I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Corbin of the Wisconsin Red Worm Farm. I was amazed at how useful red worms are to helping the environment.
“Helping people clean up the environment, one worm at a time,” Dan, tell me what do you mean by this statement?
After two years of retirement, I decided I wanted to be more productive with my life. I walked into my living room one day and asked the Lord to help me find something that I would really like to do and I could make some money at. After this prayer, I walked around for the next three weeks with an idea ringing in my head: Order a pound of worms. I could not get this idea out of my head, so I decided the Lord was speaking to me, and I had better answer. After doing some research on worms, I discovered their is over one thousand species of worms, and some worms probably not dis-covered yet. I settled on the red wiggler (Eisenia foetida) Latin name for the composting worm. A worm that will eat up organic waste. I knew we were in the “Green Movement” period in our country, so I felt like I could help people to clean up our environment, one worm at at time. I had no idea at the time, that the by-product the worms produced from their consumption of organic waste was such a valuable asset to enrich the soil with the nutrients the plants really needed.
Dan, How important is recycling and eco-friendly products to you?
I’ve always dreamed that someday every City Council member in the USA would have the necessary education themselves on the subject of recycling with red worms. Each household in each community would be issued a ‘worm bin’ to help recycle their organic waste. The worms would eat up the waste and turn this compost into very rich nutrient material for gardens. The worms will consume: newspaper, cardboard, tea bags, grass clippings, garden waste, leaves, table scraps, saw dust, etc. Anything that was once living but is now deceased, the worms will consume.
Well, that is a very serious undertaking. What is your vision in the upcoming years for your company?
My vision for my company is to have a huge number of households in the USA and overseas use our red wigglers for the purpose of recycling organic waste. In so doing, I will have earned the necessary funding to give my net earnings away to charitable religious groups that can make the difference in human lives.
What makes you an Expert on composting with redworms?
My knowledge in working with red worms comes from eight years of working with
these eco-friendly creatures in my business. I have taught adult courses at the University of Wisconsin-Richland on the subject of: vermiculture-using red worms to clean up our environment.
Why are worms important?
Worms benefit soil in several ways. They transform organic materials in the soil into the form that can be easily absorbed by plants. Their tunnels keep the soil loose to allow proper circulation of water and gasses. Soil with a high level of organic material and lots of worms produces fantastically rich vegetation.
When gardeners apply chemicals to the soil for fertilizing and pest control they kill the microbes that break down organic material and they kill the worms that transform it. After a period of time the soil is no longer healthy enough to grow plants on its own. You’ll need more and more chemicals and the soil will get poorer and poorer. The gardener needs to choose. Does he want to create healthy soil that grows healthy plants year after year or does he want to use chemicals that will help grow plants today but will impoverish the soil for the future?
An acre today takes more fertilizer to give fewer yields than that same acre did forty years ago. Modern tilling is destroying soil life. The dust blowing in the wind behind the tillers is the dead soil community. Not a sustainable practice”.
This, in a nutshell, is what sustainability is about;. The soil is a treasure we need to pass to future generations. It isn’t something to use and to throw away.
What advice can you offer to Gardeners?
One must feed the soil and making the soil healthy so it will grow healthy plants. Worms do this by turning compost into nutrients that are more readily available for plants to absorb. Healthy plants are stronger, provide more nutrients and resist insects without the use of insecticides. Twenty years ago a man bought 50 pounds of worms and truckloads of horse manure. He let the worms turn the horse manure compost into the best humus you can find.
The combination of double digging and vermiculture (use of worms) allows gardeners and farmers to grow more and healthier plants in much smaller spaces than conventional gardening techniques that depend on chemical fertilizers and insecticides.
Double digging is a technique that was learned from French gardeners, which involves loosening the soil as much as 2 feet from the surface. This allows plant roots to grow down instead of spreading out.
The gardener can plant his plants much closer together and to get unbelievable harvest from the small space. The double digging also helps to protect the worms in the wintertime.
A person can use red wiggler worms because they multiply so quickly but they do not easily survive Wisconsin winters. When the soil is loosened to this depth, worms can burrow deeper and protect themselves from the cold.
Ironically, our common night crawlers are not native to North America. They were brought by European settlers hundreds of years ago. I prefer not to use these worms because they multiply very slowly.
Introducing worms into your garden isn’t a simple thing. Worms like to eat well-composted organic material. The compost feeds the worms and the worms feed the soil. People commonly will have compost containing leaves and lawn clippings. You can also incorporate household waste such as vegetable and fruit peelings. Do not, however, put in any meat scraps or bones if you want to get good compost.
A compost heap generates heat while the organic material is decomposing. Do not put your worms into the composting heap because the heat will kill them. Worms should be in your garden soil and finished compost is added to the garden soil to feed the worms.
If you have never made compost before, here are some tips. Make the pile at least 3 x 3 x 3 feet. Smaller amounts will decompose eventually but a pile of this size or larger will generate more heat and will decompose more quickly. Keep the pile moist like a sponge. The bacteria that perform the decomposition need water to live. They also need air. Be sure your pile has access to air and turn the material often. Feel free to alternate layers of fresh green material and older dry brown material.
If your pile is new, adding some topsoil can help start the decomposition process. When the pile no longer generates heat and the organic material has turned into a rich dark brown substance it is finished and ready to apply to your garden.
What concerns you?
We’re losing topsoil at a great rate. That means that over the last 200 years we have lost most of the topsoil that once existed .. Our current practices of commercial agriculture depend on chemical fertilizers to provide nutrition to the plants and chemical pesticides to repel insects but they do nothing to replenish the soil.
I am dedicated to the idea that everyone involved in agriculture either as a provider or as a customer must pay attention to the way our current agricultural practices are effecting future generations. I am convinced that every household that wants to rid themselves of food waste,
leaves, garden refuse, paper, cardboard or any other organic waste would profit immensely from the use of red worms for recycling purposes.
Things will not change over night but if everyone does their small piece we all can make things better together and leave the world a better place.
Dan please educate us on what differentiates the compost from the redworms versus everyday compost?
Our compost/worm casts contain the rich nutrients plants thrive on. I have field tested our casts and know without a doubt that the fruits and vegetables grown are absolutely wonderful in quantity and quality. Our casts are water soluable, so that when it rains, the casts are absorbed rapidly into the systemic system of the plants. Our casts do not burn the plants. The casts can be applied at the time of the planting and later on around base of the plant as the plant comes above the ground. Our casts are noticeable absent of ‘weed seeds’, which can be a major problem for gardens, especially if that garden had straight cow or horse manure applied as fertilizer.
Are your red worms reasonably priced? How does your pricing compare to regular compost?
Our prices for our worms are reasonably priced. About the middle of the road is our pricing for the worm industry. I always suggest to our customers to start small with their order of worms to do their composting for them. The average cost for red worm orders for a 3x3x3′ compost pile would be in the range of: 5 lbs of worms @ $92.31 to 10 lbs @ $179.95. The more worms the faster the worms can reduce the compost pile and the faster the worm castings are produced by the worms. Worms castings/compost can then be applied directly to the rows for row plants or in the holes for bulb plants, when planting. After the plant comes up out of the ground, this mix can be applied around the base of the plants, as the mix of casts/compost will seep down into the plant root system after each rain.
A good rule of thumb is: One pound of red worms will eat through one pound of garbage per week. We sell our worm castings (nutrient rich by product of the worms eating organic waste) locally by the pick up load. Also, our cast/compost fifty five pound bags are sold locally.
How have you helped Gardeners build the gardens of their dreams?
We are finding that when garden growers order our red worms and start their own compost piles, they are benefiting most from worm cast/compost mixtures that can be applied to their gardens. The worms are added to the compost pile, when the pile has cooled down. The pile is ready for the worms, when, after turning with a tined fork, the mix is no longer hot to the touch. The cast/compost mix is one of the best natural soil additives known to man. When it is time to separate the red worms from the compost piles in order to put the compost/casts into the gardens, a simple solution can be applied.
Shovel the large compost pile onto a plastic tarp in the sun. The worms will go down in the compost to the bottom of the pile, as they do not like light. Red worms have light sensitive cells in their bodies, so they get away from light. Once the worms go down, it is an easy process to scrap the compost off the top down to the worms. Wait a while, and the worms will go deeper. Then, scrape the compost off the top of the pile. Keep repeating this process until a solid mass of worms is left. Place the compost into your gardens, as needed. Return the red worms to a new compost pile and start the process over.
What are your customers saying about your solution?
Our customers like to use the worms to reduce their garbage to usable worm
castings. The castings are found to be highly desirable, because when they
are applied to their plants, fantastic growth of fruits and vegetables are the results.
It has been said that this method of taking our waste of any kind and use the worms to return the waste to the earth to grow wonderful plants with great vegetables and fruits, completes the natural circle in which the environment was intended. Our customers also love to make ‘worm tea’ from the worm cast/com-post mix. This worm tea is the liquid soil amendment, made from adding hot water to the casts, mixing this up, and applying this mix immediately after it is made, to their plants. Customers say, that as the worm tea is absorbed in the plant systemic system, the plant just literally takes off in rapid grown. Pruning is necessary on the plant after this rapid growth. Pruning directs the growth energy in the plant, into the fruit or vegetable. Resultant fruits and vegetables on the plant are fantastic. Worm tea does not burn the plants.
I was very impressed about you including mentally challenged individuals to help with your business. Can you explain more?
In the beginning of my worm operation, I out grew my basement with to many worms. I was taking my worms outside the house each spring and placing them in wooden worm bins that I had built. The worms were multiplying at a very rapid rate, so I had to seek someone with a building. Once my business partner agreed to take the worms at his farm, since he had a vacant building, then our business began to grow. I also realized that my partner was housing eight developmentally handicapped persons in two group homes. My thinking was that maybe some of the handicapped individuals could help with certain task needed to be done in the business. I also conceived of the idea that I could pay them a salary, thus giving them a better reason to get up in the morning. I also thought that the staff that works with the handicapped here at the farm, could then take them to town, whereby, they could spend their earned income however they wished. We are able to utilize three of the eight individuals to help with our operations.
The three persons are able to stay on the tasks assigned long enough to successfully get the jobs done. Some of these tasks include: digging worms our of the beds, weighing worms for packaging, counting boxes and bags for packaging, putting worms into worm bags, marking worm bags with correct poundage of worms.
The Wisconsin Red Worms company is truly a fantastic way to help the environment. They will be open in April.
For more information about these critters check out http://www.wisconsinredworms.com