Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Our million-strong team ensures healthy soil and plants.

In truth I’m not sure how many red worms reside in our 5 foot by 32 foot flow-through worm bin, but from digging around in there, it seems like a million. The headline was written to call attention to just how vital our red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida) are to building healthy soil at our farm, both in our fields and in our potting mixes.

Earthworms are Mother Nature’s key player in building a healthy soil habitat for billions of microscopic workers that comprise the soil food web. Red wigglers are particularly efficient vermicomposting worms, because they can consume their own body-weight in food each day. Vermicomposting relies not only on microorganisms to compost the green matter, but also on worms that digest organic materials and excrete nutrient-rich castings. The resulting vermicompost is rich in diverse microbial organisms. Good bacteria and fungi serve as plant growth regulators, suppress disease, retain nutrients, improve soil structure and act as pest repellents. The ability of the worms to consume and break down a wide range of organic matter such as animal wastes and crop residues is well known.

We feed our worms a base of cow manure (dairy washings) from a local dairy, as well as our own crop residues from our organic farm. For example, when we grow a seed crop of winter squash, we will extract the seed, then feed the remaining squash meat and rinds to the worms over a period of time. In the past we have also teamed up with a local winery to help dispose of their red grape pomace in a more sustainable way. Grape pomace is the solid remains of the grapes after pressing for juice. It contains skins, pulp, seeds, and stems. Grape pomace is hard to conventionally compost, but our worms eagerly take on the task. We mix the pomace with vegetable wastes from our farm and dairy washings. To keep this mix from getting too heavy, we layer it with shredder paper from our call center. All these diverse food sources keep the worms fat, happy, and reproducing at a high rate. We feed about 900 pounds of organic green matter into the top of the worm bin twice a week and harvest 400 pounds of the rich vermicompost out of the bottom once a week.

Vermicompost is used in two ways. First, it’s used as an amendment for our proprietary organic planting mixes that we have developed over the past 15 years. These are the same soil mixes that we use to grow most of the plants that we sell in our catalog and website. Many of our customers write to ask what we do to the plants to make them grow so well in their garden. Well, the secret is that healthy plants flourish in soils that are vibrant and full of microbial life. Our plants travel well from our farm to your home garden because even as seedlings they have big white root systems teaming with beneficial bacteria and fungi. When you transplant a Territorial grown plant in your garden, the nutrient-rich planting mix stays with the plant as it grows. This is a gift that keeps giving throughout the plant’s life.

Secondly, our vermicompost is the main ingredient in our compost tea, made in 500 gallon batches on site in our microbial brew house. We regularly use the tea as a foliar spray in our greenhouses and fields. This aerobically-brewed tea, rich in microbial food, results in large populations of beneficial microorganisms. The theory goes that if compost tea has sufficient amounts of beneficial microorganisms, they will out-compete the harmful ones, leaving the disease organisms no way to attack the plant. In addition, we pump compost tea to our trial ground and seed production fields, which helps create healthy soil teaming with life.

Healthy worms, healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy produce, healthy seed. This small circle of life happens at Territorial thanks in large part to our million-strong team.

Author: Tom Johns, President & Owner (with wife, Julie Johns) 


  1. Congratulations on a lovely new blog, and your description of fat and happy worms producing vermicompost makes me smile. Good reading, thank you!

  2. Great post! I'm glad you started a blog - looking forward to many informative gardening posts!

  3. Great post! I've been thinking more about the health of my garden's soil lately I need to start amending it and adding much more compost so I don't starve my plants!

    Glad you started a blog -looking forward to more informative posts!