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, December 26, 2007

2007 Season Wrap up

I just recently finished up harvesting the last of the greenhouse tomatoes and getting the old crop residues cleaned out. The spent spaghnum moss gave me some nice organic material to add to the small garden where the new cold frame will go, as well I had thrown in several red worms in each pot which had done a good job of breaking down the spaghnum and other amendments into worm castings, much of which was still fresh and will provide a nice additional boost to the plants in the small garden. The Lost River Market and Deli (our local co-op) really kept me pretty busy with the winter tomato crop, greens, turnips and so forth this winter, I wish I already had up the other greenhouse and cold frame to continue to supply through the winter but next year I plan on plowing right through the cold months of the year to deliver products.
I finally finished up harvesting the worm castings for the '07 season as well and ended up with about fifty, five gallon buckets that I will put to good use come spring, there was still a lot of finished material in the beds but was entirely to wet to harvest so I just added sever inches of new bedding, some food, and a little bit of water, I won't water again until I get ready to do some quick harvesting in spring when I plan on extracting most of the bedding and completely replacing it (unless of course they start to get too dry). I also sold a few lbs of bulk red worms for composting to some good friends of mine, I'm hoping people are starting to catch on to the great services that these little composters provide.
I'm currently taking a day or two to devote to working on my research papers for '07 which I will hopefully be posting soon and to plan for next seasons crops, rotations, fertilizer, plant sales, worm sales and all of those things.
After my little break I will be starting in on finishing the new greenhouse and getting the new cold frame up, it will take a nice chunk of the little bit of the money that I have out of my pocket, but thus that is the way that a new business runs for a few years anyhow and having the two new greenhouses up for next season will bring in a nice bit of cash for the business, farm, and my family. In 2008 I plan on finally having the capability to run for 12 straight months a year un-interrupted with field crops, greens, root crops, and tomatoes and may even start a winter CSA.
People have slowed down asking about the CSA here around the holidays but I believe the interest will pick right back up where it left off in the new year, or at least I hope it does.
Another project that I need to complete before planting time is restoring the old Ford Golden Jubilee tractor as well as the cub caddette (we use it to ferry around plants and supplies on a trailer) that my grandfather owned. In both cases we are looking at a new clutch and complete rebuild, needless to say, money I don't currently have but will find one way or the other.
The seed bank has been gradually growing throughout these winter months, filling up with both commercial seed and traded seed all waiting in que for their turn at open soil, this year indeed will see the most diversity my little market farm has ever known, exspecially in the breeding plots. I've also been putting my mind to doing some good research on organic amendments, plant breeding, natural selection and so forth, knowledge which will definetly come in handy in the fields of '08.
Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and has a Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Winter Squash Mass cross experimentation.

Written and Researched by: Alan Reed Bishop of Hip-Gnosis Seed Development and Bishop's Homegrown

I know a lot of folks are big into keeping most of their winter squashes separate. While I do maintain a great portion of my very rare squash in their originally intended state (and always will as long as they remain rare), the past two years I have been planting mass plantings of various types of winter squashes like Moshata's, Mixta's, Maxima's, and Agrospermia types (no Pepo types, I already have two categories of those grown separately, an acorn/mini pumpkin type which shows great diversity and my separated by variety summer squashes). I'm basically interested in seeing what happens in the coming years with the crossing of these various types in my fields and with picking out and maintaining the ones I find most tasteful as well as beautiful and practical (storage ability, processing). When I find something I like out of the mix then the work begins on "selfing" or "self pollinating" that particular type until I can find a selection similar to what I first took note of and then I'll grow it out for several years until I find the open pollinated equivalent. The other seed from squash that still resembles the original parents or doesn't represent something I am particularly keen on just goes back into the pot for planting the next season (as long as is stores and tastes well), along with newly grown out seed stocks of types that weren't previously in the mix and the whole experiment goes on next year. This also works out well at the farmers market and here on the farm as there is always plenty of winter squash for roadside and farm stand sales in colors, shapes and sizes that are both common and those which no one have ever seen before, this definitely leads to a little bit of monetary gain for the fall as winter squash for Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations have replaced the once ever-popular Jack O' lantern in recent years here in Southern Indiana.
The picture above shows one of several one gallon ice cream buckets filled with a number of different squash selections from all over the world of different types and from different cultures, most of them are great for pies and all are terrific for decorations, this year I will be adding about 50 new cultivars to the list and I'm sure the next I'll add that many more again, there are just so many winter squash to work with that the possibilities are really endless and since I don't really have any focus notes (other than tastes and looks) regarding what to look for in the squash project and I go by what I see and taste I don't mind the off types, because it's in those off types that I might indeed find my next "smash hit" at the farmers marketts and in my seed trading circles.

Are farms like computers?

Ours certainly is! One of the most important pieces in our system is our software, that would be our seed bank! Much like I and my tractor, land, and implements are the hardware of the farm, the seeds represent the programs that I am running, sure I could do some things with temporary software, but why not upgrade to something more..."self sustainable" that you don't have to buy from Microsoft every year or two.
Here on the farm we maintain a seed bank with a ton of saved and bought seed as well as trades that we receive from the world over. Most of the seed is open pollinated but also a few hybrids and a number of breeding experiments as well as our work de-hybridizing or de-segregating popular or out of production hybrids so that we can come up with a good open pollinated version that approximates the originals good qualities so that we can curb the heavy expense of seed in today's agri-business world, if you could buy a Microsoft program once and copy the code and improve it and duplicate it to run on multiple computers (legally) then why wouldn't you want to?
I do think that seed saving is one of those things that a lot of market farms just don't get around to doing, either because there is just too much going on (I run into this occasionally, having to harvest three times in a week from one crop, one for market, one for home, and one for seed, can become very tiring) or because they just aren't sure how and think it is some high science to learn to do so, but the truth is that with a little bit of investigation it's pretty easy to learn how and never be afraid to ask questions of your peers.
Our seed room includes four of the toolboxes like those above (new and re-organized into "greenhouse seeds", Watermelon/winter squash/summer squash grow outs, de-hybridization projects, and "other". These boxes are mostly for short term storage of seeds that I need to grow out for bulking up which were bought commercially or traded for or which are on the list for breeding experiments. The seed closet also contains two five gallon buckets full of saved bulk seeds of everything from watermelon and tomatoes to sunflowers and taggettes, there are also a number of coffee cans full of corn seed, squash seed, brassicas, tomatoes, sunflowers, cucumbers, beans and a lot more. In this one little closet you will find every color of the rainbow in just about every common food plant grown in the world along with a number of rare accessions and breeding projects we have grown here on the farm and a growing number of flowers to be used for cutting and breeding.
About the only thing you won't find in the closet is potatoes and onions and that's simply because we always sell out and very rarely are there enough left to feed my family let alone save some tubers for next years crop, a dilemma I am currently planing to curtail with much larger plantings for the '08 season (plus "all red" and "all blue" cost entirely to much to buy every year!)
You also won't find much hybrid sweet corn (other than our own crosses), mostly because sweet corn will not last much more than two years at the most and we usually just wait until early spring to start buying our seed stock for planting. However you will find various filial generations of sweet corn in the closet due to our current de-hybridization of some of the more drought and cold tolerant, early season hybrids for future work here on the farm.
I love looking in the seed closet in the winter, it always reminds me that spring isn't too far away and that there are literally thousands of possibilities in the genes represented in each of the seeds within the closet, it's also a reminder that the lull of winter is good for recharging batteries so that I can suit up to make some money for next season. There are even a number of experiments in this closet they may end up growing in your home garden one of these days, a lot of hopes and dreams tied up in each and every little seed! Sometimes I pick up a handful of corn seed and swear I can somehow "feel" that it is alive and wants desperately to have the chance to grow and reproduce and show it's true beauty and redeeming qualities.
If you aren't maintaining some "soft ware" on your small farm or for your home garden it might be time for an upgrade, there is nothing to loose and a whole lot to gain and teach others!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Astronomy Domine - A public domain breeding project.

To the left you can see a picture of the seed ready to plant in '08.

I really enjoy "playing" with the genetics of different plants and attempting my own breeding projects. I've got so many things on my mentally imagined "docket" that I would like to attempt to cross or breed, mostly looking for taste, tolerance to environmental or insect pressures, nutrition, and novelty, that sometimes I'm not sure I could get them all done in a lifetime. A lot of open pollinated seed enthusiast would probably frown upon my ideas and implementation of breeding different heirlooms and Open Pollinated cultivars into new hybrids in mass crosses but I figure as long as the cultivars are being grown out by a good number of individuals and are still available to the gardening public and I keep a small sample pure for future use, well then, why not shake and bake and see what happens.
The Astronomy Domine sweet corn breeding project is on of those such mass crosses. You see, I had about 20 different open pollinated sweet corns in my collection, some where pretty rare and a few were very precious local and regional family heirlooms (I do still keep pure strains of those) and some were more commonly available results of the hard work of seed savers and independent plant breeders the world over. A good percentage of these cultivars were beautiful rainbow type colors such as Rainbow Inca, Triple play, Black Mexican, Festival mix, Double Red, Millersburg red, Hopi Pink sweet, Painted Hills and so forth and I was becoming more and more interested in the work of brave plant breeders like Alan Kapuler and Ken Ettlinger, so I decided that it was time for me to make a donation to the public domain sweet corn breeding sector.

What I decided to go after was the most genetically diverse sweet corn ever bred which would have good cool soil germination, drought tolerance and ear cover (to prevent insect damage) while at the same time providing added nutrition in the form of anti-oxidants like Anthocyanin. So drawing upon the work of Dave Christensen and his Painted Mountain Indian corn which he has crossed numerous times (I believe I read 50 plus somewhere) I set out to do that last year, taking some small samples of multiplied seeds of 20 plus different cultivars as well as Burpee's recent introduction Ruby Queen sweet corn and planted a small plot to do some mass crossing, of course I planted way to early and germination wasn't the best, but that actually turned out in my favor since I was planting at different times and some of these corns had drastically different maturity dates, this also gave me a bit of an automatic head start on selecting for cool soil emergence. When it came harvest time (the shucks had turned brown and started to dry) I was astonished at the beauty of some of the ears of this corn, not only did I end up with colors and shades I expected, but I also got a ton of stuff that I didn't expect. We ended up with solid colors, faded colors, pastel colors, near transparent kernels, striped patterns, some polka dotting and some cobs just had a terrific mixture of everything you could ever imagine.
I saved about 5 or 6 lbs of seed from about 200 cobs and mixed it up well and offered it up for free or for trade as breeding material over at hoping some others would be interested in getting in on some first generation breeding experiments so we could diversify the original stock into multiple lines adapted to different areas around the country (and now indeed the world) and do some comparing and contrasting back and forth over the next few years. I also made it known that folks should feel free to alter this by adding in new cultivars and seed stocks as they so choose and people have really been receptive to it.

My current seed stock that will go into the ground in spring '08 has already had a number of new cultivars (well, new to me) added into the initial stock already and I am now close to having 30 different cultivars of sweet corn going into next years second mass cross, I really don't know what to expect out of all of it, and at some point I would like to stop crossing it and try to get a nice open pollinated version that would serve a triple purpose in the future, that of a sweet corn in milk stage and a flour and decorative corn when dry (or worm food in my case). I am planning on having multiple plots laid out for this particular experiment, one that will be nothing but seed/breeding stock and home use and another 2 where I will cross it to a large eared, sugar enhanced and detassled White Variety to take to market and offer to the CSA, I will probably save seed of both lines and then make a decision later of which to keep and which to shelf (if I shelf either of them).

I would ultimately like to get this project up to about fifty different diverse sweet corns bred into it and I am always on the lookout for colourful sweet types to add into the mix, so if you know of any let me know. I plan on joining the Seed Savers Exchange next year and I am sure I will find and order all kinds of goodies to add in before planting season starts, so the number of cultivars involved in the crop might even jump up to 40 before planting starts!

As are all of my breeding projects, this too is a public domain project of my Hip-Gnosis seed development project, and once developed I hope to offer it to a wide number of gardeners throughout the world without ever seeing the letters PVP (plant variety protected) next to it or a big seed company hyping it as the next big thing. This corn is just as much yours as it is mine. I didn't create anything, all I did is use what I have and let those things cross through the course of nature and natural selection, the only thing that is different in this corn and it's parents are in it's segregation of genes and re-combination there-in. Sort of like if I wrote a song, I didn't really do anything other than put a puzzle together, all the pieces already existed, I'm just the first one to put them together in that order.

I will keep you updated on this project probably quite often throughout the '08 growing season and I hope one day all of you have the chance to grow this particular corn (named after a Pink Floyd song) in your home gardens or receive it in your CSA boxes or at market.


My cousin Jeff (far right) has been in from Houston Texas the past couple of weeks giving me a hand here at the farm when he has a free day here and there. We always make it a point to try to incorporate Jeff's half brother and my cousin Montana (middle) into things that we do when we have a chance. As long as Montana doesn't have to get dirty and it doesn't involve snakes all is well. Montana has a slight learning disability but he is one of the best guys you could ever know and always good for a laugh, just don't mention snakes, or anything about them, or turtles, frogs, lizards, anything reptilian or amphibian and all is good!

Jeff really does a lot to help me, my family and the business out when he is in town and I am really appreciative of it and that Montana now has a true brother to hang out with and look up to. For reasons I won't list here (other than to say family differences) Montana and I never met Jeff until back in 2006. Montana and Jeff's father, my uncle, passed away in an unfortunate Motorcycle crash when we were both four, Jeff is about 7 years our senior and by the time we were born he was no longer around our area and we unfortunately weren't allowed contact with him by his mother...ever (even though his father also had custody of him). Needless to say, imagine our excitement when one day the phone rings and a long lost cousin is on the other end!

It only makes things that much better that Jeff and I share similar interests in agriculture since he is a landscaper and permaculturist, even on slow days here on the farm we can find something to talk about or do and spend some time with Montana. This pic was important for me to get up on the blog because we need to get a lot more pictures taken to make up for all of those missed in the past, this was also taken on my mothers birthday on the 13'Th of December and having Jeff and Montana around to celebrate with her, my Dad, and Kim really made her day, which in turn made mine.

I guess this is just a tribute of sorts to two of the best guys and two of the best friends I've ever known. Three Imaginary Boys of sorts.....(obscure The Cure reference)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Homegrown Worm Harvester

One thing that any vermiculturist worth his weight in worms needs is a good worm harvester. Unfortunately for the upstart vermiculture operation, they are pretty cost prohibitive. A few months ago I came across some plans on the Internet for a handmade one using 1/4" hardware cloth and a five gallon bucket cut in two and with the end cut out. So like any industrious market farmer I got on the job and threw one together in a couple of hours, it worked pretty decent except for the fact that I had no way to turn it other than setting it up on some cinder blocks on one end a little taller than the bucket that held the other end, pretty labor intensive and slow. This weekend while planing my 2008 crops I decided that I seriously have had enough and need a quicker way to harvest my best fertilizer, so I decided to improve on the design. The trammel (harvester) itself was easy enough, replace the bucket with a large trash can, add a 1/2" piece of hardware cloth, followed by a 1/4" on the outside (using zip ties and a drill to attach it to the trashcan). Next came the fact that I needed this thing to roll easily by hand and to be on a platform at an angle, luckily I had an old 2 x 4 and deck board table that came out of the same greenhouse that is now the worm house, so I just disassembled it, cut it down to size and drilled some angled holes with a paddle bit, cut a couple of 2 x 2 boards to fit into the ends of the trash can, screwed them in, drilled a couple more holes in those, added a piece of greenhouse purlin through the stand and harvester, a couple of deckboards to the bottom and one side of the stand for stability and Koetter keys to hold the pipe and harvester in place. Voila, custom built, easy rotating worm harvester. A similar worm harvester this size bought from the Internet would cost roughly $1,000 that I don't have, I've got roughly $35 in this one and it works just as well as those shiny stainless steel things that the industry uses. I should have a pretty good stockpile of vermicompost from my 20 something large worm bins by the end of this month and a second harvest come March of next year, all ready to go to the fields for the 2008 crops. Next year I plan on adding on to the worm house which is currently 12 x 20 ' I plan on adding another 20 to 30 feet to the house with some new cattle panel tables.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Tobacco - a spiritually and (formerly) economically respectable plant

I was probably eight years old when I was first handed a tobacco knife and told I was finally old enough to try my hand cutting a bit of tobacco myself instead of being the odd one out, the tobacco "stick boy" who carries sticks down the rows to waiting workers who will then "spear" the plants that they are cutting five to seven at a time.

I didn't really know what tobacco was in those days , just that it had helped my family through some rough economic times and that it had helped my grandparents to buy the farm that we now know as Bishops Homegrown. All I knew is that this is what my family does and that so long as I have my family, that beautiful Southern Indiana Landscape, the sun shining down on me, and the moon to light the trip back home that things were good.

In today's world (and even when I was that age) tobacco has become a much maligned plant, not because it's invasive, not because it is inherently evil or "bad", but because folks (myself included) can't seem to grasp or respect it's earthly powers.

Tobacco is a member of the Solanium family, the same family as potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and Deadly Nightshade and was much revered in years past by both the Native American and the Europeans who would later pick up the trendy new art of smoking. There are very few plants in a garden that approach the beauty of a tobacco plant in full flower, one of any variety, but particularly of the large Burley types, people see them and become interested, attracted, and oddly respectful of their stance in the garden.

When I was a Sophomore in High School my family got out of tobacco farming and farming in general, it wasn't until several years latter when I became interested in plant breeding, greenhouses, and market farming that the farm was really being utilized to it's full potential again and I made it a point at this time to collect the remaining artifacts from our farms tobacco farming past, knives, spears, some tobacco sticks and presses and a few other odds and ends and started seeking out some rare heirloom and open pollinated tobaccos, some for cigarettes, some large Havana shade house cigar types, Virginia Gold types, Madole, Burley, Orinoco and more and started learning about the different methods of curing tobacco for different uses. I even opened up an old unfinished breeding project from my high school days, breeding a uniform, ornamental and smokable white Burley tobacco named after my favorite blues guitarist, Robert Johnson.

I started all of this collecting, learning, and grow outs of tobacco in the name of respect and family history. This plant has been revered as a doorway between worlds for as long as man has inhabited the western hemisphere, wild tobacco's (mostly Nicotiana Rustica) grown nearly everywhere in north and south America in some form. Tobacco was smoked and chewed in times of peace and war, in offerings to the gods, by the aristocrats of European society, by poor pioneers, slaves and immigrants from all over the world, it wasn't until much later that it became something to be disrespected and become addicted to, leading much to it's demise in the days of the 21'st century, very few family owned farms are raising tobacco independently of the big tobacco companies now days, the little man has been forced first down the ladder and now off the ladder of economic prosperity from the cultivation of one of the most sacred plants on the earth.

I keep these seeds, grow these plants, harvest and cure them with the tools of my family in remembrance of what this crop stood for in times past, in thanksgiving to the plants themselves for supporting five generations (and maybe more) of my family in their troubled times and poor towns. One day I hope to show my children the beauty of these plants, one of which should be in every ones gardens or landscapes, I want my children to not just know what their ancestors did but to experience it to a lesser degree, to keep an old Appalachian art form alive, there may just come a day when processed tobacco's are worth their weight in gold again and if nothing else my children will know how to respect and not abuse this mighty plant.

The next time you see a tobacco plant, stop and admire it, for it is in this plant that many American civilizations have risen and fallen and that a good portion of the United States previous wealth was based, many families supported themselves and their communities growing this most sacred of herbs, and many people have lost their lives by abusing and disrespecting it.

Tobacco is that powerful, you can live or die by it's rule. That's powerful Karma.
End note: One of my fondest memories as a child centers around taking our crop to market in New Albany Indiana and watching proudly as the men at the scales weighed our crops and then others graded it. It is highly ironic that in the same way that the small family stores have disappeared and been replaced by the Wal-Mart's of the world so to was that tobacco warehouse in New Albany, now in the same spot where my family made up for hard times by selling our tobacco crop you can go and buy all kinds of useless crap and pick up a pack of cigarettes on the way out.

E. Foetida and worm compost.

Worm Compost - The best of the best in garden fertilizers.

I have a bit of a "tic" or "quirk" if you will. If you didn't know what I did for a living you might find me a bit strange, maybe a little off. You see I have a bit of an obsession, put me in a room with someone who has livestock and you can guarantee that at some point in time the words "What do you do with your manure?" will flow from my lips. It's not that I have an intense desire to play with "poo" if you will, it's more a matter of sustaining my business naturally and feeding my plants the way nature intended. To say the least, I spend quite a bit of time digging around in my neighbors cow barns and then helping ferry it around the farm with the aid of their manure spreader, not to mention that this black gold only costs me a bit of back labor (better than the $300-400 a ton P. N. P. and lime stuff and is safer for the environment and consumer). But sometimes that's just not enough, so we supplement some things with well composted, high nitrogen Chicken Manure which is great for leafy crops like lettuce, cabbage, greens, and ex specially corn. But sometime about a year ago, I thought, "It's time to produce my own high quality farm poo" and thus my journey began.
About a year and three months ago I was playing around with my greenhouse tomato crop and decided that it might not be a half bad idea to throw some red worms into the mix for aeration and extra ongoing fertilization, little did I know what this would lead to. You see, my fiance Kim is almost as utilitarian as I am and when she saw the bill for 20 plus cups of red worms, via the gas station vendor we purchased them from, she made the mistake of saying "Couldn't you raise those yourself?". Definitely not something to say to someone who is obsessive compulsive and may just take you up on the offer, ex specially if it's something I think is doable despite not having the means to do so. My logic is to buy the worms first, worry about the home later.
In October 2006 we ordered a couple of lbs of E. Foetida (red wigglers) and about five lbs of European Night crawlers (can't think of the scientific name at the moment, E. Horensis? Hortensis?) in some big 30 gallon totes in my room. Not the best idea in the world to say the least, it wasn't long until I was desperate to get them out of the room due to the mess I would create when flipping the bins, so I moved them outdoors for the winter into a 12 x 25 cold frame. I took the crash course "There must be info on the Internet about raising worms" learn at home class (lol). Little did I know how varied and sometimes incorrect the info I would find could be.
Fast forward to summer and I pretty much had a good idea of what to do and what not to do. Some things seemed obvious, such as keeping the composting aerobic and letting in some oxygen, this means no over watering, you want the bin moist (like a sponge) but not wet, as well as turning the bins with a potato fork every couple of weeks, keeping the bins aerobic also cuts down on bad smells. I also knew that outside it wasn't going to be uncommon to see a number of other "critters" in those bins and that with but a few exceptions none of them are particularly harmful (mice and red mites are the only problems I've ever had, cut back on the water and the mites die back, in spring black snakes take care of the mice).Anyhow, the general idea was to create a living compost organism, that feeds off of farm waste and works off of "Echo-Ecology", reverberating wasted energy back into the system and wasting nothing. The way I saw it, I'd have free fertilizer and a little bit more diversity in the way of fishing bait and composting worms for my business. Boy was I right, I had plenty of waste food material in the summer to feed the worms, augmented a bit by chicken egg-maker feed (to give the worms some size and speed up breeding) and lime to keep down acidity in the bins, to boot I had a nice bit of worm compost to use for experiments in the spring and summer and then the vehicles started rolling down the driveway, slowly at first and increasing as the warm weather kept encroaching, at the height of fishing season we were selling close to 50 or 60 cups of worms each week, not bad for a business that is at the end of a half mile, gravel driveway.
Anyhow, separating worms from compost was one of my big challenges so I found some instructions for making one on the Internet. Essentially my harvester is a five gallon bucket cut in two, with the bottom cut out of the lower end, a piece of 1/4" hardware cloth fastened in between the two halves by way of plastic lock ties and holes drilled through the buckets. It's not the best or fastest set up in the world, but since I had all I needed laying around, it was economically feasible and easy to replace if need be.We use our worm compost in our seedling mixes, our greenhouse potting mixes, when planting tomatoes (a handful in the hole with the plant) as a top dressing for lettuces and greens, and a bit of an energizer for root crops like carrots, radishes, and turnips.
Recently we added some new bins to further refine our methods of re-using the sphagnum from the greenhouse to feed and bed the worms and in the spring we will be doing some experiments with other crops like corn, peppers, eggplants, yacone and others.Worm compost is a terrific all around fertilizer and of a quality that you are not likely to come by at the local garden center. Each casting is a micro-shot of micro-nutrients as well as phosphorus, potassium, and a bit of Nitrogen (you can actually increase the Nitrogen rating by giving the worms very little water and allowing the bin to become a bit more anaerobic, the nitrogen number will jump dramatically using this method due to the chemicals the worms are exuding through their skin), the castings are also pretty well PH neutral and since they are encased in a bit of a cocoon they are also slow release fertilizers which are great for long season crops.One of our favorite applications of worm compost is brewing tea. Basically we use a burlap or cheesecloth sack, a trash can full of water, and a fish tank aerator pump to brew a nice dark colored, nutrient rich tea which we use as a foliar spray on our winter tomato crops and seedlings, I can attest to it at least slowing down the progression of several tomato foliage diseases in the greenhouse this year if not halting their progression completely.
All in all our in house (on the farm) vermicomposting program has been pretty efficient and is still growing, if it weren't for not having a front end loader I'd have huge 500 ft winrows outside full of worms and not have to spend so much time tracking down cow barns to clean out, not to mention the extra cash flow coming in from the fishing worm sales in fishing season. I am already entertaining the idea of purchasing a new cold frame, possibly a 20 x 50, for nothing but vermicomposting procedures. I can tell a definite difference in the quality of plants, their growth, fruit set and disease tolerance when we use the compost the worms produce and in time plan to do a lot more of our fertilizing using our worm heard.