An Interview With The Master Composter and Water-Wise Shelley Grossman
Savaş Gönen: You said on Twitter; “My Life: All About Worms and organic waste reduction using them!” When did you first show interest to the organic waste reduction, worms and vermicompost? And Why? Could you please tell us about your story?
Shelley Grossman: When we moved into this house in 1987 there where 8 to 12 trash cans. I asked the owners why are there somany. They told me that the cans were all needed for their green waste. They were right. I did find a small article in the San Diego newspaper asking if there was interest in a Master Composter class. I called right away and every month until it started, to make sure this happened. The other reason I called was they told me, if there were not at least 20 of use, there would not be a class. After taking it and using the knowledge I had from the class, I ended up with 7 active compost bins going. When I sifted through a screen the finished compost it was loaded with worms. In 1989 I started the buisness of raising and selling them. I also taught the next 5 or 6 classes for the program, along with others whom I graduated with. In one of those classes I met a woman who became my business partner (for 8 years) and co-author of the book and at that time a VHS for sale. Next year will be my 24th year of raising and selling red worms.
Savaş Gönen: In an article, it’s written that “Shelley has 68 worm bins in her backyard in a north facing area behind the garage where she produces worm castings and worms for use in her own garden and for sale. But her real mission is education.” Please tell us some about your education mission. What are you doing on this issue?
Shelley Grossman: When invited to speak at local schools I do. I also speak every year at our county fair. I speak to garden clubs and just about any venue that asks me to. When I had a business partner, we were contracted by a school, which was combining 2 campus locations into one. The grades were K through 12. The goal of this private school, other than the education of it’s students was to never have a waste hauler on campus. We worked with them for 1 year and made that dream a reality, no waste haulers are needed. All wastes are either fed to the worms or composted on site. I spent 2 years perfecting my script, hired a videographer and now have a 53 minute DVD for sale, here at home and on my site. There are 90 worm bins now.
Savaş Gönen: Can you tell us some about the awards you won?
Shelley Grossman: When I had the business partner, we (I) applied for a grant to worm bin all wastes from 3 local elementary schools and 1,355 students. It was a 2 year grant and it came the Greater San Deigo Resource Conservation District. At the end of it, we were invited to a black tie affair, some distance from where we live. I called to decline. They told me we had to go. We went and were awarded the top honors for waste reduction. This meant that we had been judged against municipalities, water districts, all from ajoining counties, etc. We have letters of comendation from our state and national senators and legistlators commending our work.
Savaş Gönen: Now let’s go a little more detail: The first time you start, what matters the most trouble did you have? How did you cope with these problems?
Shelley Grossman: When I started the only problem I encountered was how to reach people with the worm sale information. At first it was word of mouth from a pleased client. I now have my site, I use craigslist. Both work well for me.
Savaş Gönen: Vermiculture is a fairly new field in Turkey. Here in Turkey, there isn’t any school, any department that attached to universities or any special initiatives of individual workshop from the manufacturers to teach people how to become a good producer of vermicompost. What would you recommend for all beginners?
Shelley Grossman: Start small. Think small. Use a plastic sweater box bin or anything you have at home. Worms (red worms) have a microscopic mouth. Let the food breakdown in a covered pail, in the sun for 1 week. Then it is almost all soupy. Soupy food waste equals almost instantly ready worm food. Feed the worms that.
Savaş Gönen: In your opinion, what is the difference between vermicompost and other fertilizers? In order to obtain the highest yield, what needs to be considered in the use of vermicompost?
Shelley Grossman: My opinion is this: vermicompost is a rich, organic soil amendment one that is entirely free of pesticides. For me the highest yeild is from using 1 part of vermicompost to 9 parts of garden soil, well mixed into the soil.
Savaş Gönen: Any purchaser, how can understand the quality of vermicompost and worms at first glance? When buying worms and vericompost, what should be considered?
Shelley Grossman: The quality is apparent in my gardens here at our residence. Clients see the raised beds for vegetables, they also see a varied and lovely foliage garden, which only has plants and zero grass, as grass is too water hungry for our climate. This is their proof of the quality of the worms I sell.
Savaş Gönen: What can you say about the overall status and progress of the vermiculture in the world? Is the vermiculture really enough to be an alternative in terms of sustainable agriculture?
Shelley Grossman: I can only hope this will be the future. I am on many vermicomposting.com sites and comment when I have something of value to add.
Savaş Gönen: Why don’t we talk a little bit about your state or local government’s approach to the production of vermicompost in your area? I wonder if the vermiculture is carried out just as individual activities or not?
Shelley Grossman: The ciwmb.ca.gov site will tell you much more than I can here about this question. I have very little contact with other breeders in my county.
Savaş Gönen: Nowadays, the large enterprises like the airports, hotels and the others are starting production of vermicompost in large quantities. This kind of news are frequently reported. How do you assess this topic? For you, the non-agricultural sectors’s involving in the production of vermicompost is true or not? Is this the case as a whole provides a contribution to vermiculture?
Shelley Grossman: Yes, I think that large scale vermicomposting is happening. Seattle, Vancouver, Canada and Toronto are all doing this. It seems to me to be inevitable, because the amount of organic food waste we generate must be handled as a resource, not to end up in the landfills, if we are going to be able to feed ourselves in the future.
Savaş Gönen: We talked about vermicompost production and those required to be considered. Can you tell us a little bit about the sales and marketing of the product? What should be considered a newcomer in this regard? What do you recommend?
Shelley Grossman: Find a solid referral base. I have a local resource, a recycling center that refers to me. They do teach about all types of recycling: composting and doing that with worms, oil reclamation, etc. Build a site. Use craigslist. Speak to large groups. Make yourself available.
Savaş Gönen: There are some forms of vermikompost, like the solid worm casting, liquid fertilizer, vermiwash and leacthe… There are many different views about how to use them. Would you like to say something about this? What are the advantages and disadvantages? Users should pay attention to what?
Shelley Grossman: Whoever uses the end product of vermicomposting must have been given the tools (in literature that comes with it) in order to know how to use it in a sound manner for their plants, trees, shrubs and vegetables best use. If not, they will not be repeat clients.
Savaş Gönen: Worms are not used only for the production of vermicompost, but also they themselves are used as feed additives. Do you have this kind of activities in your area? Can you tell us a little bit? Worms can also be used in which kind sectors?
Shelley Grossman: Here red worms are being used in hydroponic farms. They are in the water portion of the gravel beds, which are fed by the taiapia fish wastes. That is my best expamle. This would be a private farm or one in which the public is invited to join.
Savaş Gönen: What do you think can be done to spread more and more people the vermiculture? In this sense, what do you do first?
Savaş Gönen: I heard something about your green revolution and reputable garden. Since the beginning, could you give us some detail information about the formation of your garden? And of course, about the future plans for your garden?
Shelley Grossman: This property came to us as a normal garden in the sense it was mainly grass, trees and shrubs. It is now one of total turf reduction. This was accomplished by the uses of both compost and mulch. Mulch over time breaks down, rainy season after rainy season, to rich microboilogic life sustaining soil. Our gardens here prove that to be true.
Savaş Gönen: Let’s talk about gray water watering a little bit! What is the secret of being water-wise? Bleach, shower soaps, shampoos, dish washing liquids and automatic dishwasher soaps and etc… All of these chemicals that included in the waste water will not harm the plants? In an article it is written that, “the cheaper the soap, the less nasty chemicals have been added. If it’s safe for human skin, it’s probably safe for plants”. Do you agree with this idea?
Shelley Grossman: The key to being water-wise is to know that I live in a climate, which only receives, on average 11” of rainfall/ year. We have a freshwater capture system from the roofs eaves. There are 2 grey water capture systems, one from the shower and one from the water-wise washing machine. The other or thrid one is from the dishwashing techniques I use. I heat the shower warm up water on an induction cooktop to 190 degrees, wash and rinse the dishes in that water. The waste or use used water is then take outside to water all potted plants in the rear garden. All the soaps are eco-friendly. One benefit from using these soaps ( or any soap) it that the chemicals in them go to the root zones of the plants and ward off plant disease. In doing a presentation and the research for it on grey water, I found that in California the only contaminate found was 1/27,000 particle of e-coli. This micbrobe is found in all human intestines. As a former RN, I feel completely safe in eating the produce, fruits, etc I use the grey water for. Water waste is simply not the way I/we live here!
Savaş Gönen: Especially vermicompost contains millions of beneficial bacteria. When we use that gray water, all these beneficial bacterias will not be damaged from the chemicals?
Shelley Grossman: Not in my view. They are enhanced. This is due to the root zones utilizing the water and any remnants of the chemicals for good purposes.
Savaş Gönen: In some schools, lots of educational projects are carried out on worms. Can you tell us a little about these projects related to the worms? As well as those in your own country and in other parts of the world.
Shelley Grossman: The one which comes to mind is the Bottle Biologist which can be found on the internet.
Savaş Gönen: Thanks for your reply.
Shelley Grossman: Good luck!
From the Garden: