If you have read the book or seen the movie The Martian, you would remember that the stranded astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) planted potatoes on Mars to increase his food supply until a rescue mission could be launched. Since the soil of Mars was lacking in nutrients because there is no life on Mars, he fertilized it with his own body waste and the dessicated, sterilized waste of the crew which had been discarded by the them during their mission. It was mostly scientifically correct – the soil would have had to be washed first to rid it of chemicals poisonous to humans – but the basic premise that growing things need nutrition was accurate.
Around the world over the millennia, feces (the medical term for poop) has been a source of fuel and fertilizer, among many other uses. And why do I bring this up? Well, I’ll tell you…..
There is a small patch of ground on my property on which I set my sights for my next project. After clearing out the weeds, we realized that there was no drainage system installed in that particular area, so we needed to fill it in and raise it up to the level of the rock-and-cement wall with extra dirt so excess rainwater could run off the top.
My neighbor had piles of dirt on his property as a result of construction, and he allowed us to take as much as we needed. The problem was, the soil was devoid of the nutrients plants would need to survive and thrive. His solution? Go to the worm farm.
So off we went to the worm farm, and what I saw and learned were quite amazing. Long, deep tanks made of cement blocks greeted me after I entered the property. When the lids were lifted, I could see they were full of soft black dirt with millions of worms wriggling about.
The owner told me that they put dirt and organic matter in these tanks – mostly the unused organic material from sugar cane and the pulp and skin from the coffee cherries (which are removed from the coffee bean during processing), and some organic matter from other fruits and vegetables, but never any animal matter.
The worms are then allowed to eat, poop, and make little worm babies to their hearts’ content for 8 months, and then the process begins to remove them, so you end up with pure, rich soil.
To preserve the lives of the worms while separating them from the dirt, the workers begin to place their food in one area of the tank. As the worms migrate towards the food, the worm-free dirt is extracted. This continues until all the rich soil is separated from the worms.
It is then bagged and sold to people like me to allow our plants to grow happy and healthy, courtesy of the circle of life.
And there ends your biology/organic farming lesson for now – so enjoy your day, wherever you might be, and catch you next time!