Russell Calder is a revolutionary who has gone underground. He is not fomenting change, but he is most certainly fermenting it, writes ANDREW MOLE.
Beneath great lines of hay and animal manure from which compost is produced and then fed to the worms at his Nyah West farm, Russell Calder is not breeding a subterranean insurrection.
No, he is breeding worms.
Thousands, tens of thousands, possibly (probably) millions, of worms.
Worms with nothing to do but dig, eat and, well, and crap. Oh yes, it also doesn’t hurt that worms tend to breed faster than rabbits.
And what this little wonder of nature has helped Russell achieve is a natural solution that applies, literally, to growing anything and everything — from broadacre crops to zucchinis.
Because what he now has on his hands is a compost of incomparable quality, a compost from which he distils the elixir of his liquid magic — an elixir which is delivering remarkable results on the back of all that, well, of all that crap.
Russell says he started getting serious with permaculture 23 years ago, but it was a bad back injury in his previous day job which crystallised his lifelong fascination with worms, and what these incredibly simple lifeforms can create.
“All the worms do basically is eat, poo and reproduce,” Russell said.
“In fact, give them good conditions and about 30 days or so and they are more than capable of doubling in number.
“It’s such an astonishing number I have been having so much trouble keeping up with them I have had to get my son Paul to join me on the farm, and daughter Meagan to take over the administration so we can both stay out there longer.
“One day I was a 55-year-old man with a bad back and no job prospects so I knew I would have to make my own work, and that decision was the final step down the path to professional permaculture.
“And permaculture applies to everything grown in the ground, and in most cases can deliver the total solution to all the nutrient needs of your crops, trees, vegies, fruit and nuts and organics, too.
“In the eight years since I went seriously commercial with a volume product, I have not had one negative response, not one complaint, not one person asking for their money back — and word of mouth has been a cornerstone of my program and I now have farmers asking for big loads of liquid poo to be delivered to their doors.
“It can go out in anything from semi loads to 1000 litres or part thereof — although we do also now have 10-, five- and two-litre options for the backyard gardener and vegie patch available at retail outlets supplied by Northern Distributing.”
While the worms rule in creating the compost, not even they can keep up with their own pace of production, and that’s where Russell’s work with a microbiologist is also paying dividends
Because the micro-organisms contained in their excretions are equally beneficial to soils and plants and they stimulate root growth.
Or, as Russell explains it, “we’re stimulating the biology that’s been lost over years of chemical use, which a lot of people don’t realise”.
Russell made the move to Nyah West, near Swan Hill in north-west Victoria, after an earlier career as a greenkeeper, 100 per cent convinced his constant exposure to chemicals had played havoc with his health.
“I got really crook, in many ways my whole life changed as a result, and certainly changed enough to get me to Nyah West to reconnect with a better farming world,” he said.
“When I bought these 23 acres [9 hectares], I swore I’d never use chemicals again, and I haven’t.”
Being a regenerative product and practice, Russell said his closed-system production left no waste behind and was not detrimental to the land or environment.
He said the key goal was to bring life back to all soils, and leave the Earth better than he found it.
“Our all natural product offers ultimate plant nutrition, just as Mother Nature intended.
“We practice what we preach, and live a predominantly self-sufficient life.
“We grow more than 80 per cent of the food we consume, using no synthetic chemicals or sprays.
“We grow small batches of clover pastures for our chickens and we cycle through our garden beds by season.
“Once a garden has finished producing, the chickens clean it up and ready it for the next planting.
“The abundance of worms and beneficial bacteria in the ground support each step.”
Organically-certified Stimulator has become the Calder Permaculture front-line brand.
Russell said his Stimulator product was naturally high in humus and carbon because “we have taken the power of the worm and supercharged it — by feeding our worms a premium blend of organic compost, made onsite”.
“We then capture the resultant liquid as it leaches from the beds, creating Stimulator, a plant-ready nutrition.
“The quality of the product has continued to improve and now with quality control measures in place that quality can be monitored and guaranteed.
“While that may sound simple, a lot goes into ensuring the worms are housed in the most ideal environment and conditions to make certain they remain happy and healthy throughout their life cycle.
“Soils where Stimulator is applied, clients will notice greater worm populations if they take a moment to have a look.
“It is a labour of love and we are passionate about creating the most premium product possible, by tending carefully to every element that goes into our compost, worms and worm beds.”
While Russell has been running the business, he has built it up to three-to-five compost rows — each one founded on 10 large square bales.
The trick is getting the blend of carbon/nitrogen/moisture right and then, for organic certification, getting the temperature right on three consecutive cycles — right being between 55℃ and 78℃.
He said the lines must be turned over every four days for three months.
But the business is now growing as fast as the worms breed, and Russell is looking at expanding to 10 compost rows in the near future.
“We’re successfully building a market as well as a business and the Stimulator is going out the door almost as fast as we can fill the containers.”