WILTON — Spruce Mountain Middle School students toured Earth Keeper Castings on Wednesday morning to learn about worm composting.

The students are involved with the school’s For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Lego League program. The after-school activity uses robots, research and creative thinking to address a problem and develop innovative ways of resolving it.

Students will participate in the 2015 TRASH TREK Challenge. The school will be one of three hosting qualifiers at the state level.

Participating teams identify a problem with the way trash is generated or handled and design an innovative solution, which is shared with the other teams. 

The students toured the Jay Transfer Station before arriving at the worm farm. Teacher and Lego League adviser Rob Taylor said the students are still figuring out what their projects will be. The tours were arranged to give the students a clearer picture of the scope of trash locally and current methods to reduce or recycle it.

John and Corey Black, owners of Rocky Hill Landscaping, got into the worm business after learning a year and a half ago that the country had a worm-castings shortage. John visited worm farms out West and learned to speed up the process.

He has adapted equipment to reduce labor and streamline operations. He raises his worms in large boxes rather than plastic pails. He has developed a mechanized screening process that separates worms and larger debris from the egg casings while leaving the worm castings (manure) in a third location.

The Blacks started Earth Keeper Castings a year ago with 50,000 red wiggler worms.

“Each week, the numbers grow exponentially,” John Black said.

Today, he has about 750,000 worms.

A 50/50 mixture of shellfish compost, peat moss and a gallon of worm grain is fed to the worms. Each box holds 8,000 to 10,000 worms and three-quarters of a yard of feed. The worms need two weeks to turn that feed into castings.

When a still-active load of shellfish compost was delivered, it resulted in higher temperatures that the worms didn’t like. To prevent this from happening again, Black places two upright plastic pipes in each worm box. Holes in the pipes allow cooler air to get into the food.

Worms start producing eggs at 12 to 14 weeks. Younger worms produce two worms per egg while older ones have up to eight worms per egg. 

Black uses an African strain because “they eat faster and have a better casting,” he said.

These worms are a bit smaller and won’t take cold temperatures. They become lethargic under 60 degrees and die at 50 degrees.

John Black built a large, insulated room to keep the temperature at 74 degrees in winter. A smaller room kept at 80 degrees is ideal for hatching the eggs.

“We weigh a few worms from each box and estimate based on that,” he said. “We try to put 8,000 to 9,000 worms in each new box.” 

The worms will stay productive for two years. He keeps some older worms to produce castings and sells some for bait. 

Earth Keeper Castings sells reusable grain bags filled with worm castings. Each bag holds one cubic foot and weighs 42 pounds.

Black said he will soon sell his product in totes that hold 1.5 cubic yards. Eventually, he wants to sell the castings by bulk only.

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