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.

Search This Blog

Friday, April 11, 2008

Vermiculture and Vermicomposting - Creating an “Eco-Logically” balanced and self sufficient farm based on the concept of wasting nothing!

Vermiculture and Vermicomposting - Creating an “Eco-Logically” balanced and self sufficient farm based on the concept of wasting nothing!

Written, researched, and developed by: Alan Reed Bishop of Bishop’s Homegrown and Hip-Gnosis Seed Development

Here at Bishop’s Homegrown we are always working to improve our systems of production, fertilization, and “Eco-Logically” managed, Self Sustainable farming. After years of natural observation we obviously realize the importance of eco-systems working as an Echo Mechanism. This is the concept that one plant or animal grows with the aid of something created or produced by another plant or animal, thus Echoing repeatedly back into the eco systems. Never taking more than needed and always adding more back to the mix. Of particular interest to us is creating our own on farm fertilizers, pest controls, and disease controls instead of relying on ordering them in from cross country and adding more to our carbon footprint. As such we have been experimenting with raising Esinia Foetida for nearly three years in our composting systems.

Esinia foetida, more commonly known as the red wiggler worm, is a worm native to Europe with an incredibly voracious appetite which is matched only by its ability to procreate at an expeditious speed of one capsule (egg) a week, each containing anywhere from 2-22 baby worms each (1.21 jigga-watts Marty!) ! These worms will eat and expel nearly twice their weight in organic matter each and every day and will even re-process already spent material further enriching it. The waste product of these worms is known as a casting, and is one of the richest sources of natural compost/fertilizer and micro-biology in the known world. These castings have an excellent balance of the three essential nutrients N, P, K and a number of micro nutrients, as well the micro-organisms of the type that make up the very soil web of the earth which we till and add much to the soil texture and tilth, as well they are encapsulated in the mucous of the worms that expelled them making them a terrific slow release fertilizer that will add up in the soil over years of treatment. As well, the fertilizer is mild enough that it won’t burn even the most tender of seedlings, and with a little bit of research into feeding and watering methods, the contents of this natural fertilizer can be modified to that of a custom type for specific crops. There has been very little scientific work that I know of done in the area of soil sciences and the effects of micro-flora on the plants that inhabit land rich in them when compared to the research done with synthetics during the green revolution, what is known is that these micro-organisms help to break down and enrich organic matter, mineral and water uptake and keep diseases to a minimum while all the while constituting a terrific organic soil treatment that will blow any synthetic out of the water in both terms of production, safety for the consumer, and cost. Short of saying and describing our results I can say that I’ve seen some amazing turnabouts with the use of vermicompost.

One of the many things we have observed here on the farm is the halting of fungal disease dead in their tracks amongst tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and squash, including some of the most common fungal diseases associated with gardening in the Ohio Valley. We accomplished this with nothing more than a foliar spray of vermicompost tea and have seen, only in the short two years I’ve been working with the worms, an amazing drop in the occurrence of disease in the fields treated with these castings and teas and a large drop in the occurrence of mineral deficiencies in our crops. I have also seen improved seedling vigor and growth as well as improved fruit set in many plants.

As mentioned above we put to use vermicompost “tea” quite often in our operation. Particularly within the greenhouse with respect to both seedlings as well as full grown tomatoes which we grow throughout the winter and spring in our two largest greenhouses.

The red worm is fairly easy to “cultivate” in a bin system, requiring very little care at all short of bedding, a bit of lime to correct PH inconsistencies and plenty of food. Our systems are the most basic design available and consist of nothing more than rubber made storage totes with some drainage holes drilled into the bottom. We us spent sphagnum moss from the winter tomato growing for bedding and feed our worms with a mix of kitchen scraps (no meat or dairy, though egg shells are fine and reccomended), rotting produce, and the occasional laying mash to increase size and productivity as well as upping the nitrogen content of the end product. The bins are filled with anywhere between six and twelve inches of bedding and we feed about once every two weeks, never feeding until the old material is finished off. Moisture is kept to that of the consistency of a wrung out sponge, and we usually water, feed, and throw a couple of hand full of lime into the bins at the same time (Ag-lime, or powdered lime, never palletized or hydrated which will burn the worms). We prefer to cover the food with bedding to deter pests such as red mites and rodents which can be a real problem in worm bins. We keep our bins aerated or turned every couple of weeks prior to feeding to keep them from becoming anaerobic and allowing the bedding to become to acidic, a task accomplished with an old potato fork, this also allows us to keep an eye on material that the worms are finishing and to take note of when we will need to harvest.

We currently maintain twenty five 30 gallon bins of red worms and harvest castings once a month by simply scraping the top inch of material off of the beds. When we get behind due to the workload here on the farm we have come up with a bulk harvesting solution by creating our own worm harvester made simply of a large trash can cut in two with a piece of 1/8” hardware cloth connected in between the two sides. The barrel is hung at a 40 degree angle on a frame with a piece of pipe work through the middle so that it can rotate, in this way the finished material falls through the holes while the worms and unfinished materials come out of the other end ready to go back into the bins.

Every 6 months we end up with about 60 five gallon buckets of finely sifted vermicompost which will find its way to our seedlings or fields or will become compost tea.

Making Tea:

To make our compost tea we simply take a couple of hand full of vermicompost and wrap it in some cheesecloth which we then tie shut and attach to a string which we suspend into a five gallon bucket of water along with a fish tank aerator. Forty-eight hours later the tea should be “brewed” enough for use as a foliar spray or a root soak and is never burning to even the youngest of plants.

We have used this tea extensively for foliar spraying of seedlings, full grown tomatoes in the greenhouse and also amongst our field crops with almost an immediate reaction amongst the crops within about twenty four hours. We also obtain terrific results amongst the greenhouse tomatoes with a good root soaking of this solution.

Use as a granular:

We often also use the compost as a soil amendment for potted plants as well as seedlings and also as a top or side dressing for larger crops. Since the castings are contained within a mucous membrane it makes them an excellent slow release fertilizer and we often top dress the potted tomato plants in the greenhouses with this solution. Shortly after watering there is an immediate reaction with the plants which perk up, seem to grow overnight, and often turn a much darker shade of green.

We also plant squash, beans, sweet corn, okra, watermelon, and muskmelon and transplants with a small handful of these worm castings for a kick start in fertilization. We also hypothesize that the fungi associated with the breakdown of organic material in the bins into a food product for the worms may in fact colonize the roots of these plants and provide them with beneficial effects such as fixation of certain minerals and water when needed.

Manipulating fertility in the bins:

Food and bedding sources as well as watering conditions can play a major role in the fertility of the finished product to be harvested from the bins. We find that feeding rotten sawdust as well as leaves or using these for bedding is a terrific way to up the micro-nutrient content of the vermicompost, for trees can reach minerals not otherwise available to plants given the extensive and deep running root systems. Many of these minerals are still present in leaf mold and definitely in rotten sawdust which the worms will over time break down in their beds along with any food added, these minerals and micro-nutrients then become available to any plants with which the vermicompost is added as a soil amendment or fertilizer.

Green materials equal high nitrogen and lying off of the lime and water for a few weeks will also add a higher percentage of nitrogen that will become available to plants which are amended with vermicompost. You do however have to be careful with this as too much acidity will burn the worms and they will literally “melt”. Also the smell is not pleasant. You should only feed green, compostible materials to one side of the bin and never mix them with the bedding as they will heat and can kill the worms. If you feed only on one side of the bed the worms can come and go to the heat as they please. Also, when watering more infrequently one must be careful as if the bins get too dry the worms will not be able to breathe and they will expire. If one looses an established bin of worms it is nothing to fret about as the eggs are very tough and will hatch within 21 days (unless frozen) and can survive extremes of freezing (for years) as well as heat extremes.

We have also often used the pure castings for potting soil. While they do fine as a potting soil and will provide all the fertility that one needs for any plant they do have a tendency to crust over and should most likely be mixed with a more porous material such as sphagnum. A fifty-fifty mix is excellent and we had much success with it when used for potting up the micro-tomatoes from our 2007 and 2008 trials.

Of course red worm cultivation or Vermiculture as it is called also has its other benefits. One major benefit we have found is by adding worms to our potting mix for greenhouse plants, the worms offer and provide more fertilizer and the further breakdown of organic material into usable fertilizer for the plants while also adding tilth which is not often found in container gardening. Another advantage of raising red worms on a small farm is the added profit margin provided by selling excess worms for fishing bait or to other interested Vermiculturist which has become a major factor of our financial success here at Bishops Homegrown.

Any farmer, particularly those interested in “Eco-Logically” sound methods, should look into raising red worms which are amazingly easy to take care of and feed. They will recycle materials that are normally considered waste and create amazing fertilizer out of them and are a terrific step towards self-sustainability.

For more information feel free to contact the author: Alan Reed Bishop 1-812-967-2073 or

Friday, April 4, 2008

Spring 2008 is here!

I've been shirking my internet and article/research writing duties the past couple of weeks due to the constant workload here on the farm as well as a sinus infection that has had me down for the past week or so. Anyhow, just to give a quick update on the things we've been up to here on this little farm of ours:

-cutting and planting over 1,000 lbs of seed potatoes

-getting caught up with starting our seeds, we are about 90% done now.

-Buying some much needed new farm equipment including a John Deer 955 mini-tractor with a front end loader and an 18 foot trailer

-Working on farm equipment

-Planting a ton of greens and lettuce

-Taking care of the new greenhouse crop

-I've started playing music again with some old friends, mostly playing bass guitar, it's a nice release here and there and something I really enjoy.

Hopefully this coming weekend or early next week I'll get some new articles written for this site and the site as well as get to do some work to the new interactive Hip-Gnosis seed development web-site.

Hopefully as well the rain will stop soon so I can get the rest of my potatoes, cabbage, and other cole crops in the ground.

We will be bringing in a couple of hives of honey bees in the next week or so, very excited about that!

I got to clean out the neighbors cow barn which gave me about 15 tons or so of cow manure, I've already spread lime and disced a few fields, waiting for it to dry out for my order of 10 tons of chicken manure to be spread and to also spread sand for my melon patches.

By the way, hope you enjoy the "purple heart" potato pic at the top of the page, it's actually just a strangely shaped "all blue" that I noticed when we were chitting potatoes!