Dirty Jobs

Season 1 Episode 2

Worm Dung Farmer

Aired Sunday 10:00 PM Nov 14, 2003 on Discovery Channel

Episode Recap

Mike starts this episode in Eufaula, Oklahoma, which is about eighty miles east of Shawnee. Here's there to do something that's illegal in most states: catfish noodling. Jerry and Don help him learn how to catch fish without rods, reels, gaffes or spears. It's a hands only sport, although a stick or PVC pipe can be used to poke into the hole to run the fish out. The catfish will attack anything that tries to get close to their hole. Today they may also see crappie, bass, carp, copperhead snakes and snapping turtles. Catfish can get up to 100 pounds although they only expect to find fish weighing around 30-50 pounds in Eufaula Lake.

Don and Jerry jump into the water first to show Mike how it's done. The lake is very murky and it's hard to see anything. Basically all these guys are doing is sticking their hands in a hole underwater and waiting for something to bite. If it's a catfish, you're lucky. Jerry explains that if you find an air pocket there could be a snake, turtle, muskrat or beaver in the hole. Jerry says the muskrats are the worst animal to run into. Don has had his lip busted and nose bloodied by them as they're trying to get away.

After an hour with no fish caught, Mike is thinking that these guys are pulling his leg with the catfish noodling. They get on a boat to get to a different spot on the lake. They plan to go to a sunken highway. A storm comes in and it starts to rain, however the rain doesn't stop these guys. They're noodling underneath huge slabs of concrete and want Mike to join them. He just laughs at them. However, Don finally catches a fish!

Don is determined to find some more and goes deeper underwater. He brings up another huge catfish. He shows Mike how the gill slits inside the catfish's mouth are just like razor blades and can cut if you get your hand in too deep. They weigh their fish and next it's Mike's turn.

The guys have led Mike to a fairly safe place to noodle. There may be a turtle, a water snake or some leeches to worry about. A branch scares the crap out of him as soon as he gets in the water. Don suggests to keep his fingers together and ease the hands around slowly. Mike finds a hole, but is nervous about sticking in his hand. They tell him that if it bites and lets go then it's a fish. He finally tries it and lo and behold, Mike gets a fish! It's time for a fish fry.

Next comes cleaning and cooking the fish. They hang the fish on hooks and let them bleed out first. Then they use a knife to peel off the tough skin. They twist the heads off and start to fillet. Mike isn't doing so well at getting the skin off of his fish. Without Don's help, he may never get around to cooking his fish. They do end up with some nice sized fillets to batter and fry for dinner.

Next Mike goes to Madison, Wisconsin to clean septic tanks. We meet Les who drives the Honey Wagon. He's been doing this job for 26 years. The average tank holds 1000 gallons. Backed up septic tanks can spread disease and contaminate drinking water. The state requires a minimum of three years in between cleanings.

The tank they're going to clean first is about four feet deep. It's a nice hot and humid day to be doing this job. Les says this one has good bacterial growth and is working properly. It costs $110 and takes about 45 minutes to drain a normal septic tank. Basically they just suck up the fluid with a hose, but Les gives Mike a "turd herder" as well. This stick like tool keeps the flow agitated so the heavy layer of sludge on the bottom gets lifted. Mike is instructed to stir it like coffee. He's also instructed to keep his mouth closed. Mike hopes the hose doesn't get clogged so no one has to go inside the tank to unclog it. Les says Mike is a natural at this.

Once they've emptied the tank, Les brings over a mirror and a flashlight to inspect the tank. He wants to check for cracks or roots coming in. We can see the PVC pipe that is the outlet baffle. This tank looks fine, but Les notes that the tank needs a locking device on the cover so no kids mess around with it and fall in the tank. Mike doesn't think any kids are bored enough to be playing in a septic tank.

Their next stop is at the Sandhill School where they need to empty the grease trap. The grease trap keeps the grease out of the city sewer lines. This waste is all from the kitchen and has no restrooms hooked up to it. You'd think that would be better, but it smells just as bad as the septic tank. Mike says it's worse than the last one and has trouble keeping his lunch down. This tank holds 8000 gallons and hasn't been cleaned for 9 months. Again Mike has to agitate the mess to keep the flow going. He's complimented on his good rhythm, but it doesn't make the job any easier.

Just when Mike thought it couldn't get worse, they take the Honey Wagon to the pumping station. They need to go inside and scrape the grease off of the walls and floats. It should take them half an hour. They'll climb down a ladder to get inside the tank, but there are tripods set up above them in case of emergency. They will be hooked up to the tripods with a harness so they can be lifted out if necessary. Les warns Mike that inside he could succumb to heat stroke or a heartattack. He's not too worried about them being overcome by gases because the meters give plenty of warning. Portable gas meters constantly measure the dangerous gas levels in the tank.

Les and Mike suit up with hardhats and oxygen masks. Mike is told to use a shovel and scrape the stuff off the walls. Les is sucking it all up with a hose. This is the worst place Mike has ever been in his life. He emerges from the tank alive and thankful to be out.

They end up in the drying beds of the Madison metropolitan sewerage district. It was built to as a place to dry sludge. All of the grease and waste is dumped here for it to dry in the sun. After about a day it can be scraped up into a pile. Today they empty 6000 gallons of sludge. Once it's baked and dry, it's scooped up and hauled off to the landfill. At the end of the day, Les invites Mike over to his house for margaritas by the pool.

Finally Mike ends up at a Florida worm ranch in Pasco County. The worms here aren't what's valuable, it's their poo. Worm poo makes an excellent organic pesticide-free plant food. We meet John from CRM Worm Ranch. He says the worms are low maintenance compared to other animals. All they do is eat, poo and have sex. Feeding them is fairly easy because they eat animal waste.

Mike gets to run the bulldozer to load up the animal manure used to feed the two million worms. Mike isn't doing a good job on the bulldozer. He eventually brings the poo inside the barn and dumps it on the floor. John's kids get to help Mike shovel the manure onto the worm beds. This particular manure came from a zoo. It takes twelve tons of manure each week to feed the herd. The kids start a poo fight.

For dessert the worms get stale bread. Worms also love to eat piles of shredded paper. It consists of starches and simple sugars. They dump the paper on the floor (again the kids start a fight - this time with the paper, not poo). Then they cover the paper with manure and Mike gets to use a rototiller to mix it all together.

Next they harvest the castings (worm poo). They have a harvester which consists of three sets of screens. The first two screens separate the castings from everything else. The worm eggs fall throught the last screen Any food or worms fall through then end.

John explains how the worms mate. They literally get inside each other's skin. The sperm and eggs will transfer across and the worms will keep both after they separate.

Mike then visits Chris at Critters and Crawlers worm ranch where they make a liquid worm manure for larger fertilizing tasks such as acres of crops. He has 500 gallons of water in a tank to which he will add 100 pounds of castings. They pour the castings into a tank. They'll be brewing a sort of "worm poo tea". Mike says it stinks without the castings even in the tank yet. They shovel some poo and weigh it in a container. They dump the poo into the tank and they'll let it brew for 24 hours. After steeping, it is ready to be sprayed on a field. Mike gets to end the day up on a tractor spraying the worm poo tea.