March 2014 Volume 1, Issue 3

Seed Ball News

Our Worm Inn - MEGA

Workshop Upgrades

We upgraded our worm-composting habitat to a beautiful Worm Inn – MEGA by  The new system looks fabulous (we all know that’s important to worms, right?), will produce more compost more quickly, and has done a great job maintain a healthy moisture level for the worms.
Check out The Worm Inn - MEGA
$15 bucks off with code:

Inspector Möbius approves: our cement-mixer tumbled seed balls are round and smell like compost.
Another addition to our workshop is our modified cement mixer, which we are using to tumble seed balls. Granted ½ hp is overkill for seed balls, but it seems to be a great tool for the job - we made over 9,000 seed balls in February, including those for over an acre prairie restoration in Texas. This has been a big help on the larger jobs, and has enabled us to offer “Bomber Packs” of seed balls at a bulk price directly through our website. Bomber Packs

Herb and Vegetable Seed Balls

We added a variety of herb and vegetable seed balls. These are intended to make gardening a little easier and  less intimidating for the young and the ‘green curious’ as well as for the urban forager. If you already have big red tomatoes, and zukes and cukes to give away, keep on keepin’ on! Our Herbs & Veggies

KLUTCHclub distribution

Klutchclub is a distributor of health and wellness subscription boxes. If you haven't heard of subscription boxes, neither had I... was invited to participate in their April Box distribution! 3000 California poppy seed seed balls will be mailed all over the lower 48 by KLUTCHclub in April. I sure wanted to distribute milkweed seed balls for the monarchs, but April is beyond the window of time for successful milkweed sowing.

Flash Fiction Contest: Call for Entries

Seed Ball Fiction ContestEarth Day Flash Fiction entries are due the end of the month. There is no entry fee. We have entries from Hawaii and Egypt, and many places in between. I'd really like to see more youth entries, so have your kiddos write a short short story!

Submit your best ecologically-minded 365 (or less) words and win some seed balls!Flash Fiction Contest

Worm Master
Bentley Christie

Bentley and some zucchinis appreciating the benefits of vermicompost.
Bentley Christie is the Nikola Tesla of vermicomposting.  Wild innovation, the optimism of a visionary, and with the earthy drive to share with people: never since Mary Applehof has anyone promoted composting worms so enthusiastically, so passionately, and reached such a diverse audience.  Bentley is a Canadian worm farmer and eco-entrepreneur, an irresistible force of nature.

Red Wiggler Worms are great for most vermicompost systems

In a nutshell: what is vermicomposting?
Bentley: Vermicomposting is composting involving the joint action of earthworms and microorganisms. It requires specialized species of worms adapted for life in habitats that are rich in organic matter - not your typical "garden varieties".
How did you grow so passionate about vermicomposting?

Bentley's Creepy-Pants Vermicomposter offered the conceptual foundation for the Worm Inn
Bentley: It all started with a worm bin! lol  
I was working at an environmental consulting firm at the time (this would have been early in 2000 - amazing how time flies!), and I caught wind of the fact that a co-worker had a bin full of worms sitting under her desk. Being the bio-geek that I was (my job at the firm actually involved ID-ing aquatic invertebrates), I knew that I had to see this thing for myself.

I can still remember looking in and seeing loads of rich - albeit rather dry - compost, and this sad little crowd of Red Worms huddled underneath an apple core. I was totally blown away with the idea that these worms could turn that apple core (along with all manner of other food wastes) into "black gold"! It was definitely a defining moment for me.

Of course, I didn't have a concept of proper worm bin maintenance at the time, so the state of the bin didn't phase me at all. If I could go back now, and offer my co-worker some advice, I'd definitely suggest a bin overhaul! lol

Anyway - long, story short, when my co-worker saw my eyes bug out and my jaw hit the ground in amazement, she insisted that I take a bucket of worm-rich material home with me (guess there must have been a lot more worms down in the bottom of the bin - it's all a blur now) so I could start my own system.

The rest, as they say, is history!

[ASIDE: It just so happens that I crossed paths with that same co-worker a few years ago, and when she learned how far I had taken my vermicomposting passion - and how she had played a key role in that - she was absolutely thrilled!]

Worm farming is still fairly unusual. Please tell us about an adventure (or misadventure) that you had while navigating this relatively under-explored territory.

Bentley's DIY VermBin offers some of the advantages of large-scale flow-through systems.
Check out Bentley's VermBin Plans
$7 bucks off with code:

Bentley: Well, the whole thing has been a fun adventure - that's for sure - but if we're going to be specific, it's usually misadventures that come to mind more quickly! PLENTY of those to chose from. lol

One that's a real stand out came very early on in my vermicomposting "adventure" - not too long after taking that first batch of worms home with me (mentioned in my last response). I had recently started up my first "official" worm bin, and needless to say I was a wee bit "wet behind the ears".

The bin could definitely be considered "small", even by home vermicomposting standards - likely 3-5 gal volume - yet for some reason I got it into my head that it would be ok to add nearly a pot-full of cooked rice as food for my worms.

I quickly discovered that one should NEVER add almost-a-pot-full of cooked rice to a small enclosed, plastic worm bin! lol The rice first heated up, before congealing and forming a big glob of goop. Next came the anaerobic (sake brewing?) phase, which resulted in some rather pungent fermentation odors coming from the bin, and general ecological mayhem taking place inside.

Interestingly enough, it seems that white worms (aka "pot worms") are rather fond of starchy, anaerobic sludge - and I literally ended up with undulating masses of the things oozing out from the air holes (so you can imagine how many were coating the inner surfaces of the bin)!

Amazingly enough, I somehow didn't kill off all my Red Worms - so I was able to continue on my way (lessons thankfully learned).

This experience helps to explain why I've tended to be a tad overzealous with my recommendations on exercising caution with starchy food wastes over the years! lol

What is your vision for composting worms in an ideal society?

Bentley and his junior vermicomposter
Bentley: As cool as I think vermicomposting is (and yes, I'm a wee bit biased),what gets me most excited is its potential as a key component of much larger, integrated systems. Quite a few years ago now, I remember coming across a video online that just completely blew my mind. It featured a large-scale "living machine" project set up by Dr. John Todd in Vermont.

Brewery wastes were sterilized and used to grow oyster mushrooms. The spent growing medium was then fed to Red Worms, which in turn were fed to yellow perch in an aquaponics system. This supported the growth of all manner of different plants and even freshwater shrimp. I can't remember what happened to the vermicompost - but I'm sure it wouldn't be challenging to find a use for it (seed balls?! lol).

I think that the more we can mimic natural systems, and the more we can integrate these systems into our every day lives (imagine a set up similar to what I described operating in an office building, for example), the greater our chances of getting things back on track with creating a sustainable future. I think it's pretty clear that we're not all just going to hop off the grid and start homesteading (I'd love to do that - haha - but it's not realistic to expect the vast majority of people to head in that direction, in my humble opinion).


As a Compost Ambassador, Bentley has built numerous websites with an encyclopedia of practical advice for composting and vermicomposting. If you have searched about composting online, you have, no doubt, run into one of his many outreach websites.

Plant of the Month
Lewis Flax

Linum lewisii

Lewis Flax
Lewis Flax, named for the explorer, Captain Meriwether Lewis, is an annual or short-lived perennial that is widely distributed throughout the American West.  It begins blooming in May or June and continues for 6 weeks.  1”-2” simple blue flowers are profuse. It grows in dry areas and has tough evergreen leaves. Plants reach about 18”. The high moisture content give the plant some resilience against fire, which commonly spreads along the grasslands in the drier parts of the American West.
The plant seed many uses, from treating mild stomach issues, to helping skin and – anecdotally – preventing hair loss.  Extracts of the seed, which is develops a certain sliminess when wet,  have been used to treat sore throats and tonsillitis. The tough fibers can be used in ropes, basketry, and papermaking. The fibrous roots are excellent for slope stabilization. Oils from the seed have uses and characteristics similar to linseed oil.  It is excellent forage, offering substance year round.
Early spring is an excellent time to sow Lewis Flax.  Our Lewis Flax Seed Balls

Animal of the Month
The Giant Palouse Earthworm

Driloleirus americanus

Characteristic landscape of the Palouse, where, reportedly, the Giant Palouse Earthworm once burrowed.
In 2001, I was a graduate student in Soil Science at Washington State (Pullman, WA). Every time we ventured out into the deep fine-grained hills of the Palouse region, the legend of the Giant Palouse Earthworm was with us. Accounts claimed that an earthworm, as wide as your thumb and a yard long, had once been common here. It was white, albino in appearance, and effused the scent of lilies. It spent the dry season yards deep in the earth, but would come to forage the organic riches of the top layers of soil when the cool-seasons’ rains arrived. But alas, we learned, the worm was no more.  As grasslands, the loess soil was easily converted to farming. Ploughs cut off the worms' channels to the surface and eradicated the large, unusual, and beneficial worm.
Although to me, these stories smacked as a bit of a snipe hunt for gullible graduate students, I liked to hold onto the fancy that somewhere, on the edge of a field, maybe on the foot slope of a solitary butte, a small but thriving colony of these invertebrate wonders was waiting for the right time to emerge.
In the decades since the conversion of the region to agriculture, Soil Science at Washington State and University and its nearby sister, University of Idaho in Moscow, ID, has taken great strides to make agriculture in the region more ecologically sound, studying sustainable no-till practices, and learning about how the earlier native systems had once functioned.  No-till agriculture methods are being developed to increase the productivity and soil health of this unique region and graduate students spend their time examining those rare undisturbed sections of native soils in cemeteries and forest edges.  Perhaps, I thought there was hope for that undiscovered cloister of lily-scented giants.
It was one of these graduate students, Yaniria Sanches-de Leon of the University of Idaho, who in 2005 discovered that the worm was not, in fact, extinct.  Since, there have been a few more specimens found in the region at the Washington-Idaho border.  So far, the specimens have been somewhat smaller than historical accounts. (Speculation: perhaps this is a function of forced natural selection, as smaller worms survived the plough, or simply that the worms they found are not full grown. Worms can live over 5 years.) Neither have they smelled of lilies. (Speculation: perhaps in larger reproducing populations, they have a more sensual aroma... a romantic sentiment, no?)
Although the US Endangered Species Act withholds ‘endangered’ status from the worm because of the lack of scientific data on its numbers and distribution, the World Conservation Union considers it “vulnerable.” People in the Palouse are certainly on the look out for this legendary worm. The improved and less disruptive agricultural techniques that are now encouraged may be more suitable for those pale cloistered giants of the Palouse. The Giant Palouse EarthwormA living specimen of the Giant Palouse Earthworm.

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Once upon a time, we lived in towering piles of our own excrement. Rotting food rained from above, and we were protected from predators by the mighty bin walls. As glorious as that may sound, there were dark moments, moments when treachery lurked among the castings...

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