Allergic to Chemical Fertilizers - The Woodwards

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How I Started Worming‌

My husband and I recently retired. My husband has lots of hobbies but I was worried I wouldn't have enough so I continued flexible part time work, thinking we could travel.

We live on what used to be a tobacco farm that now a neighbor grows corn, wheat and soybean on. It's nice here. When inflation started, and all that went with that, we became aware of concerns about world wide food as well as fertilizer shortages.

I wanted to contribute in some way, even though I have never successfully grown anything. I got some grow bags and a portable greenhouse (primarily to help keep all of the predators out). I listened to some friends who were successful gardeners, and bought some over the counter fertilizers which I quickly learned I could not use.

I should mention here that I have had sulfite allergies since my 20's, but my body really fell apart when I got bit by a black widow while camping in 2006. Within a couple of months I developed anaphylactic reactions to fish, aspirin products, sulfa drugs, peanuts, garbanzo beans along with severe allergic reactions to gluten and red dye. However, my asthma that required inhalers, nasal spray and allergy meds went away until a few months ago when I used the organic and non-organic fertilizer in the cheap hooped greenhouse. By that night I was covered with hives, with asthma, that lasted three full days, even with Benadryl.

Not wanting to waste the fertilizers, I tried them again on fully outdoor plants, but the hives, from head to toe and asthma, returned. Knowing my predisposition to developing anaphylactic reactions I gave the fertilizers away, but didn't know what to do since I had already killed some plants using manure. Then my new daughter in law's mother told me about worm castings and maybe I should look into that.

Captain Matt's YouTube channel was one of the first ones I found. He was encouraging and even though I seem to kill everything except cats, dogs and people, I thought I would try worms.

They came in the mail and I was grossed out -I still wear gloves to touch them. We kept them in the bathroom to keep a close eye on them. Within the first few weeks, I overfed, overwatered and created an anaerobic stinky situation that required emergency bedding change - but I was able to get some castings from the 1500 or so red wigglers.

This timing was excellent because my tomatoes and squash, initially so promising, had so many worms that only a few leaves were left. I put castings near the roots and started applying worm tea every other day. The squash was hopeless but to my astonishment the tomatoes came back fully. In fact I just got the last 10 tomatoes in November before a frost.

Trying to get as much experience as possible and feeling hopeful with the worm castings, I planted a winter garden of spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, radishes, onions, garlic and lettuce. I did mess up again, planting the huge plants too close together but with the worm castings, everything is growing! I hope you can see that in the photo (at the top) that even though my plants are way overcrowded and I am only using worm tea and castings they are flourishing! Best of all, I am having no allergic reactions!

All this to say, I discovered worms and their products from an allergic reaction to over the counter fertilizers, but it is the amazement of what worm poop does that has fueled my curiosity about how to best raise worms now.

Personal Goals

At first I thought the worms would only be for our own use, but I have given castings to some friends to make worm tea and they are surprised by their results too. I like Captain Matt's philosophy about being a resource for our local community and this has me thinking as our worm population continues to grow. I think by spring we should have enough for ourselves as well as several friends and family. If all goes really well, maybe we will be able to sell or trade some because if worm castings or tea can help me, then anyone should be able to have a successful garden.

Biggest Lesson Learned

There is a difference between watching a you tube video and actually taking care of worms. I had to get over a fear, that I was not expecting, of touching them. The first time I saw some mating, I thought we had bred mutants.

As far as work, separating the worms and cocoons from the castings has been nothing short of intense manual labor and endurance. I haven't gotten the moisture to a point that it goes through the progressively smaller grates well. It clumps and we end up hand picking out cocoons and very small worms. We go through the bins a few times to make sure we save as many as we can. This system has to be improved upon. But I'm not sure what to do because the environment appears to be great for worm mating and cocoons but it's way too wet to separate worms, especially the small ones and cocoons from the castings.

I Wish I Knew Earlier

I wish I had known about worms earlier - 20 or 30 years earlier! I feel funny saying this because I know people do this for a business, but I just love them! I don't like to touch the big ones that much, but I find them fascinating. Especially knowing that with worm castings, growing food is actually possible for someone as garden challenged as I have been! Also, it is good to share with people. Just by talking about the worms, we had several used shelving units gifted to us. We also are grinding up the dry leaves for future bedding. Although we started with pre- packaged bedding, it is too expensive for us at this point especially when I see that we have ample resources all around us that I didn't recognize when we first started.

My Worm People Wish

I hope that the worm products help people who find it necessary to supplement their food needs with their own garden to be successful. In addition, limiting exposure from potential fertilizer allergic issues for infants, children and other people like myself is a huge bonus. We will see what doors open in the spring. For now, we are trying to figure out a continuous flow method that would work for us. Here's a photo of my husband with our shelving unit and latest castings.