Today we meet Jack Chambers of Sonoma Valley Worm Farm fame. A pilot by trade and a gardener at heart, Jack’s life was changed forever by a bucket full of lowly creatures…worms. It was in 1992 that Jack first encountered the ‘Worm Farm’ after being directed there by a friend who suggested he purchase some worms for his compost bins. Depositing half of the 5 gallon bucket into an almost finished bin and the other half into a newer one, he flew out on a 5 day trip not thinking much about it.
Upon his return Jack was amazed and elated to find that the worms had fully transformed the one bin into rich, black compost during the short time he was gone. He was hooked! He went right back to the worm farm and purchased more worms.
He became friends with the owner, Earl, spending time there, helping him out and learning more about how to raise and maintain worms. At the time Earl was selling them as bait but as a gardener Jack knew that they had a more elegant future. Eventually Jack bought the farm and took it a giant step further into the production of worm castings and vermicompost tea.
The worms are fed a steady diet of composted dairy manure. The fresh manure is allowed to compost long enough to kill weed seeds and pathogens but is designed to cool just enough so it will not be harmful to the worms. The resulting castings (worm poop) are rich in microbial activity, which adds life to the soil when incoorporated directly, strengthening the plants and providing added defense against disease.
Jack and his family have been fortunate to work with some high-end vineyards in Napa and Sonoma Valley. About a cup of worm castings is added to each hole as the vines are planted. According to Jack, “some vineyards were losing up to 20% of their new plantings. When they use our vermicompost, the losses are less than 1%. One vineyard used our vermicompost, and after planting 3,000 vines, they found that they didn’t lose a single vine.” Clearly a testament to the power of worms.
Worm castings are the base material for making compost tea and Patti shows us how. Used as a foliar spray the tea protects plants against diseases such as powdery mildew, rust and black spot. And when you have healthy leaves above ground you get healthy growth below ground as well. Nathan and Joe cook up some root veggies this week.