Worms cast their spell at the farmers' market

May. 31, 2014 @ 11:17 AM

Behind the piles of produce at the South Durham Farmers’ Market are many piles of compost back at the farm. In order to amend the fine and compact clay soil of North Carolina’s Piedmont, our local gardeners and farmers must start by adding lots of organic material and implementing farming techniques that will preserve their soil over the long term.

To provide enough organic material and lighten the soil, Carolyn Rose Seed of MamaSprings Farm said, “We compost all our kitchen scraps and our used chicken bedding.  We bag our grass clippings and rake like fiends all year long. We have multiple compost heaps going at once that are usually depleted by early fall just in time for new accumulations.” Applying these dense organic materials to the vegetable beds each year slowly restores her soil’s nutrient content while also improving the texture and drainage.

One of our newest vendors, Garry Lipscomb of New Soil Vermiculture, also found himself gardening in a tough patch of clay. He began his journey into composting with food waste, wood chips and leaves, before learning about vermicomposting. Vermicomposting is a method of composting that relies on worms to digest organic material. The resulting worm castings are applied to the soil to add nutrients, improve aeration and increase beneficial microbial activity.

Intrigued, Lipscomb bought two pounds of red wiggler worms. The worms devoured his family’s kitchen scraps and raked leaves, generating garden-ready compost much more quickly than his previous compost heaps.  His vegetable garden thrived, and before long, Lipscomb was sharing his surplus vermicompost with neighbors and educating friends about how to maintain their own worm bins.

Lipscomb realized that vermicomposting might offer him the chance to be a stay-at-home dad, and so with his partner, Bill Corey, he started New Soil Vermiculture out of their home in north Durham. They currently have seven large worm barrels that are kept in the crawl space under the house - an ideal location due to the year-round moderate temperatures. 

The worms’ diet of food waste and backyard leaves is augmented by cooked oatmeal and rice mixed with water. Over three months, the worms produce harvest ready vermicompost. And, Corey  and Lipscomb are harvesting constantly.

Following the positive response from shoppers at the South Durham Farmers’ Market, they plan to add at least a couple more barrels to their collection. In addition to the bags of vermicompost, New Soil sells all the worms, barrels, bins and screens you need to start vermicomposting at home.

Carolyn Rose Seed hopes to soon be adding vermicompost back into her own vegetable beds. She had a “rocking vermicompost bin several years ago, but the dog accidently overturned the bin and the worms escaped.  I’m looking forward to getting that bin started again.”

If your garden is looking a little lackluster this year, come visit us this Saturday to pick up a bag of vermicompost and some tips from Bill and Garry.

Elizabeth Zander is market manager for the South Durham Farmers’ Market, open 8 a.m.to  noon each Saturday and 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. each Wednesday at Greenwood Commons Shopping Center, 5410 NC Highway 55.