingredients was worm casting.”

He learned more about the green waste recycling process through his cousin’s father-in-law’s California-based business.

“He uses worm to process paper and timber waste for the last 30 years,” Faus said. “I visited with him and discovered there’s not a lot of large scale composting businesses in Texas. I quit my job, sold my house and became a full time rancher/farmer.”

One tradition that has quickly become a community favorite at Texas Big Worm is the pumpkin patch.

Last year’s pumpkin patch was smaller, but Faus decided to expand this year with three to four times as many pumpkins.

He grows the smaller pumpkins himself, but Central Texas temperatures are not ideal for the larger pumpkins commonly used for jack-o’-lanterns and such. That’s why he ventures to West Texas or Lubbock to purchase native pumpkins or New Mexico pumpkins to include larger pumpkins in his patch in Bertram.

“It’s not a humongous pumpkin patch and I don’t want it to be,” Faus explained. “I think that’s some of the appeal. It’s very family-oriented. My sisters help me, my mom comes out, I have nephews who help me and several high school kids who help me out when they can.”

Families can enjoy fall friendly activities at the pumpkin patch such as the “Pumpkin Slayer” where participants aim to shoot at a scarecrow for a chance to win a prize and have their picture posted on Texas Big Worm’s social media’s “Slayer Hall of Fame.”

“It’s fun for kids all the way up to adults,” Faus said. “Everybody is pretty excited if they can knock the pumpkins off the scarecrow’s head.”

Last year’s patch included about 1,500 pumpkins. This year the number was bumped up to about 4,500-5,000.

Sizes and prices range from $1 for small ones to $95 for the largest ones. Faus said Texas Big Worm also carries specialty pumpkins such as cinderellas, which are pink, red or white pumpkins; specialty gourds, edible gourds, acorn squashes, mums and dried corn stock.

“We try to carry not just jack-o’-lanterns but unique things that you won’t find anywhere else,” he explained.

The pumpkin patch is open Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., with 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. reserved for school field trips. It is open to the general public as well from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and from 1-6 p.m. on Sundays. It is open from now until Nov. 15.

Texas Big Worm is located at 4625 E. State Hwy. 29 in Bertram. For more information, call (512) 468-9997 or ‘like’ Texas Big Worm or Texas Big Worm Pumpkin Patch on Facebook.