Water savings and stronger crops are just a worm's poop away 


Call them castings. Not poop. It sounds better, even if you are spreading a bunch of worm manure all over your garden either way.

Why would you do such a thing?

"The real value of the worm castings is bringing the soil food-web to the soil," says High Yield Organics/Rocky Mountain Worm Co. co-owner Jay Williams. "When you're growing organically, that's imperative to have. Plants can't take up nutrients without bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes down there doing their entire thing, breaking down the minerals and making them plant-available."

Yep, earthworms are pretty much the shit. They take glacial rock dust fed to them and produce trace nutrients and beneficial microbes via their digestive process, churning out a "super humus fertilizer" according to HYO literature. Be it for your marijuana or marigolds, lawn or veggies, worm castings are purported to stimulate plant growth and production yields by conditioning soil for more optimal aeration and water retention.

That last point is key. Unless you are discussing a context such as an old-growth conifer forest, where the "system is perfect and the soil food-web is working — the way nature intended," he says, chances are you're instead talking about soil situations at least a little out of balance. Maybe a lot.

Perhaps it's depleted farmlands where pesticides and chemical fertilizers have destroyed the good guys in the soil while polluting waterways. Or maybe it's your urban garden, where you've added natural fertilizer, home compost and expensive bottles of this-and-that from nurseries, but your precious N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) ratio remains wonky.

"By putting a healthy soil food-web together in any environment," plants will require between 50 and 75 percent less water, says the 32–year-old who beat cancer as a late teen prior to earning a degree in nuclear medicine technology. "Because the microbes themselves actually hold the water in their bodies; they release it when they die and the plant takes it up."

Rather than running off hard clay packs below tilled soil where the micro-ecosystem has been fractured and destroyed, water in healthier "rich, loamy" soil has a chance to hold.

"There's a misconception that organic farmers — and this has been brought up with the water shortage in California ... that they use more water," says Williams. "Really the opposite is true if things are running right."

Nobody had to rain-dance too hard for water this past month in our area, but those capable of looking past the end of their nose do know that we live in a generally arid and at times drought-plagued landscape. The worms are here to help. So are the Williamses.

Jay's dad Ken left the construction industry to co-start HYO after experimentation in his own home garden. As told by Jay, "What drove us into this was a really shoddy supply of good quality compost and quality organic soil methodologies, and doing things locally."

After purchasing soil supplements from big-box stores, they "had the worst garden ever." Their research revealed many commercial products are composed mostly of ground wood matter, which actually steals nitrogen from the soil as it decomposes, before ever giving it back.

"Cheap composts don't do much for you," he says. "It's like a waste dump in your backyard. It has to break down to have any value for you."

In their first year, selling at farmers markets, HYO made $3,000. And though it's crap they're mostly peddling, last year they came close to selling $100,000 between castings as well as worms and cocoons (or worm eggs), plus side merchandise in their small, LED-grow-light-lit retail front. Items like soil amendments, anaerobic composting buckets or worm farms that look like glorified children's sandcastle play sets. (Due to a large order from a pot grower, HYO won't have castings or worms for sale for more than a month, though cocoons will still be available every two weeks in limited quantities.)

Peek back into their warehouse and you'll see a stack of orange Home Depot buckets rivaled only by that at your wasted Sunday's headquarters. A big black compost drum sits off to one side. In a corner, a chicken coop heater set up in a plywood box acts as an incubation area to hatch cocoons twice as fast as they do in nature, due to a consistent 80 degrees.

Centrally, a large screened tumbler that could be the miniaturized bones of a concrete mixer helps sort cocoons or worms from soil, or big bits of compost from small, which are part of the worm's diet. In smaller 3½-gallon buckets, castings pile up, appearing as fine coffee grounds.

The Williamses employ African Nightcrawlers, native to West Africa but used widely internationally, because they're bigger than common Red Wigglers, eating 1.5 to 2.5 times their weight daily vs. only half. Plus they're more prolific aerators, moving around up to 2 feet deep.

Before leaving, we learn five worm fun-facts: They dislike spicy pepper and citrus in compost piles; they're asexual (it takes two to breed and both lay cocoons); they live several years; contrary to urban legend, they don't often live when cut in half (only the end where the five hearts reside if it's not damaged); and you see worms after rainstorms because they're avoiding drowning in over-wet soil.

Oh, and don't forget: Those little fellas shit garden gold.

  • SimpliCity


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