“You don’t remember the Civil War battle of Moose Hill?” is Bill Clark’s incredulous comeback whenever folks ask why he calls his worm farm Moose Hill. He lets them squirm, then congratulates them: “Good. Because there wasn’t one!”
Lured to his farmers market booth by its eyebrow-raising slogan: “Got Worm Poop?” they quickly realize that along with retailing worm castings, this guy loves to shoot the you-know-what.
A retired air traffic controller, Clark explains how simple it is to use castings to enrich plant life and shares that when one of his daughters was a strapping high school athlete, teammates nicknamed her Moose. He and his wife became Papa and Mama Moose, so the family’s seven-acre homestead in Gloucester’s rolling countryside is, naturally, Moose Hill.
He’s harvested castings there since 2013 after scrapping his initial plan of raising alpacas. “Worms won’t generate vet bills and need a smaller fence,” he says with a grin.
Rows of three-gallon buckets, each containing 250 worms, line one wall of his 650-square-foot barn. The temperature hovers in the low 70s. “They can’t tolerate cold,” Clark says of what he affectionately calls his “labor.”
For their feed, he fluffs leaf compost with an organic grain mix he grinds himself. “They go at it,” he beams. “They eat a lot, and they’re good producers.” They work 24/7 and, to date, have no plans to unionize.
He dumps the buckets onto the top tier of a shaker table, resembling a double-decker sliding board. As the contents roll downhill, the wee castings fall through a mesh screen to the lower level, netting about nine pounds of castings per bucket every couple weeks.
He originally bought worms but started raising his own—African Nightcrawlers—during the pandemic when supply grew scarce due to more people going fishing. (Presciently, as a kid in Colorado, he preferred hunting bait worms over catching fish.) The crawlers are large enough that they don’t fall through the processing equipment. They’re out of their “home” for only about a minute, he says.
He bags the castings—doppelgängers for coarse-ground coffee—in 5, 13 and 25-pound bags to sell at the farmers markets in Williamsburg on Saturdays and Stafford on Sundays. He pops up occasionally at area festivals and garden club speaking gigs, too. As his shamrock-green T-shirt proclaims: “This guy knows his S#!T.”
The Scoop on Poop
Vermicast is the Latin-derived term for worm castings, and castings is a more florid way of saying poop (so-called because excrement is cast out). Gardeners deem it black gold for its powerful positive impact on plants and soil. “It’s the top-of-the-line of compost,” says Bill Clark, who embraces the title “poopmeister” at Moose Hill Worm Farm in Gloucester. His clientele encompasses farmers to owners of one philodendron.
Just Doo-Doo It
Sure, worms have no backbone, but their excrement is extremely strong.“It’s like giving your plant a multivitamin,” says Clark. Top 10 reasons to use worm waste:
- Rich in iron, sulfur, calcium, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium
- Nutrients released over time
- Moisture-retaining, so no need to water as often
- No burn; you can’t “over-doo” it
- Odorless (yes, really)
- Improves soil aeration and drainage
- Protects from some diseases and pests
- Loaded with beneficial bacteria and fungi, supporting the soil food web
- Greater flower size and yields, improved taste and appearance in fruits and vegetables
Casting About: Where, When, How to Use Castings
Vermicast is versatile. “Almost any kind of plant can benefit from it,” says Clark.
Potting Mixes/Seed Flats: Mix 1 part worm castings to 3 parts potting mix.
Flower Beds, Shrubs, Roses, Vegetables: Top dress with 1 to 3 inches of worm castings and incorporate into the soil with a fork or spade.
House Plants: Spread ½ to 1 inch of castings around established plants and scratch into the soil, every 1 to 3 months.
New Lawns: Apply 10 pounds to 100 square feet. Work lightly into the topsoil.
Established Lawns and Greens: Top dress at 4 pounds to 100 square feet.
Perennials: Top dress 1 to 3 inches in spring, early summer and fall.
All Plants and Vegetables: Apply every 30 days.
New Plants in Pots: Mix 10% worm castings with any potting soil, add a layer on top before planting.
Plants Already in Pots: Scratch the top of the soil. Add ½ inch layer of worm castings on top and water thoroughly.
Worm Tea: Made from castings to improve nutrient absorption, soak 1 part worm castings in 3 parts of water for 24 hours or more, mixing several times. Apply one 8-ounce cup of tea per plant every 30 days or add 4 ounces of tea to 1 gallon of water for use as a foliar spray. Apply every 30-60 days.
Source: University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Cooperative Extension Master Gardner Program, Fresno County
Learn more about Moose Hill Worm Farm at MooseHillWormFarm.com.