In the month of April, we composted 304 lbs of food and paper waste. With the weather beginning to warm *sorta*, I prepped for the growing season. This involved building two raised beds and constructing a hoop house out of PVC pipe (see below), as well as starting some seedlings. We wrapped up our worm casting seedling trials, but have yet to finish analyzing the results, so stay on the lookout for those.
I visited Anderson Urban Farm, a neat community garden space owned by the township's Historical Society. They have 36 garden plots that townships residents can rent and a chicken coop cared for by community members. They are planning to reinvigorate their worm bin and agreed to partner with us as a drop off spot in the coming months.
If I had to sum up April in one experience it would be selling worm castings. Between March and April, I sold 100 gallons of worm castings--my whole stock. Thankfully as long as the worms keep eating, they keep pooping, so more worm castings are on the way. However, I was shocked to sell out! I expected the worm castings to take at least a few months to gain interest, like the compost collection service did, but this was not the case. I figure it's a good problem to have, since it means I need more food waste.
Next month we will be selling castings, potting soil mixes, and offering compost collection at the Loveland and Montgomery Farmer's Markets (Tuesdays and Saturdays). If you are in the area, come check us out!
Fun Fact: Eisenia, the genus name of the European Nightcrawler and Red Wiggler, is also the genus name of a brown alga.
Happy Spring everybody! With the changing of the seasons, work at Back2TheDirt has picked up. This month we composted 305 lbs and added two new compost members (welcome!). March marked tax season and grant season for us. Thankfully after many hours and one very late night, I was able to finish all the paper work--whew! Nothing like living for a deadline.
With the paperwork out of the way, I was able to focus on getting our soil products ready for spring. At the end of the month, we launched our new line of potting mixes. Check them out on our "Soil Mixes" page. They all use coconut coir and worm casting as their base and are hand mixed to give your plants the best start. It's been fun turning the office into a soil testing lab. Next up will be developing a compost tea recipe and dabbling in worm breeding.
We also have worm castings available. I've had worm casting orders coming in every week now, and it gives me such a sense of glee to have an order pop up on my phone. Although this inevitably comes with it's own set of unknowns. I will have to figure out how much I'm producing worm-casting wise monthly and figure out a sustainable rate of harvest. I am also planning to use next month to better quantify the effects of my castings. I've set up an experimental seedling trial comparing different rates of worm castings (0%, 25%, 50%, 100%). I'm excited to grow plants again and to see the castings in action. They are set to wrap up by the end of April, so be sure to check back in to see the results.
This month I also had the opportunity to speak at Gorman Heritage Farm about vermicomposting. Not only was it good to return to a place that taught me the joys and healing of farm work, but it made me smile to see a packed room of people that chose to spend their Sunday afternoon learning about composting with worms. My hope is that in the next decade composting at home will become the norm and worms are a great option for those with limited space. For anyone thinking about trying it, go ahead give it a shot!
Fun Fact: Earthworms are not native to North America. During the ice age, many native worms were killed off. The worms we find in our backyard today were brought over during European colonization.
February a month that is always short and sweet. Though as someone who celebrates their birthday in the month of February, maybe I'm biased ;) This month we composted 259 lbs of waste bringing our grand total to 2411 lbs. Not as noteworthy as last month, but I'm excited by our solid and steady growth. What will our next big goal be--3,000, 5,000, maybe even 10,000 lbs?
This month we had a new member join and multiple people reach out. As spring beckons from around the corner, I can't help but imagine growth in our future. I was also able to get Back2TheDirt a spot at the Montgomery Farmer's Market, so if you are in the area, check us out in May. I'm excited to get to interact with people one-on-one, talk about the amazing benefits of composting, and see what kinds of soil mixes and compost teas people are interested in. I was able to design and print off a sign for my booth thanks to the Cincinnati Public Library's Makerspace, such a cool space. I've also been collecting paper towel rolls and gallon jugs to package the seedlings and compost tea I plan to sell. Why buy new, when you can reuse? (However, I had someone warn me that paper-towel-roll-pots mold so I also bought some paper to roll paper pots. I'll have to update you next month on which paper-based pot wins my vote.)
Besides the exciting news, the past month has been marked by a perpetual feeling that I can never get enough done. Maybe it's the stress of two jobs or the piling paperwork of tax season and my grant report due in March. Suffice to say, I felt fully submerged in the stress and finesse of the small details of everything I needed to get done.
I had a helpful conversation with my dad, though. He asked me how I would scale up the business. I sighed, and thought about all the obstacles and impossibilities--like financing this growth."What if money wasn't an issue, what would you need to process all the food waste in Cincinnati?" I thought about it and answered, but still was not appreciating the mental exercise. My dad pushed me "If this is really as urgent of an issue as you say it is [referring to climate change and environmental degradation], you need to stop viewing this messing with some worm in your grandparent's basement." He explained that it had to be bigger than me, that I needed to engage and mobilize people. Admittedly, I have at points felt like this project of Back2TheDirt has been "little old me, keeping some worms in basement," and I don't know how I am going to encourage a compost "movement." I still feel like I am in the stages of "can I make this work?". That said, it snapped me out of running through my to-do list and reminded me to have a long term vision.
Fun Fact: The worms don't have vision. They don't have eyes and cannot see. However, they do have light sensitive cells on the outer layer of their skin that allow them to sense changes in light. This is important because worms exposed too long to light will become paralyzed and die.
The New Year is a great time to reflect on the prior year and set goals for the upcoming year. Back2TheDirt started less than a year ago and over the course of 2021, we have grown from an idea to a functional worm farm that just reached 1 ton of food composted! Over the course of 2022, our goal is to grow our services, tests out our castings, and connect with the community. This will include working a couple of farmers markets and giving talks about vermicomposting through different local organizations (more to come on that).
In January, we composted 195 lbs of food and paper waste. This month, I finished the harvesting trommel! I harvested 8 5-gallon buckets of castings, much quicker than hand-sieving. I'm excited to use it more this upcoming spring as orders pick up. I was also able to meet some cool, compost-caring people in the Cincinnati area. I met with Steve Rock, who is also a Waste Innovation Grant recipient and has a Master's degree in composting, to check out his worm bins. He builds smaller, continuous-flow-through bins approximately 3'x2'X2'. He also constructed a clever, mini harvest trommel with a bucket and hardware mesh. I met with Elise Erhart, the Outreach Specialist for Hamilton County R3source, she came to tour the beds and offered to help if I ever needed to put together an educational event. Finally, I met with Greg Potter and Erin LeFever of the Civic Garden Center. They invited me to help teach a Master Compost class on vermicomposting this summer and had a lot of great questions about my worm bed. All in all, I learned social networking really is all that.
Also, I got an avocado pits that sprouted in my worm bin to grow leaves! I've tried in the past to sprout avocado pits and it never has worked before. Maybe in 10 years I'll have homegrown avocados.
Fun Fact: There are approximately 2,700 different kinds of earthworms.
The holiday season is upon us! Tis the season for pine trees, Christmas lights, and gathering together (as safely as possible). In the month of December we composted 163.5 lbs, a slow down from last month. Thankfully, the worms were not left hungry. They are still chowing down on Halloween pumpkins.
This month flew by. I had so much I wanted to accomplish. I got a lot started, but much still needs finished.
I purchased a 40 ft conveyor belt from La Porte, Indiana. I was able to rope my family into helping me haul it to the basement. Shout out to my dad, uncle, and brother. I'm hoping to use it to make a second worm bed. Side walls will be attached to the conveyor belt and the worms will be placed inside. The food will be placed further and further up the bed, encouraging the worms to migrate up the bed and leave their finished castings behind. These castings can be dumped directly into the harvester by the conveyor belt. At least this is what I am envisioning; the conveyor belt still needs to be set up. I have not come across anything similar online, so I'm excited to see how it goes.
The harvester is also still in process. Unfortunately, this has been holding up my ability to expand the worm casting side of the business. Up to now I've been hand sifting, individual orders. My dad, the engineer, has been a big help. Building it has been a great chance to spend time together.
The worm beds also received a visit from Alan Wight this month. He is an Assistant Professor at The Christ College of Nursing and Health Sciences and the School and Community Garden Liaison for the University of Cincinnati. He is currently working on a book documenting the history, present, and future surrounding food and farming in Cincinnati. He asked me if I would work on a "compost map" of Cincinnati. I never anticipated pulling out my watercolors in the name of compost–but when duty calls, I'll answer ;)
I hope everyone had a happy holidays. My family was able to gather safely for the first time since the pandemic. It was the first time in a long time. I wish everyone a Happy Holidays and Wormderful New Year!
Fun Fact: Worms cannot smell. This helps when you live in a pile of rotting food or manure!
The days are growing shorter and colder (with occasional exception) here in Cincinnati. The worms and I are settling into a good routine. We composted 775 lbs of waste in November. Thanks in large part to the 530 lbs of donated Halloween pumpkins! Thankfully, without the pumpkin seeds being ground up and concentrated, I don't anticipate a repeat of the okara incident (see September). The wormies have been happily munching away at pumpkin meat. We will have to see how many cocoons we get as a result.
I also was able to meet and talk with a lot of different folks from the community this month. I met with Tony Staubach, the new Food Waste Diversion Coordinator for the county. He was able to provide me with lots of good people to reach out to, who work in the farming-sustainability-composting sphere in Cincinnati. I was also able to meet with Olivia Wilmink who ran BetterBin, which recently became part of CompostNow. She started her compost company a few years ago. It was fun to hear her story, its not every day you meet someone in this industry.
This month I also made a trip out to Grailville, a Loveland gem. They have walking trails and a rich history of women's activism. I met with Terrie Puckett, the Executive Director. She graciously agreed to host a compost drop off site for Back2TheDirt. A dropoff site would allow me to make my services more affordable because I could drive to one place and still service multiple families. I don't know if anyone will be interested, but my fingers are crossed.
During our meeting, Terrie told me that Grailville serves as a place for women to "try...and to fail." She and I both hope it works, but either way, you don't know until you try.
Fun Fact: Worm have 5 hearts. Unlike mammals and reptiles, their 5 hearts are composed of single-chambered aortic arches which pumps blood through their body.
Big news we hit the 1000 lb mark! This month we composted 228 lbs of waste, bringing the grand total of waste composted up to 1019 lbs. Though numbers are just numbers, it felt momentous. When I set out to start this business, I was not sure what would come of it. Now 6 months from my first compost pickup, it is incredible to look back and see how much things have grown and changed (even in such a short span of time). It feels less and less like a crazy idea and more like a reality.
Thanks again to all our members who, through their food waste contributions and enthusiasm, helped get us here!
Fun Fact: The largest earthworm ever found was in South Africa and measured 22 feet from its nose to the tip of its tail.
In the month of September, we composted 198 lbs of waste. Admittedly, a bit less than expected. But the shortcomings came in exchange for some hard-learned lessons. This month, the bed was humming along. That is, until I added 150 lbs of okara waste (not included in the composted waste above). Okara is the waste product from producing tofu. In this case, it came from a Cincinnati company called Foodies, which produces "Pumfu", a pumpkin-based tofu. Unfortunately, I did not realize that pumpkin seed, the primary component of "pumfu" okara, contains cucurbitacin. This compound paralyzes worms and is used by herbalists as a natural dewormer. On top of that, the highly-dense nature of okara caused the okara section of the bin to heat up to 130 F. The worms, instead of retreating to the cooler part of the worm bed, proceeded to make a mass exodus from the bed. The squirmed through the bottom grating and all over the floor! I tried to save as many as I could, but unfortunately lost a few thousand overnight.
Mistakes are a part of life. The best you can do is learn from them. So, I removed all the okara from the worm bed and donated it to the backyard compost. Thankfully, I have not seen any more worms try and escape and things are slowly returning to a happy, steady normal.
Besides the "okara" incidence, there were some positive highlights. I created our first soil blend, aptly named "island Mix" after the tropical ingredients including pumice and kelp.
Next month, I am hoping to construct a harvest trommel to make harvesting more efficient.
Fun Fact: Worms don't have lungs, they breathe through their skin. The mucosae on their skin helps to dissolve the oxygen.
This August we've been wiggling along. Back2TheDirt grew its crew to 36 lbs of worms. That's around 16,000 worms in the bed! Over the month we were able to compost a total of 241 lbs of waste! I am also happy to report that we were able to do our first harvest of worm castings. They were beautiful, dark and crumbly, almost like chocolate cake. (What can I say, I love good soil?). Hopefully, the castings can make their way into some fall garden beds. With what remains, I plan to do some experimentation on. Custom potting soil mixes, vermiwash, and natural plant fertilizers are all to come.
Also, we are still looking for more food waste sources. If you are interested in composting, please give us a try :)
Fun Fact: Nightcrawler worms live an average of 6 years in the wild. Some have been found to live as long as 20 years!
July has been a hectic month for Back2TheDirt. Due to heat waves, torrential rains, ticks, mosquitos, and raccoons, we decided to move our operations indoors. This does not affect our ability to process food waste, however it will hopefully make the worms (and me) happier and healthier. This month we were also to expand our service locations and add drop-offs as an option for customers. In total, we composted 154 lbsthis month!