Gardening do’s and don’ts

Worm castings and rubber mulch

The Worm Farm’s John Stewart holds a handful of nutrient-rich worm castings.

The Worm Farm’s John Stewart holds a handful of nutrient-rich worm castings.

Photo By christine g.k. lapado

It’s planting season, which means dirt—lots of rich, dark, nutrient-packed soil that will make your flower and vegetable seeds and seedlings say, “Yum!” and grow, grow, grow.

Do it
Head to The Worm Farm in Durham (9033 Esquon Road), seven miles south of Chico. It’s the place to go if you want superb soil in which to plant.

“We have about 50 different [soil] amendments we keep in the store,” offered Worm Farm co-owner John Stewart. “All the meals—bone meal, blood meal, feather meal. We also have two types of chicken manure.” Other amendments include bat guano, Canadian kelp, cow manure, glacial rock dust, oyster shell flour, organic rice hulls, compost and sand.

But what The Worm Farm is most famous for is its earthworms (sold by the pound), and its nutrient-rich worm castings, used by savvy gardeners to increase the quality and yield of plants grown in soil enriched with them.

“So many people have come back the next year—first time customers—just raving about their gardens after using worm castings,” Stewart said. (It’s no secret that local marijuana growers line up during the height of planting season for The Worm Farm’s plant-nourishing wares.)

In high demand this time of year, said Stewart, is The Worm Farm’s mix of 20 percent vermicompost (the official name for worm castings) and 80 percent thermophilic compost—or compost made from such things as grass clippings and kitchen scraps that naturally create heat as they decompose.

“Once they tell me [they’re planting] a veggie garden, I tell them a 20 percent mix is what they want,” Stewart said. Flower gardens and lawns need a 10/90 mixture. At $60 per yard (a pickup truckload) for the 20/80, and $45 per yard for the 10/90, “hands-down, we’re cheaper” than buying soil amendments by the bag at any big-box store, he added. Customers “can bring in trash cans” to fill and still get the per-yard price.

“We’re in the season right now,” advised Stewart. “We’re open seven days a week till about the end of June.” Ask Stewart how to make and use ultra-nutritious “worm tea” for your plants to drink. Call 894-1276 or visit for more info.

A bag of rubber mulch

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Just because it says “recycled” doesn’t mean it’s good
Rubber mulch is made from ground-up, used tires. It goes by such catchy, innocuous-sounding brand names as RePlay, NuScape and Rubberific; and comes in a variety of colors. It’s is sold by the bag locally at DIY box stores as an alternative to wood chips, grass clippings or straw for weed suppression and moisture retention in gardens, or to be used in place of gravel or sand in kids’ play areas (such as Paradise’s Community Park playground). NuScape is promoted by one online retailer as the “perfect loose-fill groundcover for playgrounds and landscaping” and as a “green” product. claims that rubber mulch is “great for the environment and great for your garden,” and boasts that it has “no disintegration or decomposition—ever!”

But, “mulch is meant to break down and become part of the soil,” as Connecticut-based nonprofit Environment and Human Health Inc. reminds us. EHHI additionally cites numerous problems with using rubber mulch, not the least being that it contains “an excess amount of zinc,” which is used in the tire-manufacturing process, and which “stunts the growth of plants.” There are other dangerous chemicals in rubber mulch, including manganese, benzothiazole, benzene and butylated hydroxyanisole, which can both contaminate groundwater and the vegetables grown in rubber-mulched soil. Additionally, studies have shown that rubber mulch is highly flammable, and gives off a strong, unpleasant odor in hot weather even when not on fire.

“A person may feel ‘mean as snakes’ when leaving the office, but after a few minutes in the garden be fit to live with.”

—E. Gordon Wells Jr., Successful Home Gardening