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Fred Jimenez: The Worm Man

Fred Jimenz shows off his compost worms thrive. Photo by Jenn Walker

After 46 years of waking up at 5 a.m. to work in Arizona’s mines, Fred Jimenez had to decide what to do next. The Gila County native spent the ‘60s working at the Inspiration Copper mine in Miami, spent another 25 years working at the Cyprus mine in Tucson, and retired as senior supervisor from the Phelps Dodge mine in Globe in 2007. Upon retirement, he decided to commit to an entirely different line of work, work that involves worms and gardens.

Anyone who has spent substantial time in Globe has probably seen or heard of Jimenez, otherwise known as the ‘worm man’. He spends Saturdays selling bags of worms and ‘worm hotels’ at the Globe farmers market, in addition to aloe vera plants and rain harvesting barrels. Other days he might be found at an elementary school, the San Carlos Native American reservation, or at his house, either gardening or teaching other people how to garden. Jimenez became a certified master gardener through the University of Arizona extension center while he was finishing his mining career in 2004. Now he is president of the Gila County Master Gardeners Association.

Though gardening is something he always wanted to do, he admits he wasn’t always good at it. Once, he thought water was all that plants needed. Now he knows better.

Fred Jimenez explains why worms are good for the soil and the environment
Fred Jimenez explains why worms are good for the soil and the environment. Photo by: Jenn Walker

  Worms are nature’s way of making soil

“I wouldn’t want to live on just water,” he points out.

“The worms [are] nature’s way of making soil, so why not use the little guys?” he says. “It’s working   smarter, not harder.” Ecologically, it just makes sense, he adds. Each scrap a worm turns into compost means less waste going to a landfill. Jimenez’ home is easily spotted driving down his block on the outskirts of Globe. Arizona Ash trees grow tall in his front yard. Echinacea thrives in a planter to the left of his driveway.

“My plants grow year around,” he says proudly.

His backyard is an oasis. Barn swallows dive through his yard as he leads the way to the patio, where he hosts a collection of lush, exotic potted plants. Butterflies flit from pot to pot. He points out his Hawaiian plumeria, pineapple bushes, red ginger, aloe vera plants, jasmine, and birds-of-paradise.

Producing a front and backyard ornate as this has taken time; Jimenez has been gardening since he began the course at the extension center in 2004. If it weren’t for the worms, however, these plants would not be flourishing, he adds.

   Letting the worms do the work

“Anybody can compost,” he says. “Let the worms do the work.”

He spends about 30 minutes a week caring for the worms. He applies the rich compost they produce to the base of his plants as needed. He stops at four tote bins in the shade, one stacked over the other. This is what he calls the ‘worm hotel’, where he keeps a steady supply of breeder worms. The top three contain red wigglers squirming through shredded paper and food scraps, which the worms eat and process into compost.

The top bin is mostly still white with shreds of paper. Jimenez pulls out the third bin to reveal dark brown compost, a sign that the worms’ work is almost complete. He alternates use of the bins whenever one of the batches of compost is ready. As the worms produce moisture, it leaks downward to the bottom bin, creating liquid fertilizer, or compost tea. Every so often, he gives his plants a shot of the tea.

Handfuls of worms are spread throughout his front and backyard.

Fred Jimenz has made a second career out of building worm motels in his back yard
Fred Jimenz has made a second career out of building worm motels in his back yard. Photo by: Jenn Walker

He suggests walking on the grass to feel the sinking of the worms and soil below.

In addition to breaking down waste, the worms aerate the soil, allowing water to seep through their tracks around the plants’ roots. Worms also neutralize the soil it if it’s too acidic or alkaline.

 Worm Motels generate strong sales


Everything in Fred's yard is thriving which attracts butterflies and bees
Everything in Fred’s yard is thriving which attracts butterflies and bees. Photo by: LCGross

Thanks to Jimenez, worm enthusiasm is catching on in the region. By the time this article comes out, he likely will have sold more than 94 of his handcrafted worm hotels in less than two years. He recently sold numbers 93 and 94, in addition to five bags of worms, during his presentation on vermicomposting at the San Carlos Reservation. He welcomes any opportunity to explain how extraordinary these underground creatures are. They have a gizzard like a chicken and no eyes, he says, and they breathe through their skin. Two worms will reproduce, regardless of whether they are male or female, because they change sexes.

Meanwhile, he maintains a steady workload, whether he is transplanting plants or drilling holes into a worm hotel. Each day he starts around 8 in the morning and ends late into the afternoon.

It’s the same schedule he kept while working in the mines.



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