What started out as a lockdown dinner table conversation “about how to make money” has turned into a lucrative home enterprise for Carterton youngster Jack Newton.
The Year 7 pupil is the visionary behind Jack’s Worm Wee – a small online business specialising in organic, chemical-free fertiliser, sourced from the family’s worm farm.
Jack, then eight years old, began planning his new business idea during the first covid lockdown: Eventually starting his own worm composting operation, and selling the resulting water waste to garden-enthusiast neighbours and friends.
Worm wee, or “worm tea”, has been dubbed “liquid gold for the garden”. Produced from the worms’ diet of food scraps, it contains the nutrients and micro-organisms necessary for a healthy soil profile.
Word about Jack’s product got around – and, before long, he and his parents were loading recycled wine bottles of worm wee “onto the back of the ute” and transporting them throughout the region.
Later, Jack’s own stall at the local weekend markets kept the happy customers and the profits rolling in.
Mum Ces Newton said Jack’s Worm Wee came about after Jack announced that he “didn’t want to go back to school after lockdown, and was going to start [his] own business”.
His parents insisted he continue his education, but helped him narrow down a list of ideas – until he landed on one, inspired by a recent school project.
“He had been learning all about worm farms and natural fertilisers at Opaki School – and he decided he wanted to make some of his own,” Ces said.
“Jack’s always been an ideas man. Even since he was about three, he’s been saying, ‘Mum, I’ve got a genius idea!’ And usually, his ideas make a lot of sense.
“It’s been the coolest thing watching this take off. It’s great for him to see that ideas can take shape and come to life — and if you work hard, you get the treats.
“And he does enjoy making his own money!”
On hearing Jack “rattle off a whole lot of facts” about tiger worms and their nutrient-dense by-products, the family’s first port of call was Central Wormworx in Cromwell – which services large operations, such as vineyards and orchards.
They ordered “an ice cream container” of tiger worms, delivered by a bemused courier driver.
After sourcing a worm farm from Mitre 10 and doing “a bit of Googling”, Jack got to work on raising his new bright-red wriggly housemates.
“They’re pretty easy to look after,” Jack, now at Masterton Intermediate School, said.
“You feed them kitchen scraps, like kumara and potato peelings – they munch through them. They quite like paper as well. But they don’t like banana peels or onion skins.
“You have to remember to give them water as well. I just use the hose.”
Once the worms are fed and watered, their waste can be collected every two weeks from the bottom tray of the worm farm. For the ideal consistency, worm wee must be watered down to “the colour of weak tea”.
As an experiment, Ces tried out the new product on “some previously-neglected lemon and feijoa trees” and a houseplant “on its last legs”.
“They pretty much came back to life. The feijoa tree hadn’t done anything for years — and it was growing fruit and flowers. We were just like, ‘what the heck?!’”
Jack made his first sales to the neighbours in their small cul-de-sac: Earning rave reviews, plus donations of wine bottles to use as environmentally-friendly receptacles.
Eventually, he advertised Jack’s Worm Wee on Facebook Marketplace, and the fledgling business “snowballed”.
“People kept coming back and placing orders — they wanted more bottles, and then bigger bottles,” Jack said.
“They’d say things like, ‘we can’t believe what this is doing for our plants!”
Last year, Jack set up a regular stall at the Wairarapa Farmers’ Market — and, after a slow start, he built up an enthusiastic clientele.
“This one time, a guy came and said ‘I’ll buy the lot’. He bought about 30 bottles!”
Jack now has his own bank account, and is able to cover his business expenses outgoings — as well as treating himself to a new hoverboard.
He has also set up a Facebook page for Jack’s Worm Wee and, after a brief hiatus while the family moved to rural Carterton, is taking online orders, and hopes to hit the market circuit again.
“He’s very driven — he wants this to do well,” Ces said.
“Not many people sell worm wee on a big commercial scale. So he’s definitely hit on a gap in the market.”