Alfred Reed Bishop and Doris William Butler

The picture above is the very tap root of Bishop's Homegrown/Face Of The Earth Seed. My grandparents shortly after moving to Pekin Indiana from Greensburg KY in 1947 where they purchased the farm that is now Bishop's Homegrown. This picture was taken in Pekin in front of the old co-op next to the old railroad depot, neither of which exist today.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"The Wyrm": Modifications and aggressively harvesting worm castings

I've had to go back to the drawing board on "the wyrm" project due to some circumstances. In particular with regards to catching the water using plastic lined bins with wells. The issue didn't decide to make itself apparent while I was running the wood stove, presumably because the water was evaporating quickly due to the heat and I was watering on a relatively common basis. If your wondering what the issue that I am having is, it was a massive die off of worms. There are many reasons for this die off including an accumulation of stagnant water in the bottom of the bins coupled with a low oxygen environment, an acid build up due to using some composted chicken manure in an experiment and just overall a build up of issue upon issue of mistakes, including having to cut the power to the greenhouse and subsequently the heat during the coldest part of the year and only a day after watering, due to an outrageously high electric bill that we still haven't figured out (it was shocking to see the number on the bill to say the least and the electric company won't admit it was a mistake even though they admited there was a problem with the meter that they replaced, in other words the worms got cold and migrated deeper into the bin where the stagnant, anearobic, and acidic environment of the lower bin quickly overwhelmed the population.

Don't get me wrong, my friend Paul (my co-conspirator) has a great idea when it comes to reusing the water from the worm bins and it would have worked well for myself too if I weren't already in the habbit of watering my worm bins as though they had drainage and in a routine from my four previous years of vermicomposting here on the farm, when I find a system that works and works well I just have to learn to stick to it. The good news is that Paul now has access to the last four wooden bins needed to complete the infrastructure of "the wyrm" project. His help and friendship has been greatly appreciated!

Needless to say the last couple of days have been busy, I am slowly getting the first six bins emptied back out, harvesting the available worm castings, dumping the rest of the compost into a new pile to dry out and be used for field ready compost, and cursing.....a lot.

When I make a mistake I do a terrific job. Fortunately the remedy is pretty straightforward. Once the bins are emptied out I'll drill some drainage holes in the bin and fill the bins 1/4 full of new cow manure, something I should have done in the first place but didn't since I already had a population of worms living in an old pile of compost and used it to fill the worm bins near the top and topped the bins off with manure.....or as I call it now, mistake number 1.

I will then be placing an order with Tripple G Worm Ranch (a great couple and good friends) for an additional 10 lbs of worms. I will divide the 10 lbs between the first six new bins and re-establish a worm population relatively quickly (I hope) The worms will only be fed what they can consume in a two week period and over the next 365 days I will slowly build each bin and population and start opening up new bins, this time next year with any luck we will have an enormous population of worms and a large harvest of castings. From now until then we should recieve another three loads of cow manure from the neighboring farm. Though this did put an additional dent in the soil fertility plan for this season it can be made up for by using the abundant source of thermophillic compost that we have on the farm at the moment.

Which brings me to the next part of the two most stressful days of winter so far.....harvesting what was in the bins and sifting compost.

Since the worm population in the bins was dismal and some of the bins were made up of old compost anyhow and I have to empty the bins of their compost to make the necessary adjustments to my set up I decided to harvest off what I could for for sifted castings for use in seed starting soil blocks this season, a job made all the more difficult due to the weight of the wet material and it's physical properties when run through the Homegrown Worm Harvester. I run each wheelbarrow of material through the harvester twice and the leftover material that has been digested then gets limed and put into a pile for use in the fields this comming spring, at the same time I am also sifting through the conventional compost piles using the harvester to glean usable potting material from those sources. Needless to say, this process and rebuilding will take a bit, a week or two anyhow, so from time to time updates may be slow.

At some point I also need to start cleaning out the chicken coop and composting that material and starting on the Humanure project, but that's a whole other blog right there!

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