Chilliwack’s wonderful world of worm composting

The seventh annual Greendale Country Sampler is spotlighting 14 home-grown farms and businesses on Saturday, Aug. 25 from 10-5.

Robert Crofton-Sleigh

Robert Crofton-Sleigh

For kids, worms are fascinating. For teenage girls, they’re disgusting. For Robert and Sue Crofton-Sleigh, they’re a livelihood.

Sixty feet of the Crofton-Sleigh’s two-acre, Greendale property is designated solely for worm breeding, a continuously regenerating crop that has anywhere from 50,000 to one million red wigglers circulating in the soil.

The owners of Earthworks Composting Supplies, one of 14 businesses featured in this Saturday’s Greendale Sampler, breed and sell worms for composting systems.

“Four years ago, I wouldn’t dare put my hands in a bin of worms,” laughed Robert. “But now, I’m sticking my hands into rotting fruits and vegetables all the time.”

Robert’s life changed four years ago when he was first introduced to worm composting.

The former long-distance truck driver was stuck in Kelowna waiting for a new load to come through when he got a call from dispatch requesting he transport a shipment of worm castings – also known as worm poop – to Oregon. Not surprising, his first reaction was one of disgust. But when you’re a self-employed truck driver, you don’t say no to a load.

Not even when it’s worms.

However, when Robert arrived at the worm farm, it wasn’t at all what he had expected.

“They were clean, beautiful, lovely, easy to load,” he said. “It was an overall fascinating experience.”

And that’s when the worm wheels started turning.

Robert and Sue began researching worm composting, the advantages, benefits, how it was better than other composting systems, and how they could make it viable on their small acreage.

One year later, Robert traded in his big wheels for squishy, squirmy red wigglers. He developed a 60-foot windrow, consisting of layered organic waste, shredded paper, cardboard, coffee grounds and horse manure for the worms to feed and breed “in an environment they love.” And he transformed his garage into a mecca of worm composting habitats.

But why? What’s so great about these worms and their composting abilities?

Several things, said Robert.

Worms are more efficient at breaking down organic wastes, eating their own weight in food every 24 hours, which means rotting fruits and vegetables, paper products, coffee grounds and tea bags can be turned into the “most wonderful castings” in just three months. Whereas other composts typically take up to two years before wastes are fully broken down.

Worm poop is also considered the most nutrient-rich soil containing high rates of nitrogen, phosphates, potash, beneficial bacteria and enzymes that “plants and vegetables thrive on,” said Robert.

It’s also perfect for the environment.

According to the Recycling Council of British Columbia, over 600 kilograms of waste is generated a year per person – 40 per cent of which could be composted. In landfills, rotting food waste is toxic, directly contributing to global warming by producing methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 21 times more potent than vehicle exhaust.

“We’ve always been good recyclers,” said Sue. “This is just another little something to help our planet.”

The seventh annual Greendale Sampler, an event that gives the community a behind-the-scenes look into the unique home-based businesses and farms located in the Greendale region, is on Saturday, Aug. 25 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Other businesses featured include Chilliwack’s Original Corn Maze, Greendale Herb and Vine, Sylvie’s Light Sculptures, 5-Acre Ranch, Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve, Greendale Pottery and Country Guest House, Rustic Soap Co., Redeemer’s Garden, Bromilee Variety Produce and Flowers, Smits and Co.w Farm Cheese, Hamel’s Fabrics, Chilliwack River Valley Natural Honey, and Anita’s Organic Grain and Flour Mill.

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