Jiminy cricket! Droppings make great fertilizer


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Bill Bricker was way over his head in, well, insect dung before he got bold and decided to call CC-84 what it really was.

Kricket Krap.

Now his fertilizer sales have more than quadrupled and people all over the country have called asking just how he managed to gather the manure of so many jumping bugs.

It seems that most gardeners hadn't given much thought before to whether crickets, to put it plainly, poop. And after considering the idea, some simply refused to believe it.

"Hey, I didn't fall off a turnip truck yesterday," a man snarled when Mr. Bricker tried to sell him a sack of Kricket Krap.

Other folks have taken offense at Mr. Bricker's choice of words. The telephone company even refused to list his product in the Augusta phone book two years in a row. Instead, Bell South dubbed it Kricket ----, using 4 different punctuation symbols to indicate an expletive.

But, all told, this chapter in Georgia farm history has reaped more profits than problems.

Last year, Mr. Bricker and his partner, Ed Hensley, sold Kricket Krap by the bagful -- more than 50 tons, both by mail order and in stores in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and California.

"If you wanted to be specific, we sold off the work of 2 billion crickets this past year," Mr. Bricker says proudly.

When Mr. Bricker and Mr. Hensley first produced their fertilizer -- which they say is 98 percent pure -- they called it CC-84. The CC stood for cricket crap, and 1984, the year they began selling it. But to the uninitiated, CC-84 probably sounded more like a chemical than an organic fertilizer.

Almost no one bought it.

"It was a bomb," said Mr. Bricker's wife, Lou Ellen.

Determined, the partners changed the name from CC-84 to Gotta Grow -- clever, they thought.

Still no luck.

Then one night, Mr. Bricker was sitting in a bar with a friend who works as an advertising salesman, fretting over his dilemma. Why not call the fertilizer what it is? the friend asked.

Thus it became Kricket Krap and -- by jiminy! -- people noticed. Before long, a Nevada columnist wrote that Kricket Krap "is nothing to poo-poo." The fertilizer was the talk of a California radio station, where a host mused that the Georgia farmers must employ "wee little people who go out in wee hours of the morning with wee little shovels to pick up wee bits of cricket do."

Kricket Krap started selling.

It was another boost when people discovered that it worked.

Kricket Krap has been called one of the richest organic manures in the U.S. market. Four pounds of it -- which sells by mail for $6.95 postage paid -- fertilizes 50 square feet for six to eight weeks. Too much will burn up a garden.

Its richness has a lot to do with the crickets themselves and the food they are fed. They are achelta domesticus crickets, brown-gray and smaller than the black crickets common in the outdoors. The bugs are farm-raised for fish bait and pet food and are fattened with high-protein molasses-sweetened meal.

"After you get through laughing about it and convince somebody to use it, the results are tremendous," says Bill Bambrick, manager of Green Thumb Nursery and Garden Center West in Martinez, Ga.

The results bloom and sprout all over the 10-acre farm Mr. Bricker and Mr. Hensley tend 3 1/2 miles outside Augusta. Here, cucumber plants are leafy, and roses are brilliant in white, coral and yellow; hot peppers hang ripe from sturdy branches.

This stretch of flat land, called Bricker's Organic Farm, is where Mr. Bricker and Mr. Hensley started out nearly 14 years ago after retiring from careers in the Army. Mr. Bricker, now 60, was a colonel in the Signal Corps at nearby Fort Gordon, and Mr. Hensley, now 49, a major, was his operations officer. Both men had served in Vietnam.

By 1978, they longed to return to their roots -- farming.

Tired of the highly structured Army life, they created an easygoing, loosely organized farm operation. Their idea was to find new uses for organics otherwise thrown away: grass clippings, potato peelings, cattle innards, manure. From such waste, they created composts and topsoils and fertilizer.

Crickets came into the picture in the early 1980s, when the

partners discovered several cricket farms nearby.

Robert W. Whaley owns one of those farms, a squat few buildings of large rooms where crickets are raised from tiny specks to full-grown bugs in screened wooden boxes of 10,000 bugs each.

For many years, Mr. Whaley used some of the cricket leftovers on his grass -- until it grew so fast that he had to stop -- but most cricket dung is tossed into landfills.

Even so, Kricket Krap hasn't made wealthy men of Mr. Bricker and Mr. Hensley. Topsoil remains their biggest seller. "It ain't no rags-to-riches story," Mr. Bricker says.

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