I’m convinced there are just two ways to approach farming: one, with an analytical mind, or two, going with your gut and building on experience. On a recent group tour of a worm farm, Bamastan Farming Co., the guests were spewing scientific questions like, “What’s the optimum soil pH for the worms to grow?” Owner Scott Lueck casually answered, “All I know is that I add a bucket full of lime, and I’ve learned from the 10 years I’ve been doin’ this that if you don’t add it, the worms will die.” The retired agriculture professor in the crowd just couldn’t help himself and announced, “The nitrification reaction that converts ammonia to nitrite also produces acid. So lime needs to be added to soil or else the pH will fall low enough, below 6, killing the worms.”
This type of question/answer session went on throughout the visit. “How much nitrogen should be added to the bedding material?” Scott’s answer, “Enough for the worms to be happy.” He mixes dirt, composted cow manure, paper, and a bucket of lime until it has the right consistency. Together with a little moisture and coolish temperatures, the combo makes for good worm growing conditions.
Vermiculture is the cultivation of earthworms. Worms are raised for use in vermicompost or for other purposes, like fishing bait. Scott attributes his growing success in part to the dwindling economy. He’s convinced that with people out of jobs, they have more time to fish, so they need more worms.
The worm castings can be used to produce a “tea” teaming with beneficial bacteria that transform nutrients into forms that are more accessible to the plants. Studies have also shown that nutrients in vermicompost, like nitrogen, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and sulfur, are in even higher numbers per unit volume than regular compost material. Their use has been linked to disease suppression and with pest repellant activity. And while the mechanism is not fully understood, studies have consistently shown that vermicomposts improve seed germination and enhance seedling growth and development.
The more worms, the more castings, which makes happy farmers! Scott uses a simple trommel device, a rotating cylinder with mesh walls to separate the worms from the castings. The castings can be brewed into tea and then used to water plants. To brew the tea, simply add the worm castings, rain water (you don’t want the chlorine from tap water), and honey to a bucket. Aerate the water overnight with a bubbler, like one you’d use for a fish tank, and voila! For a more analytical description check out wiki’s how to guide.
So if you have a garden, it’s probably time you got some worms. Whether you approach it with your head or your heart, or a combination, you’ll get to the same place. To get your own worms contact your local gardening center or mail order your little guys directly from Scott (334-728-0819). Happy planting!
Winter 2012 Athens, GA Food Warrior
This post is from one of the interns in the Real Time Farms Food Warrior Internship Program. These interns are collecting data, pictures, and video on the growing practices of our nation’s farms, gathering food artisans’ stories, and documenting farmers markets. We all deserve to know where our food comes from! Boring legalese we feel we must include: this was written by a real live person who has their own opinions, which we value, but that do not necessary reflect, though they may (or may not), reflect the values and opinions of Real Time Farms. That is for you to guess and us to know.