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Call to Compost

linda-2We gardeners are designers, nurturers, and defenders of little island ecosystems — gardens — that are totally different than our surrounding native biomes. We compost our household garbage to make an amendment for the soil; plant our favorite non-native plants; stress about watering; admire each others’ efforts and brag about our own; and compete for the resulting food with our local garden-eating critters. We wait; we watch; we organize our seeds in anticipation.

I thoroughly enjoy the process as well as the harvest. And yep! It’s spring again, time to get the soil ready to be the anchor and the nourishment to the seedlings I’ve grown that are ready to set out. Here in Oracle, AZ, I’m pretty confident that freezing nights have passed and that by the end of April, soils will be warm enough for great hot-season plant growth. Tomatoes, chilis, beans, eggplants, squash, melons, Malabar, and Egyptian spinach plus a palette of herbs, and some new experiments are on the menu this summer.

Plants need pretty much the same things that we need for vibrant health: a wide range of available nutrients, the right combination of oxygen and carbon dioxide, sunlight, a diversity of microbes, and a comfy place to put down roots. We humans get our nutrients from our food and supplements; plants get theirs from the soil and soil amendments.

Worm castings, aka worm compost or worm poop, are to the plant what probiotics are to our gut. The microbial richness of castings are critical to the cycling of nutrients in the soil for use by the plants, much as our gut bacteria help us use the vitamins and minerals in our food. Add a little mineral-rich rock dust and you’re on the road to a great organic garden that will yield vitamin- and mineral-rich produce. If soils lack nutrients, so will your produce.

I grow worms, harvest their castings, and sell them both at a Tucson Farmer’s Market.  One of my signs says “Don’t garden without worm castings!” It can be your first step in becoming an organic gardener and nurturing the earth. Growing organically is truly a total systems approach to life. Simply stated, we learn from the cycles of nature and apply those cycles to our gardens. For example, we ‘drop our leaves’ by composting our organic waste and returning it to the soil. We amend our garden soil with compost so that the many of the microbialy driven nutrient cycles supply our plants with minerals needed for growth.

I sometimes feel that the list all of the benefits of using worm castings sounds too good to be true: adds beneficial microbes to the soil; adds nutrients; has disease suppression qualities; adds organic matter and water-holding capacity to the soil; will not burn plants; odor-free, safe and easy to use; and has plant growth hormones that enhance plant root growth.  But the body of science backing up the claims about worm castings continues to grow, as do the hands-on experiences of people who use them. I get return customers who have converted to using castings in their gardens, and emails such as this one that arrived just yesterday: “FYI: I used the castings you gave me in one pot of tomatoes. Those tomatoes are 4x the size of any others. That makes me a believer.”

Interested in getting started with your own worm composting? I have a couple ‘wormshops’ coming up in April in the Tucson area – just check my website for details. There is also a large amount of info on the web about composting with worms, such as redwormcomposting.com. Also, many communities have their very own vermiculturists (worm growers) who can provide worms, instruction on composting with worms, and castings. If you don’t want worms, ask the grower if they might want your food scraps for their worms. I trade food scraps for worm compost, aiming for zero organic waste. Support your local vermiculturist whenever you can. If there is no local source, you can often find bags of worm castings at nurseries, and they can be ordered online as well.

Here’s a cartoon of the whole vermicomposting process using a small, indoor bin – but you can also do it outside in a pile.

Worminess call to compost integratedhealth

I’ve spent close to 10 hours in the past two days with a film crew who is making a short film about Biosphere 2. I was interviewed about the experiences that I had building the closed ecological system, and about living inside for two years in the early ’90s. My experiences with the living systems in Biosphere 2 caused a paradigm shift in my thinking about gardening. I had become a gardener of the atmosphere as much as a gardener for food, finally viewing myself and my actions as a part of the whole earth system.

One of my dreams is a re-purposing of all of those weinermobiles out there to become wormmobiles to SPREAD THE WORM! Here’s to our collective vibrancy, the health of the planet and the positive impact that we can all have with directed effort!

weiner

Learn more:

http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/vermicompost.htm  Don’t miss this video, “Vermicompost: Living Soil Amendment” from Cornell. They’ve done a tremendous amount of research about worm compost.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEtl09VZiSU  Video of my hero, Dr. Elaine Ingham, discussing the soil, the soil food web, and plant growth, plus a bit about the collapse of civilization through poor agricultural practices.

http://www.wormwoman.com  All things worm – how to start a worm bin, lots of resources, worm e-zine by the world’s foremost “spread the worm” advocate Mary Apelhof whose book “Worms Eat My Garbage” is the best beginner’s guide to worm composting.

http://www.bae.ncsu.edu/topic/vermicomposting/index.html  North Carolina State University is a leader in research, teaching, and use of worm compost.

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Gardening for Super Health

Hank's GardenI love to grow vegetables in my backyard and have been doing so on-and-off for 50 years now. It’s such a pleasure to prepare the soil, plant the seeds/seedlings, tend them as they grow, and finally enjoy the harvest. My thumb is relatively green, so harvests have been plentiful and tasty. Possibly, something rubbed off from watching my father do his gardening. He was a very serious gardener and fed his family from the garden during WWII.

However, during the last 25 years my interest in gardening grew much more focused. As I became a designer of nutritional supplements and had to nourish my wife who had become chemically sensitive, I was keenly aware that the foods and supplements we consume are of the upmost importance.

Due to her chemical sensitivities since 1985, for example, my wife finds it necessary to eat only organically grown foods. The penalty she pays for eating any non-organic foods from the supermarket are severe joint pains all over her body! For years, I travelled 120 miles every Saturday to purchase a week’s supply of organic fruits and vegetables.

I read incessantly to understand how to be truly healthy — and because I was now house chef — how to prepare truly healthy meals. I learned about a place called Findhorn in Scotland where a group of people were growing astoundingly healthy and huge vegetables using special growing methods that I recall included something called “rock dust.”

I later learned from Rutgers University’s Firman E. Baer Report that differences in mineral content in plants grown in “good soil” versus plants grown in “poor soil” are often enormous. That is, plants grown in “good soil” can be 100 times (or more) richer in certain minerals!

After we moved to Southern Arizona in 1993, I heard from a friend about worm beds and castings and started a worm bed in our yard. Shortly thereafter, I purchased a 50 pound bag of rock dust and started using it along with a product called EM (“Effective Microorganisms”) that enhanced the soil with beneficial microorganisms. Our neighbors and gardener found it hard to believe the plants we grew were so healthy and productive! We continued enhancing the soil and enjoyed a highly productive garden for years.

Then in 2009, I built several very large raised beds so that I could control the soil more completely and purchased a 50 pound bag of rock dust (Agrowinn Minerals) from a company in Southern California (www.fertilizeronline.com). Using this rock dust along with plenty of compost I grew amazingly large and healthy vegetables such as zucchini, squash, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, parsley, etc. I used these vegetables daily in preparing salads, stir fries, soups, and other dishes.

My wife felt so good eating these garden-fresh (and mineral-rich) dishes, she thereafter refused to eat anything except meals prepared from garden produce! Now, something in my head started to churn! Our high quality garden foods make an enormous difference to the person eating them. Everything I’d read and heard about trace minerals is true: our health depends upon it!

In 2011, I hired a new employee (Linda Leigh) who runs a side business (Vermillion Wormery) raising red wiggler worms. I learned from her how to use worm castings tea (and I built another worm bed that effectively recycles all of my organic kitchen wastes). When done correctly, vermicompost tea produces a huge number of aerobic microorganisms that take up nutrients from the soil (including rock dust), and then convert them into organic forms readily available to garden plants.

More recently, I learned that in the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Ukraine, dairy cows consuming grass fertilized with rock dust had no radiation in their milk. Yet, cows just down the road eating grass not fertilized with rock dust had radiation in their milk! This indicates when you are replete with the proper amount of trace minerals your body needs, you will NOT absorb minerals of a similar nature that are radioactive (e.g., cesium-137 and strontium-90)!

In these times, when our health is adversely affected by a broad range of environmental, nutritional, and lifestyle factors, it’s important to know you can easily grow your own super healthy foods, especially using the methods I describe (above). Growing your own organic and biodynamic foods is a major step towards creating super health for yourself, as well as for your family, friends, and pets.

As it turns out (not unexpectedly!), another benefit of gardening and farming is better immunity and health through exposure to soil microorganisms. Thus, it appears that in addition to the benefits of eating mineral-rich garden produce, simple exposure to soil microorganisms in “a little dirt” while gardening is itself a very good thing for health! For more information on this subject see our blog article entitled “A New View of the Role of Bacteria in Health“.

 

Note: you may also enjoy my related blog post (from June 14, 2012): Living with Radiation: Protection Starts Today. That post deals with specific measures (diet, supplements, etc.) you can use to protect yourself from radiation.

References:

The best place to buy rock dust and worm castings in the USA:
http://www.fertilizeronline.com/

Here is a place in Scotland that tells their story about rock dust:
http://planetthrive.com/2010/01/transforming-barren-land-into-fertile-ground/

This website is all about remineralization of the earth. Highly recommended!
http://remineralize.org/

Here is an excellent website on worm castings, including worm castings tea:
http://www.mypeoplepc.com/members/arbra/trinity/id14.html

New York Times article on health benefits of exposure to soil microorganisms:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/opinion/lets-add-a-little-dirt-to-our-diet.html

For those interested in the details of soil biology, here is an online book on the subject:
http://soils.usda.gov/sqi/concepts/soil_biology/soil_food_web.html