You’ve heard of dog heaven. Well, this is worm heaven.
It’s where worms go to feed on the finest compost. The worms eat and breed, eat and breed, eat and breed and … you get the picture.
Where is worm heaven? On a rural piece of property in Avon, New York, about 30 minutes south of Rochester. There, inside three long, rectangular buildings that each contain three 50-yard-long steel bins filled with cow-composed compost, the worms — about 40 million of them — are going to town.
No, they aren’t being fattened up for fishing bait. But, yes, the worms are doing plenty for modern society by creating a vermicompost to help grow healthier and more abundant crops, in addition to helping golf course superintendents maintain healthier turfgrass.
The worms are the “employees” of Worm Power, an agribusiness founded in 2005. Inside the Worm Power facilities, the worms are producing 100 percent organic castings and worm-worked material that is transformed into a liquid extract to strengthen the chemical, physical and biological aspects of the soil. Worm Power touts that its WP Organic Select Liquid Extract is manufactured by the “the engine of nature.”
Indeed. A recent tour of Worm Power’s complex reveals a manufacturing process that is incredibly simple yet highly complex. And it’s all done according to what the burrowing critters, specifically the red wriggler variety, do naturally.
“We’ve created an ideal environment for worms to live, thrive and breathe,” says Ted Miller, Worm Power’s general manager.
Worm Power was founded by Tom Herlihy, Ph.D., who has more than 20 years of experience in organic waste management. Herlihy said he wanted to make a professional product for professional growers, including golf course superintendents.
The product is produced by harnessing a biological system created from worms living in and working through high-quality feedstock, which consists of dewatered bovine manure and small amounts of silage from a nearby farm. The material is composted in oxygenated bins for a minimum of 40 days at sustained temperatures above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
The compost is then layered on continuous flow beds populated with millions of worms, which consume the material. After the compost works through the worms’ digestive tracts, the finished product consists of a blend of worm castings and worm-worked material that is harvested from the bottom of the bins after six weeks. It is then extracted into liquid.
The product can be applied to golf courses throughout the season. Its uses range from regular bi-weekly applications on greens, tees and fairways to specialized applications during seeding or sod prep to help speed recovery in high-traffic areas.
The key is the trillions of microbes in the worm castings and worm-worked material that, once in the soil, consume nitrogen and excrete a beneficial material for plants to use to help them grow and stay healthy, Miller explains.
“When the microbes hit the soil, they thrive, expand and colonize the soil,” he adds.
Consistency is critical to the process. The product originates on an old dairy farm located next to Worm Power’s facilities where cows are fed the same thing daily, which allows for a uniform manure.
Water is removed from the manure by a screw press before the manure is transported to Worm Power’s facilities. That water, stored in the farm’s two lagoons, is later used to fertilize the farm’s crops.
Miller says Worm Power has been able to research, test and improve the product in trials conducted with Cornell University in nearby Ithaca, New York, thanks to grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Rocky Mount, North Carolina-based AQUAAID Inc. is selling Worm Power.
The product made a believer out of Jeff Corcoran, manager of golf courses and grounds at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, who is distributing the product through his company, FTO Distributors LLC, in a partnership with AQUA-AID.
Corcoran was the first superintendent to test the product on a golf course in 2014. Corcoran saw increased root activity on Oak Hill’s greens shortly after using the product.
“[Worm Power] has been able to engineer a process to allow Mother Nature to do her thing — to formulate this product,” Corcoran says. “The science behind it makes it replicable, verifiable and consistent.”
Besides the beneficial microbes, Worm Power consists of fulvic acid, humic acid, micronutrients and a touch of plant growth hormones.
“It contains a plethora of different things,” Corcoran adds.
Research indicates that Worm Power enhances and increases root mass and depth, and reduces thatch while also increasing waterholding capacity. Research also suggests that Worm Power can increase plant health and help reduce inputs.
What is the catalyst in Worm Power that makes it work? Miller is not afraid to say that he isn’t precisely sure, which is true of other bionutrients.
“We have conducted thousands of hours of research, but we just don’t know exactly,” Miller says. “It’s not just one thing that makes it work.”
Last year, Cornell researchers performed genetic testing on all of the bacterial colonies in Worm Power. Of all the colonies listed on an eight-page spread sheet, 80 percent of them didn’t have names, Miller states.
Worm Power was originally a granular product. After being invited by Herlihy to tour the company’s complex about four years ago, Corcoran suggested to Herlihy that he develop a liquid product to make it more userfriendly and more applicable. It took a few years for Herlihy to hone the extract process.
Corcoran believes more golf courses, partly driven by regulatory matters, will move toward using more organic products with synthetic products.
While Worm Power meets the criteria of being a sustainable product, Miller and Corcoran realize it has to perform, whether on crop fields or golf courses.
“If we can provide a product that provides results and is sustainable at the same time, there is no negative downside to using it,” Corcoran says.