When you imagine farm animals, you probably don’t think about Lumbricus terrestris. The European nightcrawler may not get much play in “Old McDonald,” but worms and the castings they produce are a boon for any farmer. Davey Hutchison grows a lot of things. One of them is worms.
Vermiculture, or worm farming, has been around for centuries. Basically, it uses worms to “convert animal waste, food scraps, and other dead organic matter into a nutrient rich fertilizer,” aka worm poop. (For a delightful history of poop in agriculture, check out this Modern Farmer post.) Vermiculture creates three products, all of which Hutchison sells: the worms themselves, which can be used for fishing or organic gardening, the worms’ manure, or castings, and worm eggs. Castings are commonly used as a natural organic fertilizer.
Hutchison is a former professional fisherman, as well as and a landscaper and gardener, so he knew his way around a worm before starting Appalachian Mountain Crawlers four years ago in a shed behind his house in Suches, a small town nestled in the North Georgia mountains.
He started with 2,300 worms–enough to fill a single bucket — and now he’s got over 300,000 producing 2 cubic yards of castings a week. (For scale: That’s 400 gallons of castings a week.) Hutchison feeds the worms a seven-grain mix of organic feed and powdered calf milk, and it takes them six weeks in sphagnum peat moss to grow big enough for him to process them in an enormous harvester machine that separates the worms from their castings. Appalachian Mountain Crawlers castings are OMRI certified
Right now you can buy Appalachian Mountain Crawler castings online, as well as the Union County Farmers Market and several licensed dealers across the Southeast. And he’s looking into selling the potting soil mix he’s come up with for his own garden. “I know the stuff works because I’ve been using it myself,” he said on a recent afternoon as he looked over his crop of corn, tomatoes, and peppers. “Everything I’ve done in life relates to gardening, growing, or fishing.”
Davey Hutchison’s recipe for worm tea
Mix one part castings to three parts water, then let sit for at least 24 hours and preferably 48. “When making casting tea, the brew needs to be stirred as often as possible just to keep things in there moving around,” Hutchison says.
Filter out the castings. (Which you can use to amend soil in your garden—unlike, say, blood meal, castings won’t burn your plants!) Use the brew to water your garden or spray on your plants.