Tuesday, March 6, 2012

1,000 New Pets

We just added 1,000 new pets to McCollum Orchards! The best part is that they all fit in one box and eat our garbage! As you probably guessed by now, we started a vermicompost part of our overall composting system here on the farm. 

We've got worms, and we know how to use them

Why We Got Worms
Several books we’ve read about organic farming and self sufficiency, like this one we read most recently, suggest using worm castings as part of the compost and fertilizer mixture in the garden or small-scale farm. Worm castings are the by-product after worms eat decomposing stuff. You can make it into worm tea, which is just the castings steeped in water for oxygenation. It becomes a highly potent organic matter additive to soil mixtures, to help plants grow.

Worms stretching out
We are set on improving our composting system this year, and vermicompost is one strategy. We’ll add the worm tea to our compost mix for the vegetable garden and the hopsyard. It’s been proven in vegetable production, but not highlighted for hops, yet. However, we think it will be a good addition because, as we learned from a soil scientist at the Northeast Hop Alliance conference in December, hops need a lot Nitrogen, which generally comes from organic matter being replaced in the soil. A normal fertilizer just wouldn’t do it all. The compost session at the Northeast Organic Farming Association Winter conference in January gave us the kick to do it.

So, when we placed our vegetable and herb seed order this February, we also ordered one pound of worms, which works out to about 1,000 of them. The two kinds typically used in vermicompost are California Red Wigglers and Nightcrawlers. These types are ideally suited for dark environments and live off decomposing organic matter.  We got the California Reds through Victory Seeds in Oregon. Unfortunately, they arrived while we were out of town, so they had to hang out for a couple nights at the town post office. The employees were probably wondering what that compost aroma was.

How To Start a Worm Bin
Worm food and decor
In preparation, Rich constructed this super-easy-to-make, oh I mean, super-technical worm home. He drilled a bunch of holes in the top, bottom and sides of a 20-gallon storage tub. Then, he filled it half way with a mixture of moist soil, a little sand, eggshells, some stale bread, vegetable cuttings and wet, shredded newspapers.  Our worms will now be digesting The Wall Street Journal more than we do. Underneath, we put a seed starter heating mat, so the cold doesn’t make them go dormant, and a tray to catch the worm castings once they start accumulating. Right now, it is set up in our office so we can monitor their settling-in phase.

Once the worms get acclimated, they will start eating more. They eat just about anything organic except meats and fats. (They don’t want to end up looking like caterpillars.) Eventually, they will also start to multiply and we can keep dividing them into new bins to make more compost.

"I helping!"
 Vermicompost may be new to McCollum Orchards, but it is not new to farming. My dad, a retired farmer, raised worms in 1974. He had a sizable operation of 150 4x8-foot worm bins. That’s a lot of newspaper shreds. If ours grow that big, they'll have to get their own office and we’ll have to start getting the New York Times delivered, too!


  1. I'm intrigued. How much of the " castings" do you get from 1,000 worms? should I be doing this for my vegetable garden?

    1. We don't yet know how much castings we'll get. I'll let you know in a month or two. But, you can find organic compost with worm castings already mixed in at garden stores. Or you can order it online. It's good stuff!

  2. Bree, we have a worm farm close to us here is Arkansas, and Mom and I have used worm castings in our flower gardens with excellent results. Good luck and keep us posted on how it's going. I love hearing about all the things you're doing.

    Aunt Debbi

    1. Great, and thank you! This is good to know that you've had success with worm castings before. We'll put our worms to good use this year.