Everett Davis column Oct. 23

First Posted: 1/15/2009

Many of you may be aware that several new workers have recently joined the Cooperative Extension staff in Robeson County. Janice Fields began work last month as Family and Consumer Science Agent, and Jeff Floyd began work this month as Agricultural Technician. Our new Crops Agent will begin work next month, but I will tell you who he is and more about him later.
I bet very few people know that 20,000 new workers began working in the O. P. Owens Agriculture Center a couple of months ago. Yes, almost two months ago the Robeson County Junior Master Gardeners started a household compost project in our office with earthworms.
We now have over 20,000 earthworms in a large tub in one of the hallways in our office. These eager workers do not seem to mind working 24/7 as they convert kitchen and other waste into a compost material called castings and a nutrient-rich liquid fertilizer material.This entire process is referred to as vermiculture.
As I mentioned, this is a project of the Junior Master Gardeners who were organized and are managed by Shea Ann DeJarnette, our Extension 4-H Agent. The purpose of this project is to provide a fun activity for these young people to help them learn more about what they can do to reduce the amount of waste that is generated in their homes and what they can do to help the environment.
Although I refer to this as a Junior Master Gardener project, it will also be used as a teaching tool for adult Master Gardeners and for educational meetings related to consumer horticulture and environmental awareness. This is a project that is both interesting and educational at a time when more people are becoming much more concerned about our environment and recycling.
The worm project I am describing is actually a commercial product called Can-O-Worms. This particular project is manufactured and distributed out of Australia, but there are many similar vermiculture projects manufactured and distributed here in the United States.
If you are interested in seeing this project, I invite you to come by the Extension Center for a visit. If you want to start a similar project for your group, classroom, or in your home, just give us a call, and we will share the necessary information with you.
Your first thought is that growing “fishing worms” in your home, office, or classroom will stink. But there is actually very little odor associated to this project. Believe me, this tub sits about 10 feet from my office door, so if there was any odor at all, I would have had them take it away a long time ago. The only smell that is noticeable, and this is just very seldom, is an “earth” kind of smell, something like the forest might smell after a spring shower.
The tub consists of three trays stacked on top of each other, with a lid on top and a collector tub at the bottom. At first, only one tray is used, and all the bedding material and earthworms that are provided for the project are placed in this tray. Waste materials, such as leftover vegetable scraps, fruit and vegetable peelings, tea leaves and bags, coffee grounds, vacuum cleaner dust or hair clippings, and torn up newspapers and other paper materials, are placed in this tray. Crushed eggshells are also placed in the tray not only as a food source for the worms but also to help with the pH balance.
As the worms digest these waste materials, they create castings that are fantastic organic fertilizer materials for household plants, flowerbeds, and gardens. As the first tray becomes full, the second tray is added above. As waste is placed in the second tray, the worms move up and continue their vermiculture process. Later, the third tray is added above.
Once the system is fully operational, the bottom try is periodically removed, so the casting materials can be collected and used, and then this tray is placed back on top. So you have a continuous process of feeding your earthworms from the top and harvesting your organic fertilizer from the bottom.
A collector tub is located beneath the three feeding trays. Any liquids resulting from the vermiculture process, or any excess water after watering the worm beds, collects in this bottom tub. A nozzle is installed in the side of this tub, so this liquid organic fertilizer can be drawn off and used to water houseplants, hanging baskets, or other plants inside or outside the house. Think about it; in addition to getting free organic fertilizer, you also get free organic liquid fertilizer.
This is really a neat system. If you can’t understand the process from my description, you should come by our office to see for yourself how it works. Who knows, you might want one for you home, office, or classroom.
— Everett Davis is the director of the Robeson County Cooperative Extension Service. The Cooperative Extension Service Web site is at http://robeson.ces.ncsu.edu.

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