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Home » Farm Women

Joan O’Connor, Vermicomposter, Henniker, NH

By Helen Brody (April 16, 2009)
joanworms3
Joan O’Connor

Demystifying the art of vermicomposting a.k.a. worm composting is Joan O’Connor ‘s mission in life. “As long as you don’t freeze, bake, or drown the red wiggler worms (eisenia fetida), they are the most efficient yet simplest way to turn organic waste into rich garden compost,” she says.

Joan’s past life was that of a beekeeper but between getting stung too many times and craving a simpler and less painful life, she decided in the early 1990s to give up her hives. In 1999 she purchased a 640 square foot one room school house in Henniker, New Hampshire without plumbing. After living without running water and using a composting toilet for four years, she installed running water.

A  strong proponent of recycling as a way to improve and enrich the soil, she began to study the art of vermicomposting. She discovered that the equipment needed for worm composting is very minimal and ideally suited for a business to pursue out of her small living space.

joanswormsA plastic storage bin eight to sixteen inches deep, newspaper, peat moss,  vegetable and fruit scraps (though no citrus please, it is too acidic), egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, and paper towels  seemed to be all that was required – well, not quite all; there’s the matter of worms that eat the scraps to make the rich castings (worm poop) to stir into the soil and the composted material to use as top dressing on gardens. Worms, after all, eat more than their own weight in food every day.

It’s true that in the beginning, her worms ate only a few scraps at a time, but then they multiplied and multiplied and ate larger and larger quantities of food. Finally, her worm crop became so bountiful, and being convinced that she was not the only one who could find a way to put worms to work, Joan began selling them at farmers’ markets, by mail order, and from her house.

But here is the thing about worms; they do not take kindly to chilly weather, so come winter Joan is always on the look out for a 70 degree basement or room to keep her voracious crop munching away in a balmy, in effect a  tropical, resort,  and so she is able to ship year around.

Today, Joan barely keeps up with the demand. No less than Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey have jumped on the bandwagon with an article on the subject. Very few get giggly contemplating her job description now, but such sanguine acceptance did take a little time. “It’s not as weird as it used to be,” Joan assures us, but she remembers when people used to say “Poor Joan she sells worms.”  Still there is little competition for her line of work – at least in New Hampshire. On the other hand, the Canadians are already using worms to devour their municipal waste – an idea Joan surely would subscribe to for her home state of New Hampshire. Joan is more than willing to answer questions from all who are interested in spreading the science of vemicomposting – or buying her worms.

Joan O’Connor
PO Box 387
Henniker, NH 03242
http://www.joansworms.com
(603-428-3530)
Call to get e-mail address or place an order
She is available for lectures and workshops

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