Worms are a big thing around here. How could they not be? We are surrounded by mineral-rich soil, organic plant matter, and a constant supply of decaying wood and leaves. All of which are on the list of red wiggles' top 5 favorite things. We are such worm freaks, not only are we rich with worms outside, but we are constantly sustaining a colony of worms inside our barn as well. They live in a homemade cedar box, filled with shredded paper scraps and fest on old lettuce greens and weeds. After removing the lid, and peering in from above it may seem as if not much is going on. However, there is a whole ecosystem below the surface, one which is incredibly important to the supporting infrastructure of the farm.
The worm obsession has been constant since starting the farm in 2017. We didn't always have success cultivating them either. We lost a few colonies at different times for a variety of reasons. But, we continue to value experimenting and finally figured out how to use these little guys to our advantage. It all started last season. We planted and harvested a whole field of rye with the intent of using it in our windrow compost pile. We continued to add more organic matter and rotate the pile as the season pressed on, and as unexpected rain and cool weather pushed its way in. Unfortunately, we were unable to sustain the desired temperature range in our compost pile, and it ultimately was a failed experiment. This left us scratching our heads about what would be done with all this organic matter? After sleeping on it all winter, we had an idea. In spring, we added a small colony of worms to the compost pile and kept an eye on it in the following weeks. We covered the pile with straw to keep the little worms warm enough to survive. After a few weeks, as the weather warmed we noticed the worms were beginning to multiplying and knew we were on to something. As we continued weeding and maintained the farm throughout the season, we added more green organic matter to the pile and continued to add more straw as well. Now at the tail end of the season, we are finally seeing the results of this failed experiment turned success. We got worms lot's of them, and red wiggler worms can eat about half of their weight in food every day.
Inside the compost pile, worms eat both microorganisms and bits of organic material, which come from the weeds and greens we introduce. Once ingested, those organic materials get ground up by the worm's gizzard and broken down even more by enzymes and microbes in the worm's gut. What comes out the other end is teeming with nutrients and bacteria that are beneficial for plants, along with valuable plant growth hormones and humic acids that enhance plant growth. We then sifted out these worm castings by pressing the organic material through a screen and collecting the casting below. We have since used this valuable fertilizer on our overwintering crops in our hoop house and on our newly planted garlic beds. We have collected a ton of worm castings and plan on using the fertilizer on all of our crops next season. We can't wait to see the results!