Compost, worms help soil [UPDATED]Published 9:58am Monday, January 28, 2013 Updated 12:01pm Monday, January 28, 2013
Every gardener knows that compost, brown gold, is an excellent soil amendment. It not only lightens heavy soil, it adds micro nutrients to the garden. What they might not know is that those nutrients are not readily available to the plants to use.
It must be further broken down by the microbes in the soil first. Enter Tom Herlihy of Avon New York.
He installed a manure separator on a 1000 cow dairy farm across the road from him.
The separator squeezes the solids out of the manure and dumps them into a truck.
The slurry, what’s left, is pumped to the farm’s lagoon and later injected into the farm fields.
Mr. Herlihy mixes the pressed manure, with spoiled silage and finished compost, puts it into huge bins, where air is pumped though the mess.
The temperatures reach 170 degrees killing any weed seeds or pathogens.
Now comes the interesting part. The mix is spread on huge trays about two inches thick and red wiggler worms are introduced.
Every five days another two inches of compost is added.
The worms are always working their way upward to feed on the fresh compost.
As they do that, their droppings go to the bottom of the bed then drop through a mesh screen. This produces water soluble nutrients that plants can use immediately.
It takes about 45 days to produce the finished product. This super vermicompost is sold for $400 to $450 a yard.
He sells it to vineyards and commercial vegetable growers.
This solves a problem where there is concentrated animal agriculture.
The farmers need a way to dispose of an overabundance of manure and composting it; and while one solution doesn’t result in as valuable material as the vermicompost.
Mr. Herlihy compares what he does with worms to what his neighbor does with his dairy cows. “It’s all animal husbandry. For him it’s cows, for me it’s worms.”
While this is not a business the average gardener can start, they can get into it on a much smaller scale. Most seed catalogs sell worm composters so they can make their own worm poop compost.
Try it, you might like it. Worm droppings can be found locally already bagged if the ick factor gets you.
Bev Johnson is a master gardener in Otter Tail County.