Worm Dirt: Taking topsoil to the next level

Worm dirt from the 1000 Islands Bait Store in Alexandria Bay, N.Y.
Using Better Farm's no-till, no-weed method of gardening means piling cardboard, dead leaves, compost, and fresh soil on top of each other in our raised beds and gardens. This technique yields an intimidating harvest of huge veggies and fruits that feed us (and visitors to our farm stand and the Redwood Farmers Market) all summer and fall. As important a presence as any of those ingredients, however, is the worm.

Worms are more than fish bait! They  help water flow through soil, break down organic matter into plant food, and excrete castings that are like fertilizers on steroids. They turn soil over better than any rototiller and are one of the coolest organisms around. Worm- and castings-rich soil is considered "Black Gold" among green thumbs and compost enthusiasts.

You can buy worm castings online or at specialty gardening stores, or you can do like us a pay your local bait shop a visit. The stuff you get from bait stores is a little rougher around the edges (you can see chunks of cornmeal in the dirt, for example), but it's also cheaper and local. Weigh your options!

The 1000 Islands Bait Store in Alexandria Bay, N.Y., sells nice-size bags of worm dirt for $3.50/bag, which is slightly cheaper than what you'd pay for a bag of soil that's not chock-full of awesome little worms. It took about four bags to fill each of the raised herb beds at the farm. The rest will be sprinkled in and around our seedlings when we transplant them outside.
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.