NCSU Vermiculture Conference topic: Vermicomposting campus food residues in a Passive Solar Greenhouse in a cold climate

Speaker: Dr. John Biernbaum, Michigan State University Dept. of Horticulture where they have a year-round student run organic farm and CSA. Here are my notes from his talk:

At Michigan State University they are trying to grow local and have several hundred hoophouses at the university. At MSU they are closing the food cycle loop and using food from university kitchens. There are food waste collection containers in the kitchens. 100,000 pounds of food waste was composted last year.

In cold hoophouses in their climate, plant leaves can freeze, but then thaw and taste great. They have covers within the hoophouses (made of agribond or poly) to keep temperatures around growing beds up as much as possible in the winter.

He showed slides of how they plant their seedlings and transplants, and showing results from growing with compost. They recommend top dressing new plants on a small scale instead of mixing a tea. A way to apply: sprinkle compost on transplants with a colandar. In hoophouse, treat ground with compost on top before transplanting.

He has horses at his home operation where he started learning about vermicomposting. One thing he passed on to the group: to get red wiggler worms from horse manure, they set a hyacinth bulb crate filled with fresher horse manure on top of an aging pile containing lots of hungry worms. The worms will move up into the bulb crate and can be taken for vermicomposting other feedstocks.

At MSU they have composting going inside hoophouse and it does stay warm enough in there through the winter. They also have aquaponics with fish in these hoophouses. When it is 0 degrees F outside, it is still 45 degrees in the worm bed.

One note: you can provide hot compost for the worms as long as there are cool places for them to escape to. His ideal is to have windrows in the hoophouse. Worms migrate from one windrow to the other with something like a wedge system. Recommended reading: the chapter from the conference book about vermicomposting in China (Vermiculture Technology: Earthworms, Organic Wastes, and Environmental Management edited by Clive Edwards, Norman Arancon, & Rhonda Sherman).

Other Projects:

    Raised beds with one big agribond cover over top for composting with worms. They precompost in a rubbermaid bin — they have food layered with paper/leaves.

    Growing crops over worm beds — they built a bench system.

    Wooden red wiggler bed 4′ x 8′ with polyethelyne sheet lining. This keeps moisture in and nutrients from leaching out.It just needs to be drainable

    Vermiwash – run water through beds and use . Rubbermaid garbage bin – gravel, etc in bottom, worm composting on top — drain out bottom and use vermiwash for fertilizer

    Bulk bag system — vermicompost in large bags in conduit frame. Stuck in drain tube with holes for an aeration system

    Showed more slides of campus greenhouse projects including basic flow through vermibins with conduit bottom and plywood sides and styrofoam lining. He also made a breaker bar with handles on the sides. Cardboard sheets in bottom, then paper bedding, then red wigglers. He may use a heating cable for gutters to keep it warm. They’ll harvest castings when cardboard breaks up.

    They are also cutting down trees and making charcoal to add to worm compost.

    Sales: sifter frames, Jet Worm Harvester of 1/4 inch screen — then they sell compost. 25lb in 5 gallon bucket for $2 per pound

Mention of Tom Wilkinson. “Beyond compost” shows stacking milk and bread crate systems and uses charcoal as additive to soil mix. Also, milk crates can be filled with fresher compost used to harvest worms, grow worms, grow plants in, etc. May be efficient system.

Information was also presented on certifying an “organic systems plan” (as opposed to thinking you can certify compost). This type of system has to be aerobic and high moisture.

The reference text sold at the conference, Vermiculture Technology: Earthworms, Organic Wastes, and Environmental Management, is available on in hardcover and for Kindle.

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