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Nightcrawler Worms Built Our House

Selling nightcrawler worms enabled one Minnesota family to recover and even thrive after a fire destroyed their home.

| July/August 1980

  • 064 nightcrawlers built our house
    The author stands by a fridge filled with milk cartons of nightcrawler worms. 

  • 064 nightcrawlers built our house

My husband and I didn't begin our bait and tackle business by choice ... but rather out of necessity. A fire had destroyed our home, and Ken felt he could rebuild it in one summer if he could work every day ... but—in the meantime—we would also have to have some form of income. And so, to fill that pressing need, the "Critter-Sitter Farm Bait and Tackle Shop" was born.

Prowl and Pluck

During our first summer in the bait business, we sold only nightcrawler worms, which grow six to eight inches long and—in our area of Minnesota—are a favored bait for walleyed pike. The crawlers come out of the ground at night to breed, and can be found by flashlight and plucked up by hand ... if the plucker is fast enough.

We put our catch into plastic ice cream buckets and later deposited the worms in an old bathtub with plenty of wet peat moss, where we allowed them to cool for the remainder of the night. Early the following morning I'd go out to the barn and pack the squirmers—three dozen (minimum) to a box—and refrigerate them.

Because we had no money to spend on commercial worm boxes (which can cost as much as 5¢ apiece), we'd simply recycle half-pint milk containers. Every time we needed to replenish our supply, Ken and I would make after-lunch trips to the local grade school to pick up such "empties" ... which we dumped into bins in the barn to dry. Surprisingly, there was little offensive odor from the waxed cartons, and they were the perfect size to hold three dozen worms and a handful of bedding.

We began to advertise our business with a homemade 2' X 4' sign—placed at the end of our driveway—which simply stated: "Night crawlers, 35¢ per dozen, 3 dozen/$1.00" ... and sold the bait from an extra refrigerator on our porch. Our start-up expenses consisted of what we had to spend for gasoline to drive into town, refrigeration, flashlight batteries and bulbs, and an occasional ice cream cone to keep the children happy.

From the very beginning we decided that the best way to do business would be to give our customers fine products—in good condition—at fair prices. Therefore, in each "three dozen" box, we'd actually place at least 40 hand-counted wrigglers. And we were careful to throw away any that looked sick or dead.

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