Harvesting Black Gold
By Anne-Marie Miller (Dash)
Editor’s note: This is a follow-up article to Vermicompost: Black Gold for the Garden.
I am excited to announce that it is time to harvest that “black gold” that is such a super fertilizer for the garden! See how to set up a vermicomposting bin here. Patience is not one of my strong suits, so I was so thrilled to be able to harvest my earthworm castings after a LONG 10 weeks. Hopefully it will be worth the wait. You might be asking, “What is the best way to harvest this black gold?” Good question. Heather at The Texas Worm Ranch told me to pan this black gold. I trust she knows what she is talking about because she is the main wrangler at her Ponderosa of worms, The Texas Worm Ranch. At the ranch they let vibration work for them. They have a huge vibrating machine that shifts the compost and worms from the “black gold” aka earthworm castings. After that they put the mixture into a wire mesh tumbler that further separates this valuable garden fertilizer. While it must be undoubtedly nice to have all this separated for you at the touch of a button, the home gardener does not have it so easy. We have to find a way of sifting this valuable “black gold” for ourselves… Thus, in comes my handy dandy homemade sifter to save the day. Here are step by step instructions on how to build an earthworm castings sifter for yourself.
Step one: Use scrap lumber to make a frame to fit on a bin/storage container of some sort to harvest your “black gold”. I cut down some wood I had from pallets and added blocks for support in each corner.
Step two: Cover the frame you made with ¼-inch hardware cloth. I attached mine with staples.
Now that you have your sifter built, here comes the fun part! Shovel some castings/compost on the metal mesh that you have made and pan for gold, “black gold” that is! This takes a shaking, shifting, body moving dynamic that you might not be prepared for.
It struck me as I wiggled, vibrated, shifted and shook that this is probably just what the “ready to get rich quick” gold rush miners felt. This is what I felt; feel the burn, feel it some more, burning is getting a tad intense, finally ask a friend to spell you. Let me just point out here that it is NOT JUST ANY friend that will “shake the sh**t” for you! Thank you, Sam for getting in the spirit of the whole situation and finding the humor in panning for “black gold”. You are my best garden buddy forever and always!
Let me just point out here that gardening, including shifting, shaking and otherwise gyrating, work out into a very nice weight loss program. One day at the community garden, I could tell it pained my friend Charles to see me working so hard. Even though I could appreciate Charles’ gentlemanly attitude, one day I held out my palm, signaling stop, and said to him; “Charles back off and let me get my garden work out. People pay hundreds of dollars at a gym for this.” I think after that day, he knew to let me have my space and workout just the way I wanted, which included loading and unloading the bed of a pick-up truck of sh**t, horse sh**t to be exact, with a shovel and a wheel barrow. This habitual exercise combined with the eating of the veggies you produce works out in you favor, or maybe your spouse’s favor, depending on how you look at it.
All you young things that have toned firm bodies, this might not be the post for you. However, those of you that are experiencing the effects of gravity, well, a vermicomposting bin, or gardening in general might be a good investment in your future. Just a friendly suggestion from one sagging body to another!
If you are not feeling like a workout or building a sifter, then another way to separate this fertilizer would involve the word phototropic. This is just a complicated way of saying that these squirmy critters hate the light so burrow to the bottom of the pile. Once they are all hunkered down away from the light you can remove the bulk of compost above them and return the handful of wiggly worms on the bottom back to the bin.
Add fresh partially composted material on the bottom of the bin, a handful of veggie scraps in the middle and the damp shredded newspapers on top. Don’t forget to mark your calendar 10 weeks out to remind you when it is time to pan gold again.
Now that I have this “black gold” all separated it out, what is the best way to put it to use?
The expert worm wrangler Heather told me to use my earth worm castings in the following ways:
- In seed starting or containers, mix your soil mix with 10-20% of the mix as worm castings.
- In gardens, 10 pounds per 100 square feet is appropriate (for a 4′ x 8′ raised bed I calculated 3 pounds)
- To boost garden plants, a handful each month near the root zone is helpful.
I myself plan to use this first batch to start some seedlings for Spring planting. I will do a batch of seedlings with “black gold” and one without because I love a good experiment. I couldn’t resist slipping a handful into my favorite Sambac jasmine (blooms all spring and summer with the most heavenly-smelling blooms) I baby this plant inside through the winter. Let’s just say “Jasmine” is in sore need of a boost right about now.
Overall the creation of a vermicomposting bin has been a great addition to the homestead. A big shout-out to Heather at the Texas Worm Ranch for helping me be successful at this! Heather has everything to get you started, and you can check out her ranch here.
Anne-Marie (Dash for short) is an Urban Farmer in Dallas, Texas. She tested the-in-the-box thinking of the city she lives in by creating a front yard garden. She chases chickens, rabbits and children on her urban homestead. Follow along with her homesteading adventures on her blog. Here she will challenge you to stop pining for the country and Bloom Where You’re Planted!