Updated: Mar 24, 2020
Hello vermicomposters! First off, for those of you that are participating in the grant I can’t thank you enough. A big reason this grant was chosen for funding was because of the sheer number of people who agreed to participate. Also, I’d like to give a quick thanks to Rhonda Sherman and the NC Vermicomposting Conference and Kathy Doesken, owner of Rocky Mountain Soil Stewardship and Co-PI of the project, who introduced me to this community and WSARE. Without you guys and your exuberance for vermicomposting and sustainable agriculture this project would not have been possible.
For this first post I mainly just wanted to revisit some of the goals and ideas of the project, explain the purpose of this blog, and talk about what's coming next.
The goals of this project:
Develop a baseline microbial community analysis (or “über microbiome” according to Dan from Michigan Soilworks) of vermicomposts and teas from producers across the nation
Help the vermicompost community better understand and quantify diversity and the broader microbial ecology of their products in order to improve and increase adoption of their products
Increase public knowledge of the importance of using vermicomposts/teas to increase soil health.
How are we going to do this?
1. Baseline Vermicompost Microbial Community
By collecting samples from vermicompost and tea producers of different scales, feed stocks, and methodologies we are trying get as big of a diversity of producers as possible. These samples will have their microbial community sequenced to identify “who” is there as well as have a more traditional compost analysis performed. Each producer will also fill out a comprehensive confidential questionnaire about their operation and specific batch of vermicompost. This will allow us to do a comparative analysis to try and see which factors have the largest impact on microbial community variability. We can also compare vermicompost communities to those of big box compost or agricultural soil.
2. Diversity and Microbial Ecology
Microbial diversity and ecology are complex topics that I want to explore with you all. I hope to address diversity from both the traditional ecological standpoint and specifically how it relates to vermicompost and soil communities (stay tuned for more on this soon!). I have a lot to learn about vermicompost and soil communities, so hopefully we can walk through some more relatable scientific articles and learn together. I also help everyone have a basic understanding of DNA sequencing and some of its pitfalls and limitations. While sequencing has dramatically increased our understanding of the living world, it’s no silver bullet.
3. Increase public knowledge
While I hope this blog will be a reference to people to find knowledge on this topic, I am going to mainly rely on all of you to help spread the word. So many vermicomposters seem to have many great interactions with the general public while providing a valuable service. After we have some conclusions from the data, Kathy Doesken will be leading the effort to develop education and outreach materials to provide to you all. The results will also be published in a peer reviewed journal not only to add to the scientific community but also to validate the results.
The main purpose of this blog is to communicate with you all (quick thank to Steve Churchill of the Urban Worm Company for his tips on blog writing and communicating). My hope is that by time we meet at the next NC State Conference you all will have a better understanding of DNA sequencing, microbial ecology, and academic papers. This will be extremely helpful in order to have conversations about the results and what they mean.
I will also be posting project updates because even though we are all spread out over the nation, I would like everyone to feel involved as much as possible. I will try to document each step of the project so you can get a feel for what’s involved in generating and analyzing the data (with more pictures and videos and less text I promise 😊.)
Lastly and most importantly, I would like this to be a space where people can ask questions and perhaps provide further insight or ideas on some of the topics we cover. You all are the soil and vermicompost experts, so while I will try to base most of what I say in scientific literature this is going to be a learning experience for me as well. Please feel free to make an account to comment on posts! If you have a question you want to ask privately or have a discussion, I am also available by
Phone: (650) 837- 6525),
Video chat over zoom.
Kathy Doesken: firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep an eye on your email and if you would like updates about new blog posts please sign up for updates on the homepage! In April, I would like to have a conversation by phone or other means with each of you to go over potential samples you can provide for DNA sequencing and laboratory analysis. If your operation is unique in some way, for instance you also produce teas, start thinking about potential samples you can provide and why they would enhance the study. Unfortunately, it is likely that we will not have the resources to test as many samples as everyone would like, but we will test at least 3 replicates finished vermicompost samples from everyone who is participating in the study!
Below is the start of the proposed grant timeline. Due to the cornavirus outbreak, the sample collection times might change as there is no point in collecting samples if the university laboratories we are collaborating with are closed and we are unable to process them.
Thanks! That's it for now, stay tuned for more shortly!