WORMS TO REBUILD THE SOIL

Steve Charter is an innovative rancher with a cattle operation north of Billings. For the past couple of years he has been intensively studying how we can rebuild our soil biology where degraded from the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers and over-tillage. Steve even traveled to Australia to see what measures are being used there for regenerative agriculture. To this end, Steve has developed a worm “ranch” on an industrial scale in order to harvest the vermicastings.

worm farm 2

ALERT: An invasive Asian worm (Amynthas) is present in the US and can cause extensive dam-age. Do your research to avoid acquiring or releas-ing Amynthas worms. http://blog.uvm.edu/jgorres/amynthas/
More to follow.

Steve and his partner, John Brown, use a bulldozer to create worm beds 50 yards long and two feet deep with mounded sides. He uses red wrigglers, the worm of choice for composting. He places a layer of straw in the bottom of the trench, then puts the worms and compost mix on top. He cold composts a mix of wood chips, straw, kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, juice bar pulp, beet tailings, cow and horse manure, and weeds to feed the worms. He strives for a mix of carbon and nitrogen similar to compost, but the mix doesn’t have to be as exact as it does with compost because he is not trying to heat it up, just feed the worms. If it does heat up, the worms can go deeper in the soil to escape the heat. The worms stay in the trenches because that is where the food is. Steve doesn’t feed the worms in winter, so if they get too much food in summer, they can munch on that over the winter.

In November, he prepares the worms for winter. He covers the trenches with straw, then a water-permeable tarp, then bags of leaves. The worms lived through the winter last worm farm 3year. They are not completely dormant and can live as long as the temperature doesn’t drop below about 40 degrees F. He hasn’t been able to check the temperature this year because there is too much snow, but he is hopeful that the worms are alive.

When there is a demand, Steve harvests the vermicastings (worm “poop”). Steve and John feed the worms at one end to get the worms to move to the end of the trench, then dig up the vermicastings, which are spread to dry. The result is then put into a trummel, which tumbles the mix and sifts out larger pieces like sticks and wood chips. This product can be bagged and used directly in soil to stimulate and restore the biology of the soil. It is not a fertilizer per se but rather food for the soil web of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes and microarthropods. Compost also helps this process of restoration—adding the worm castings speeds up the process.

Another way to use the castings and make the beneficial effects go further is to make a worm tea or worm extract. To make tea, the castings are put in water with a feed like molasses and then aerated. The tea must be used within hours of preparation to keep it from going anaerobic so this process is more useful for a home operation. For an extract, the castings are added to liquid and aerated but not fed. It is more stable before application than the tea and thus more useful for a commercial operation.

Gardeners can have a worm operation and use the castings and tea or extract for lawn and garden, but need to know how to balance the feed to encourage various microbes depending on use of the final product.

Steve has primarily used his products to develop the soil on his own ranch, but will sell the castings and extract at some point commercially if all goes well. He is interested in continuing to study ways to re-store the soil and educate others on the problems and solutions. For example, he is also learning about ways to sequester more carbon in the soil. Restoration agriculture is a sideline for Steve whose primary business is cattle ranching, but helping to restore the earth is a deep passion and commitment for him and he is grateful that he can put his ideas into action on his ranch.

– By

Ann Guthals

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YEARROUND HELP AT ZOO MONTANA

Zoo Montana needs you! The Botanical Society at Zoo Montana maintains all the gardens at Zoo Montana. We need all the help we can get as we have reclaimed many areas that are just waiting for some fresh ideas and maintenance during the upcoming season!

Once a gardener has been shown all the gardens and participated in a short training session you are free to work at any time. We do gather on Monday mornings during the growing season and work together until 12:00 pm with a wonderful tea/lemonade break. There will be an evening work time this summer as well, the evening is yet to be determined.

During the spring we will clear, clean, and amend the soil. After Memorial Day we plant, maintain, and watch the beautiful gardens blossom into magical areas. Please consider helping us out not only to get your hours but join us as a permanent member!

Contact:
Teresa Bessette tetontess@hotmail.com 969-3477
Linda Buckingham buckingham.dbresnan.net 248-4735

Asparagus Recipes

GRILLED ASPARAGUS SANDWICH
Place cooked asparagus spears on a slice of whole wheat bread covered with mayonnaise or miracle whip. Add a dash of lemon juice, paprika, fresh dill or basil, and tomato slices. Grill open or add a second slice of bread.
Submitted by Sheri Kisch
ROASTED OR GRILLED ASPARAGUS
Spread prepared, raw asparagus on a cookie sheet, drizzle with a good olive oil, give the pan a shake to coat all the spears, top with a little fresh-ground sea salt and put in a 450F oven. Shake the pan a few times while cooking to keep from sticking. Cook 10-15 minutes till tender, but before it turns black.
I do a similar one but with balsamic vinegar too and a dusting of parmigiana Reggiano at the end. Yum! I do the olive oil and add chopped garlic. I especially love it done on the grill….
More good cooking from Kristine Glenn, Temia Keel & Ann McKean

 

Calendar Items for Spring

APRIL 13 ~BLGS LIBRARY~ FAMILY MYSTERY NIGHT 6:30 PM

APRIL 28 ~ GREAT AMERICAN CLEANUP DAY ~ 36 N 23rd, Billings ~ 9 AM

MAY 1 ~ ARBOR DAY ~ LAUREL, MURRY PARK ~ 10:30 – 3

MAY 3 ~ ARBOR DAY ~ BILLINGS OPTIMIST PARK ~ 7:30 – 1

MAY 5 ~ GREAT AMERICAN CLEANUP DAY ~ 707 W 3RD, LAUREL

May 8 ~ BLGS LIBRARY ~ BEE TALK ~ 3:30 – 5:00

MAY 19 ~ GERANIUM FEST ~ ZOO MONTANA ~ 10 – 4

Hunting Asparagus in the Wild

Asparagus is easier to spot in late summer when its tall ferny stalks turn a brilliant canary yellow. However, asparagus can be very hard to spot in the spring when the young shoots start popping out of the ground and I find that those lucky enough to have found a patch are very reluctant to divulge the exact location. From what I have been able to gather the best place to look for asparagus in our area is in sunny moist areas along the river, on irrigation ditch banks, on road sides and at the edges of farm fields. If wild asparagusyou are lucky enough to find asparagus to harvest, it is best to cut the spears at ground level and to leave a few stalks so the plant will remain healthy and spread a few seeds. It is also interesting that the asparagus plants we find in the wild are not native plants but are cultivars that have escaped from peoples’ gardens. Another tip that I found online was that the best time to search for asparagus spears was in coordination with the time lilacs bloom.

By Elaine Allard

~ JUST WAITING ~ Picking Asparagus

After what seems like a very long winter, I get that anxious feeling waiting for tender green asparagus tips to peek through warm, dark soil. The garden is quiet except for the rhubarb trying to unfold and the asparagus pushing .

How many times have you thought of growing asparagus and put it off? You could be picking it already, but you thought a 3 year wait was too long. Considering that the plant can live for 25 years with little assistance and that you have already put it off 2 years, maybe not.

Asparagus can be started by seed or by root. It is dioecious, that is plants carry reproductive parts of the male and female. In the 80’s all male (Jersey) varieties were introduced to dominate the female (Washington) varieties. Female plants spend part of their season producing fruit (red berries) whereas male plants produce larger, longer, and bigger yields. Sources differ on which gender produces the larger and most spears.

Asparagus beds can last for decades with no need for tedious transplanting. All they need is a well prepared bed (think 25 years, 5-6 feet deep and almost as wide), full sun, well-drained soil, and a soil test for NPK nutrients and PH (as close to neutral 7 is best).

You can plant asparagus in the garden, raised beds or flower beds as long as they are not shaded. Actually, in the garden they can be used to shade some of the shade lovers like lettuce. Keep weeds at bay and pull those dandelions when small. Remember half of your asparagus supply is below the surface. In the spring rake off any leaves and debris.

Be aware that an asparagus spotted beetle has a reddish body with dark spots. The common asparagus beetle has a dull, blue-black body with six orange-yellow spots. asparagus beetle 1Both larvae are a white caterpillar about ½ inch long. Long black eggs are laid in a row. Both adult and larvae feed on developed plantsasparagus beetle 2 and can cause crooked shoots. Remove leaves and weeds from around the bed to keep hibernating spots to a minimum. Beetles can be hand-picked early in the morning when it is tooasparagus beetle eggs cool to fly.

Harvest [asparagus] by cutting or snapping spears when 5-10”tall, cutting at ground level or before the heads start to open. Take care not to injure buds below. Spears can grow 10” in a day in an ideal crown. The first picking season, usually season two, pick only a few. The second year pick for about 4 weeks, the third year about 6 weeks and after that time you can pick for about 8 weeks. There is no real limit to the number of spears cut. It depends on the health of the plant. Be aware of space, moisture, and nutrients. After the cutting season, mulch with non-acidic materials.

In the fall, leave all the foliage (like bulbs they need the foliage to feed the roots) until it has dried to soil level, then CUT off and put down the second fertilizer of 10-10-10. Your soil sample will determine if you need bone meal, wood ash, green sand, cotton seed meal, rock phosphate or dolomite lime.

Are you ready to try growing asparagus? Or will you wait again?

For more information- https://bonnieplants.com/growing/growing-asparagus/
https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/growing-asparagus/7343.html
http://labs.russell.wisc.edu/vegento/pests/asparagus-beetle/

Submitted by Sheri Kisch