Vermicompost of Agricultural Wastes into an Efficient Plant Growth Media in Order to Create a Sustainable Production System

Project Overview

FNC01-381
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2001: $2,310.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $6,790.00
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Agronomic: corn, flax, spelt, soybeans, wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Vegetables: tomatoes
  • Animals: sheep
  • Miscellaneous: mushrooms

Practices

  • Animal Production: manure management, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: organic fertilizers, application rate management
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, transitioning to organic, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: earthworms, organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Summary:

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    Cherry Knoll Farms LLC is a producer of quality shiitake and oyster mushrooms for the high end restaurant trade. Recent diversification involves raspberry production, market gardening, and sheep production. 22 acres of woodlands are being managed for wildlife, mushroom production, and select cut timber. Before receiving this grant, our farm did not carry out sustainable farming practices.

    PROJECT DESCRITPION AND RESULTS
    Project goals:
    1) Develop a whole farm approach to waste management that can be applied to other farms manure/organic waste streams.
    2) Reduce the amount of soluble organic runoff that may contribute to groundwater contamination.
    3) To reduce or eliminate the purchase of commercially prepared fertilizers

    Research/Education
    Process: Soil tests were conducted on piled wastes (spent mushrooms substrate and manure). A hoop house structure was built to house the custom made vermicomposting bins. The hoop house structure measures 12x28 ft it houses two vermicompost bins. Wastes from the sheep barn and spent mushroom substrate were added in layers daily keeping the moisture levels of the beds at approximately 70%. The temperature was also monitored daily in order to maintain the beds between 55 and 85 degrees to ensure viability of the worms. On cold days, the layers of added wastes would be increase to supply a heat source and on hot summer days, the vermicompost beds were kept watered to cool them.

    At 30 day intervals the beds were screened to remove finished vermicompost, worms and unfinished wastes were returned to the beds, and the process began all over again. As this process was housed indoors, no soluble or solid organic runoff was produced. This process of vermicomposting agricultural wastes undercover in raised beds ensures that contamination of the environment does not take place.

    Analysis of the finished vermicompost (worm castings) was conducted and trials of forage plantings (alfalfa) and tomatoes was conducted using A. control B. commercial fertilizer and C. 10%-20%-50%-100% additions of vermicompost. The planting trials were conducted in 4x5 ft raised beds. The vermicompost was added volumetrically to achieve percentages ex. 20 five gallon buckets of topsoil were used to fill one bed; to create a 10% vermicompost addition 19 five gallon buckets of topsoil would be mixed with two five gallon buckets of vermicompost. Grape, Amish paste, and Red agate tomatoes were planted in each bed. Resistor alfalfa was sown in each forage bed. Forage Analysis was conducted on all the alfalfa grown. Tomatoes were weighed when harvested.

    The people involved in this project include:
    - Mike Miller the OSU extension agent for Medina County, reviewing application, help in setting up study design, answering questions and guidance
    - Jim Dieter – Median County Soil and Water Conservation District, site selection for structure, reviewing application, guidance
    - Dr. Clive Edwards the OSU – reviewing application, guidance throughout the grant and technical information relating to vermicomposting.

    Dates:
    8/8, 8/11, 8/14, 8/16, 8/18, 8/22, 8/26
    Con 1.
    Grape, .54, .40, .37, .44, .38, .30 .31
    Amish, 0, 0, .38, 0, .26, 1.23, .89
    Red, 0, 0, 0, 0, 368, 1.75, 0

    Con. 2
    Grape, .54, .43, .22, .51, .46, .94, .84
    Amish, 0, .19, .54, 0, .28, 1.04, 2.58
    Red, 0, 1.24, 0, 0, .90, 0, 3.65

    100%
    Grape, .44, .64, .46, 1.05, .36, .97, 1.03
    Amish, 0, .62, 0, 0, .44, 2.34, 1.81
    Red, 0, 1.83, 0, .34, 0, 0, .79

    50%
    Grape, .52, .75, .42, .51, .38, .80, 1.15
    Amish, 0, .44, 0, .33, .66, 1.41, 4.13
    Red, 0, .88, .43, .78, 2.98, 2.03, 1.91

    20%
    Grape, 0, .30, .32, .50, .46, .67, .75
    Amish, 0, .53, 0, 0, .26, 2.51, 2.65
    Red, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 2.37, 3.05

    10%
    Grape, .32, .32, .35, .34, .46, .62, .73
    Amish, 0, 0, .20, 0, 1.01, 3.33, 3.09
    Red, 0, 1.05, 0, 0, 0, 1.57, 1.50

    Dates: 8/29, 9/3, 9/6, 9/10, 9/13, 9/16, 9/18, 9/21, 9/26, 9/30, 10/13
    Con. 1
    Grape, .53, 1.91, 1.04, .63, .68, .40, .24, .10, 0, .11, 0
    Amish, 2.61, 1.69, .52, .50, .52, 0, .17, .11, .10, .17, .57
    Red, .48, .94, .88, .54, 0, 0, .33, 0, 1.64, 1.55, .44

    Con. 2
    Grape, .84, 1.84, .68, .73, 1.42, .57, .36, .43, 0, .37, 0
    Amish, 2.05, 3.55, 1.75, 1.36, .31, 0, .25, .20, .83, .76, .26
    Red, 1.40, .39, 1.38, .74, 0, .24, .52, 0, 1.10, 0, .33

    100%
    Grape, .66, 2.03, .34, .27, .67, .43, .29, .56, 0, .15, 0
    Amish, 1.37, 3.60, 2.14, 1.26, .29, 0, 0, .77, .53, .43, .32
    Red, 0, .75, .21, 0, 0, .45, .41, .20, 0, .13, .0

    50%
    Grape, .61, 1.61, 1.38, .40, .54, .35, .34, 0, .10, 0, 0
    Amish, 1.89, 3.37, 1.70, 1.24, .67, .59, .43, 0, 0, 0, 0
    Red, 3.17, 2.62, 0, 2.63, .44, .85, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0

    20%
    Grape, .60, 1.67, .95, .71, 1.17, .65, .39, .65, 0, .38, 0
    Amish, 1.71, 3.21, 2.45, 1.00, .22, .61, .27, .89, .28, .70, .31
    Red, 2.93, .39, 1.10, 2.09, 0, .71, 0, 0, .86, 1.64, .47

    10%
    Grape, .64, .132, .79, .64, .96, .70, .63, .25, 0, .23, 0
    Amish, 2.99, 2.08, 1.47, .86, .47, .78, .60, .08, 1.73, 1.55, 1.55
    Red, 0, .97, .97, .98, 0, 0, 0, 0, 1.10, 2.23, 1.96

    Control 1 – No additions – Totals: Grape 8.38 lbs, Amish Paste 9.72 lbs, Red Agate 9.19 lbs per plant
    Control 2 – Commercial Fertilizer 10/6/4 was applied at planting – totals: Grape 10.82 lbs, Amish Paste 16.25 lbs, Red Agate 11.89 lbs per plant
    100% Vermicompost addition – Grape 10.35 lbs, Amish Paste 15.92lbs, Red Agate 6.75 lbs per plant
    50% Vermicompost addition – Grape 10.16 lbs, Amish Paste 16.87 lbs, Red Agate 19.15 lbs per plant
    20% Vermicompost addition – Grape 10.17 lbs, Amish Paste 17.60 lbs, Red Agate 15.61 lbs per plant
    10% Vermicompost addition – Grape 9.3 lbs, Amish Paste 21.79 lbs, Red Agate 12.78 per plant

    Total pounds all types of tomatoes combined:
    Control 1 – No Additions – 27.29 lbs
    Control 2 – 10/6/4 fertilizer – 38.96 lbs
    100% Vermicompost – 33.02 lbs
    50% Vermicompost – 46.18 lbs
    20% Vermicompost – 43.38 lbs
    10% Vermicompost – 43.87 lbs

    Note: all plants were field grown without irrigation.

    Results of the tomato trials were surprising, as the yields from the commercial fertilizer were lower than expected. The gains from 10%, 20%, 50% vermicompost additions out performed the commercial fertilizer. With these results vermicompost enables a producer to cut cost associated with fertilizer and reduces agricultural waste disposal costs.

    Alfalfa trials –the 20% vermicompost addition compares favorably with the commercial fertilizer application. Note: July 1st 2002, severe alfalfa leafhopper infestation forced the cutting of plots.

    Discussion:
    With this grant I was able to achieve my objectives of developing a whole farm approach to waste management, by turning a by product of mushroom production, into a viable soil amendment. I have eliminated any possible runoff associated with stored wastes by housing the wastes in bins inside a hoop structure. Vermicompost has the added benefit of reducing the volume of wastes significantly in a short period of time (30 days). I have decided to eliminate purchasing commercial fertilizer enabling my farm to cut production costs and to transition into organic production. The only disadvantage I can comment on is that time is spent daily or every other day managing the waste stream instead of all at once. The advantages far out weight the disadvantages. I would recommend that produce growers examine this study and experiment with vermicomposting themselves. Vermicomposting would reduce their fertilizer costs, improve soil structure, and increase production all without effecting groundwater with runoff from traditional composting methods.

    OUTREACH
    Due to problems associated with the Ohio EPA our outreach has been limited on the advice from the USDA representative who visited our farm. The Ohio EPA stated that in order to compost anything beyond kitchen wastes on our property would require a Class II or III license. After talking to Harry Wells Federal EPA in Washington DC, he advised me that straw brought onto the farm as a substrate to grow mushrooms was not in fact the same as a bulking agent for compost, as the Ohio EPA agent was claiming. Also the Ohio EPA agent JoAnn Keiser claimed we were aerobically composting when in fact we were anaerobically Vermicomposting. The temperature created by composting would kill the worms needed for vermicomposting. Vermicomposting rules have not been written yet. Dr. Clive Edwards from Ohio State University is in fact working on them now for the Federal EPA; he is on their advisory board. Harry Wells from the Federal EPA also advised not to publicize the Grant research with a field day or newspaper.

    I have made copies of the results of the tomato trials and alfalfa trials and any visitors to the farm are given a personalized tour of the farm. the number of visitors to our farm in a three month period from July 1 to September 30 included upwards of 37 people. More people than I would expect for a field day in Medina County. Copies of the report will be given to all future visitors of the farm. I am continuing to vermicompost and expand the use and production of this process and in doing so I will encourage others to adopt vermicomposting as well.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.