December 2007

Interview with Jack Chambers – Part II

Time for the second part in our interview with Jack Chambers, of Sonoma Valley Worm Farm. Last time Jack provided us with an interesting look into how he got into the business of worm farming. In today’s installment we’ll learn about the feed stock Jack uses and the steps taken to prepare it for the worms.

If you missed the first part of the interview, you can find it >>here<<

What type of ‘waste’ materials do you feed to your worms? Do you practice ‘pre-composting’?

JC – We feed our worms composted organic dairy manure. I take ‘Big Red’ out to the Strauss Dairy to get my manure. The manure comes off a separator so that the manure is moist. The diary flushes the barns where the cows eat, picking up the manure and also some organic rice hulls. The water, manure and rice hulls flush into a concrete pit, where it is then pumped through a separator that takes out the water, which is then reused to flush the barn. The manure that comes off the separator is at a perfect moisture level to start composting.

We have always used dairy manure for our feed. Worms like it quite a bit. When we transferred our operation over to the continuous flow reactors, we realized we had to pre-compost the manure. If we had added the fresh manure to the beds, it would have heated them up, and killed the worms. So, with the help from my friend Peter Moon, at, I came up with a way to compost the manure before feeding it to the worms. By doing this we achieve three major goals.

First, we are able to get rid of any pathogens in the manure; e-coli specifically and any others that might be there. Second, by heating the manure we kill any weed seeds that might be present. Third, we take out enough heat energy from the manure so that we can add it to the beds after we compost it. This prevents our continuous flow beds from heating up. The trick is to get enough heat energy out, and yet keep enough food value for the worms to eat.

We have three forced air composters. We originally fill the center bin with the fresh material. We let it compost for a week at 140 to 150 F. We then turn that material into a bin next to it and compost it for another week. By doing this we make sure that all the manure is composted and we are killing all the e-coli and weed seeds in the mix. It is a very effective system and as worked well for us for over 5 years now.

At the same time we were coming up with our plan to use the continuous flow reactors, I met Vicki Bess at BBC laboratories in Phoenix AZ. I attended a talk she gave about compost tea, and its uses in vineyards and crop production. I began to consult with her and she stressed the importance of pre-composting our manure. Especially if we were going to use it in compost tea. The pre-composting stage takes out the problem of e-coli. If you are brewing tea, you are magnifying all the microbes in your brew. Thus, if you hadn’t pre-composted the manure, you could be increasing your e-coli counts, along with all the other microbial counts.

Stay tuned for future installments in our Jack Chambers interview series

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