Austin-area mushroom and worm farms team up for home garden compost

Before the early bird even has a chance to enter the equation, worms need their breakfasts, and many Austinites' home gardens depend on it. Some homes collect vegetable scraps and layer them with cardboard in a worm bin, but that's a lot of upkeep for a home garden. On a much larger scale, one Buda farm learned that worms love its main scraps: used mushroom substrate.

Smallhold, a Brooklyn-based mushroom farm with two Buda locations for growing and research, happened to pick its Texas real estate 20 minutes down the road from the compost worm breeders at Brothers Worm Farm. A mushroom farm doesn't look like most Texas farms — it's all indoors, chilled, and very sterile — and the first thing a visitor will notice in place of rows of crops is stacks of substrate blocks.

In this case, mushroom substrate, or growing medium, means sawdust and seed hulls. That might not sound very nutritious for worms, but since the worms' meals include spent substrate, it includes lots of leftover fungus bits. They also consume lots of hard, ground materials to help the toothless worms mash up the softer stuff in the form of fruit and vegetable scraps from Break It Down Eco-services.

This system creates what Smallhold calls a "nearly fully circular (super early beta!) product." Substrate is recycled wood and seed casings; it becomes worm food with leftover produce scraps; the worm castings (feces) feed Texans' gardens. Smallhold estimated in mid-November that it had donated 125 tons of spent substrate for feeding the Brothers' clew. (That's what you call a group of worms.) This is in addition to 13 tons of produce scraps.

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