We kicked off the Conservation Education Series with a workshop about every gardener and farmer's small friend - the worm!
One of our most basic resources as a grower of any size, from home gardeners to large producers, is our soil! It provides the medium for our plants to grow in plus holds the water, air, nutrients, and microbes our plants need to grow and thrive.
So how do we show some love to our soil? Workshop Presenter, Greg Hopkins of the Veterans Homestead Project taught us a new term "regenerative agriculture", the focus is on building healthy soil. The idea is to regenerate your essential resource, healthy soil, instead of just taking and taking from the soil as often happens in conventional growing (the peak of this issue creating the Dust Bowl in the early 1930's, which lead to some major rethinking of agriculture and the creation of Conservation Districts with the observation that "soil erosion by water and wind reduced the ability of the land to sustain agricultural productivity and to support rural communities who depended on it for their livelihoods." (And I would add, ALL communities are affected by this, whether you are rural or urban, where does your food come from?). Regenerative Agriculture seems to be the next step in this thinking about soil conservation.
But back to the topic at hand, vermicomposting. We know that compost is a wonderful thing to add to your soil, it provides the organic matter to hold moisture, improve soil structure, and make a home for the microbes and worms! But what is this about vermicomposting? Or in other words, worm composting.
Vermicomposting, like other forms of composting, is the breakdown of organic materials into a soil amendment. In vermicomposting worms speed up the process by eating that organic matter, digesting it, and pooping it out. That worm poop, otherwise know as worm castings, is a nutrient-rich, micro-organism filled compost.
Benefits of Vermicompost:
- It has tons of soil microbes! These microbes do many things including help plants to become more disease resistant.
- Provides nutrients that are accessible to plants and are not as easily flushed away by water (as happens with synthetic fertilizers).
- Contains hormones which encourgage plant growth for stronger plants with higher yeilds.
- Retains soil moisture so you have to water less often, waste less of that precious resource, and keep your plants from drying out.
Start Your Own Vermicompost Bin at Home:
Get a 27 gallon bin (Greg recommends one of these per person in your household to correctly handle the amount of food scraps)
Drill holes in the bottom with about a 1/4" drill bit.
Layer wet newspaper to cover the bottom.
Layer greens or food scraps. Not too much, You want to make sure the worms can eat it all before it goes into anearobic decompostion (hint: you can tell that you have too much food if it starts to stink). Note: Greg says go ahead and feed them anything that was once living: vegetables, fruit, lawn clippings, and even dairy, meat, citrus! If you are unsure start with plant matter.
Add worms (specifically red wigglers! You can get some from a friend who is already vermicomposting or buy them locally from Durango Compost Company).
Put a layer of soaked cardboard on top. This will keep it dark for the worms.
|Sarah taking home her new Vermicomposting Bin that she won in the PRIZE drawing!|
Close the lid and place in a shady spot where it won't get too hot. A garage works nicely too!
Check the worms by lifting up the cardboard, once they have eaten all the food add another layer of food. Do this until the bin is 1/4-1/2 full then harvest your worm castings. This can be done by putting the next layer of food just on one side, the worms will they crawl to that side and you can take the other half out. Or get another bin (with some food scarps) and place directly on top of the castings, the worms will crawl up through the holes leaving you with just castings in the bottom bin.
Watch a video of Greg putting together the vermicomposting bin at the bottom of the page!
Use your castings:
When you transplant, by putting a small scoop in the hole with the plant.
Top dressing around your plants and gently digging into the top 1-2 inches.
Making Vermicompost Extract to water your plants with:
- In a 25 gallon container of water (if it's city water make sure to let it sit out so the chlorine can evaporate out. Chlorine will kill the microbes) put 5 gallons of worm castings.
- Agitate for 3-5 minutes (you can stir using a paint strainer or anthing you have around).
- Water soil around your plants (not foliage).
The compost extract will be good for 2-3 days after which point the biological activity (which is what you are try to get) will decrease.
Black Gold: Home Vermicomposting Workshop Handout by Greg Hopkins
Book - "Worms Eat My Garbage"
Elaine Ingham - Soil Food Web
CSU Extension - Worm Composting (includes link to a youtube how-to video)
Greg Hopkins operates Breen Mesa Farm and was a compost specialist at the Univ. of Hawaii Maui College. He has extensive background in various forms of composting as well as regenerative soil development. His farm also hosts Veteran Homestead Project teaching homesteading skills to combat veterans as a means of self reliance and healing.
Upcoming Conservation Education Workshops
Friday, June 24th
at Old Fort Lewis
w/ Sterling Moss, Natural Resource Conservation Service
& Mike Nolan, Maountain Roots Farm
Your Health and the Microbiomes in Your Gut & Garden
Wednesday, July 20th
at the Ohana Kuleana Community Garden
w/ Hana Renee, Peaceful Warrior Wellness
& Daniel Fullmer, Tierra Vida Farm
Workshops are FREE and include a PRIZE drawing for participants
but you must REGISTER to reserve your spot.
Conservation Education Series provided FREE thanks to the La Plata Conservation District and grant from the Colorado State Conservation Board Natural Resources Matching Grants Program.