Hello everyone!

I hope we are collectively surviving this dry, hot summer together. We have officially begun garden visits here at Build It Up East TN. During the last week of June and through the first week of August, I visit every gardening family in the program. Our ARCD program assistant, Bethany, will also come to some. We also had our very first featured garden visit! These are new to the program this year and are already successful. One of my favorite things to do is implement new ideas from feedback gardeners give in their feedback surveys. And, of course, I’m always looking to create more a more tight knit community of gardeners. So this year, we have a new way of doing this.

We have three featured garden visits scheduled on weekends in June, July, and August to give families in the program a chance to see the ways other gardeners are structuring their gardens, growing food, and to socialize and connect more with fellow gardeners. Each of the featured visits scheduled are second year gardeners in the program but are gardening in drastically different ways. Below are descriptions fr each.

Featured Garden Visit Descriptions

  • June 29th at 1:00pm – Larry and Jennifer Lucas in Johnson City. Larry and Jennifer will give us a tour of their 2,500 sq ft low-till garden and their massive vermicomposting (worm composting) operation. Larry will walk us through how they got started with vermicomposting, their infrastructure and processes, and answer questions. They will also give away a peck size bucket of worm castings to each family that attends! Bring your peck harvesting bucket.
  • July 13th at 10:00am – Graham and Jay Yelton in Jonesborough. Graham has a beautiful property and farmstead overlooking the East TN mountains. Her garden is in its third year of growth and is roughly 6,000 sq ft. The gardening practices they utilize revolve around no till and high yield while creating maximum benefits for the soil. She will lead you through their dreamy landscape and talk more in depth about the no till practices they use. A garden you don’t want to miss!
  • August 3rd at 10:00am – Edith Johnson in Bristol. Edith has done a lot of soil work and garden expansion in the past year. Beginning with a rocky, steep hillside, she has gradually expanded to 1500 square feet of space including both in ground plots and raised beds. Her focus is to produce as much food for herself, neighbors and friends, while also taking special care to increase native plant populations that attract native pollinators. She has also begun adding medicinal herbs!

As you can see from the above descriptions, we have a wide range of types of gardening, locations, and times. And we’ve already done our first visit!

Larry and Jennifer Lucas Garden Visit

We had an exceptional turnout for our first featured garden visit! Fourteen folks signed up and 14 showed up. We had 10 adults and 4 kids come to learn about worm composting and see their low till garden. The structure of the tour was a little background on how they started gardening, practices they use in their garden, and then a tour of their garden. Families were encouraged to ask questions as they had them.

We then moved on to the main event which was Larry’s worm composting operation. He has two worm bins. The first one we saw was smaller and used as a backup in case something major happened to his big bin. It was about 4×4 in size and hosted around 1,000 worms. It was much like an elevated raised bed and he harvested worm castings from the bottom of the bin.


The Large Worm Bin

The main worm bin he uses, however, was huge! If I had to guess, it was probably 20 feet by 6 feet. Larry said they started with about 1,000 worms in this bin and now have over 1 million. One end of the bin is the feeding zone while the other end hosts more of the finished worm castings. He feeds the worms food scraps derived of fresh produce, cardboard, leaves, and occasionally spritzes with water if it we don’t get enough rain. From start to finish, it takes about 9 months to get finished worm castings ready to apply to the garden.

To harvest, he has created a contraption on the bottom of his bins where he can “cut” the finished worm castings off at the bottom and they’ll fall into heaps on the ground and then scooped up into containers. Once he scoops them from the worm bin, he then processes them through two sizes of sieves. The first removes any worms or big debris that may have been extracted. The second removes smaller worms, the rest of the debris, and sorts the worm castings into a fine granule.


Uses for Worm Castings

The Lucas’ family uses a bulk of their worm castings on their garden to close the loop in their system. They can also be used as compost for house plants, potted plants, fruit bushes, trees, and even when starting vegetable plants inside. Their eventual goal is to start and maintain a business selling worm castings to the community. Jennifer, who is an elementary school teacher, and Larry also bring worms and their castings into the school systems to teach about worm composting!


We really enjoyed getting to see such a cool garden and worm composting operation! I can’t wait for our next featured garden visit.

More updates to come in August!

-Rosie McVeigh

Build It Up East TN