Thursday, November 28, 2019

And Their Worm Shall Never Die: Vermicomposting On Thanksgiving

I cannot retire right now from my job as a prosecutor--might not ever be able to do so. Several years ago my wife and I purchased twenty acres of  partially wooded land adjacent to the horse lot for the use of our program. We have nearly completed clearing that land and for the past two years it has provided wonderful forage for our horses and goats.

We cleared the land by hand using a chainsaw and we made our first fence around the land entirely from the poles that we cut from those trees. The perimeter of the pasture is .64 miles and the actual construction of that post and pole fence was done by a few volunteers and many hours of work by program participants.

We are a non-profit with no paid staff, yet we got that job done.

We have now begun to convert about fifteen acres of mature pine and occasional hardwood trees into silvopasture. Again, all of the work is done by hand by program participants. Each morning before going to the office I saw down everything but large pines and oak trees that I hope will be large enough to produce acorns for wild life at some point. (If they will not be able to do so they will be removed)

The limbs and tree tops are being stacked in long windrows about six feet tall and five yards wide along the perimeter of the land. These brush piles will make wonderful wildlife habitat. We use no chemical fertilizers or poisons on our land, so we are already a preferred vacation spot for rabbits.

The land has not been timbered in at least forty years (I think closer to fifty) so the soil has a ratio of fungus to bacteria way too high to support immediate pasture growth.  By flooding the land with a mixture of livestock and rolling hay for that livestock we will infuse the soil with bacteria.

We have a large herd of Colonial Spanish horses and heritage breed  livestock that includes Ossabaw hogs, San Clemente Goats, Syfan goats, a Hog Island ram, Highland cattle, and turkeys and a small band of roosters.  These animals give us a nearly inexhaustible source of organic material. We practice soil and water conservation programs that keep runoff from the pastures to a minimum.

In past years I buried the tank of an old hot tub to ground level and filled it with composting material and eventually added worms to turn it into a vermicomposting operation. The worms flourished so well that they have colonized the pastures adjacent to their original containers to the point that nightly deposited worm casting are visible all over those pastures.

We have done some experimenting with vermicompost tea and direct infusion of small  amounts of living compost into the pastures. The results show that on a larger scale  we should be able to radically increase the amount of forage produced, reduce soil compaction, increase rain water absorption and reduce runnoff even further by increasing our use of vermicompost.

Toward that end I received another five thousand worms in the mail last night and will be putting them in the compost today.

But I cannot retire from my job. The project will only work if every program participant is willing to simply add a shovel full of manure to the compost with each and every visit to the horse lot. I will only be able to turn fifteen acres of  Jacob's Woods into silvopasture if each participant in our program puts in time each and every week to drag the limbs and tops from the trees that I cut down every morning over to the brush piles.

In short, all of this will only work if everyone in our program works. Under most circumstances that would be a recipe for failure. I know that some participants will not take up the challenge to get the work done, but I also know that other participants will do the work of ten people.

The down side for me is that I cannot get all of this work done and still have time to ride as much as I want, and need, to. But we are building something that matters here. Mill Swamp Indian Horses is a program of Gwaltney Frontier Farm, a 501 (c) 5 breed conservation program. We recently formed a 501 (c) 3 educational foundation to help fund some of the educational programs that we administer at the horse lot.

We are an educational institution that teaches, and learns, by doing.

And we will keep on doing

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