The Leaflet

~ June 2024 ~

The heat is on! Summer has arrived and isn’t shy about it. I hope everyone got their plants in the ground during all the rain we had last month. I’ve had to go from making sure my pots aren’t flooded with water to making sure they stay damp enough.

The Master Gardeners have been busy planting in the Highland Rim Garden this month. In addition to the 3 Sisters Garden planted last month, there is now a Trial Seed Garden, Monarch Way Station, and Pollinator Garden. The Monarch Way Station and Pollinator Garden were installed just in time for Pollinator Week (6/17-6/21)!

Do you incorporate plants for pollinators in your landscape? Or if you have a vegetable garden, do you add a couple rows of zinnias? Anything you can do to help the pollinators is great! There are some native mints along the creek near my house and they are full of a variety of small bees. I didn’t realize there were so many types of bees in my neighborhood. 

There is always thyme for gardening!

Shawn Herman, President



June 27, 2024

7:00 p.m.

(Social time:

6:30-7:00 p.m.)

Highland Rim AgResearch and EduCenter



Tobacco, Beef & More Tour


Rob Ellis


 The Robertson County Master Gardener Association meets the fourth Thursday of every month


by Kathy Doss

Editor's Note: In early spring, Certified Master Gardener Kathy Doss gave a presentation on vermicomposting. Attendees were very engaged and inquisitive following her talk. At my request, Kathy has been kind enough to write a detailed account of her process so that it may be shared here, in The Leaflet, for the benefit of both those who were in attendance and those who were not.

Earthworms don't cuddle with you or do tricks, they don't protect the house while you are away. But they do something more powerful: they improve the earth.

Vermi originates from the Latin word for worm. Vermicomposting involves using earthworms to transform organic waste into fertilizer. Fascinated by earthworms and passionate about gardening, I've harbored a desire to vermicompost for most of my adult life.

Several years ago I decided to establish a composting worm bin. Unfortunately, lacking the necessary expertise, my efforts resulted in a stinky, slimy, insect-ridden disaster. This misadventure occurred before the World Wide Web became a vast repository of accessible information. It wasn't until last year that I acquired the knowledge to successfully rear worms for composting. Now, I aim to impart this knowledge to those of you who share a similar aspiration.

Why Vermicompost?

First and foremost, vermicomposting yields a top-tier soil amendment. Scientific research consistently demonstrates the value of worm castings — the excrement of earthworms — in enhancing the nutrient availability for plants. These nutrients induce faster seed germination, promote robust plant growth, strengthen root systems, increase yields, and reduce plant diseases and pests. The empirical evidence backing these benefits is indisputable.

Secondly, vermicomposting plays a pivotal role in diverting food waste from landfills. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 40% of waste generated in the U.S. originates from residential sources with over half of this being organic material — ranging from food scraps to yard trimmings — that could be consumed by earthworms. When organic waste is buried deep within landfills, it undergoes anaerobic decomposition, producing methane gas, a potent contributor to the climate change crisis.

Lastly, vermicomposting simplifies composting and makes it convenient, and presents an economical means to dispose of waste while concurrently fertilizing plants.

Understanding Earthworms

Scientists categorize earthworms based on their habitat preferences. Epigeic worms reside on the soil surface, typically beneath leaf litter or within manure piles. Endogeic worms inhabit underground burrows, tunneling horizontally just below the soil's surface. Anecic worms create vertical burrows that penetrate deep into the soil.

Despite the existence of approximately 9,000 earthworm species, only seven are suitable for composting purposes. These are of the Epigeic variety that thrive in the leaf litter and organic matter found above ground. Among these seven, Eisenia fetida, commonly known as red wigglers, are a favored choice by experts.  Their adaptability to captivity and remarkable reproductive capacity make them particularly well-suited for composting.

Seven Elements

To ensure your composting worms thrive, it's crucial to provide them with the essential elements. These elements can be remembered by using the mnemonic "Man's Best Friend, not dogs, only worms."

M is for Moisture: Worms require a moist habitat to thrive. Maintaining a humidity level between 60 to 85% is adequate, with 80% being ideal.

B is for Bedding: Utilize fluffy materials that retain moisture while facilitating oxygen circulation. Suitable bedding options include shredded paper (such as newspaper, paper bags, office paper, or cardboard) or decomposing leaves. Avoid glossy paper.

F is for Food: Offer your worms a diet comprising vegetables, fruits, crushed eggshells, tea bags, coffee grounds, shredded paper, coffee filters, and shredded garden debris. Ensure food layers are no thicker than 1 inch and refrain from feeding until the previous offering has been consumed. Do not feed your worms meat, fish, dairy, greasy foods, bones, twigs or branches, odorous foods, citrus peels, or glossy paper.

N is for Neutral pH: Maintain a neutral pH environment, avoiding acidic foods like citrus peels.

D is for Darkness: Worms require darkness to thrive as they move away from light to prevent drying out. Their skin must maintain moisture in order to breath.

O is for Oxygen: Adequate oxygen levels are essential for worms to survive.

W is for Warmth: Aim to maintain temperatures between 55 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal worm activity. While they can survive in temperatures ranging from 32 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, their health may suffer outside the ideal range.

Setting Up the Worm Bin

Setting up a worm bin is a straightforward process, and virtually any container can serve as long as it fulfills the requirements for optimal worm health. Remember the mnemonic "Man's Best Friend, Not Dogs, Only Worms" to ensure you cover all essential aspects.

I recommend using a dark-colored plastic tub with a lid. To facilitate airflow, drill tiny holes around the sides of the bin near the top. Additionally, create 1/4” drainage holes in the bottom for excess moisture to escape. Prepare the bedding material by wetting it thoroughly and then wringing out the excess water. Fluff the bedding before placing it in the bin to insure adequate air flow. The bedding can consist of shredded paper, cardboard, or decomposing leaves. Once the bedding is in place, cover the bin with its lid to provide darkness and retain moisture. Finally, position the bin in a warm location to create an optimal environment for your composting worms.

Obtaining the Worms

When it comes to obtaining worms for your vermicomposting project, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind:

1. Quantity: Aim for approximately 1000 worms per square foot of space in your worm bin. Since worms are typically sold by weight, this translates to roughly 1 pound of worms per square foot.

2. Type: Opt for Eisenia fetida, commonly known as red wigglers, as they are the most suitable species for composting.

3. Source: Look for a reputable commercial worm farm to purchase your worms. Ensure they specialize in Eisenia fetida to guarantee the best results.

4. Cost: Expect to pay around $50 per pound of worms.

5. Location: Try to find a supplier as close to your home as possible to minimize transportation time and ensure the worms arrive in optimal condition.

Harvesting the Castings


There are three primary methods for separating worm castings from the worms:

1. Sideways Separation: This method entails feeding the worms on one side of the bin. As they exhaust the food where they reside, they naturally migrate towards fresh food, leaving the other half of the bin predominantly filled with compost. This facilitates the straightforward removal of castings from one side while the worms remain concentrated on the opposite side.

2. Light Separation: Empty the contents of the bin onto a plastic surface under a bright light. Worms are sensitive to light and will instinctively move away from it, allowing you to scrape off the top layer of compost. Repeat this process until all the compost is separated, then return the worms to the bin with fresh bedding.

3. Vertical Separation: Drill additional holes in the bottom of two identical bins. After several months of feeding the worms in the first bin, place the second bin inside the first one and begin feeding the worms in the second bin. As the worms consume the food in the first bin, they will migrate upwards through the holes in search of more food. Eventually, most of the worms will vacate the bottom bin, allowing you to harvest the compost for use.

In Summary

Vermicomposting offers several compelling benefits that make it an attractive option for eco-conscious gardeners.

1. Production of High-Quality Fertilizer:

By harnessing the power of worms, you can create nutrient-rich fertilizer from organic waste. Worm castings, the byproduct of vermicomposting, are packed with essential nutrients that promote healthy plant growth and soil vitality.

2. Waste Reduction and Mitigation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions:

Vermicomposting diverts organic matter from landfills, where it would otherwise decompose anaerobically and produce methane — a potent greenhouse gas. By composting organic waste with worms, you can significantly reduce your carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable waste management system.

3. Low Maintenance and Enjoyable Experience:

Vermicomposting is relatively low maintenance and requires minimal effort compared to traditional composting methods. Additionally, many people find the process of vermicomposting enjoyable and even consider worms to be fascinating pets, adding an element of companionship to the practice.

Overall, vermicomposting provides a practical, environmentally-friendly solution for managing organic waste while simultaneously yielding valuable fertilizer for your plants.

More information can be found at:

Xerces' Habitat Assessment Guide for Pollinators

"The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is an international nonprofit organization that protects the natural world through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats." (Xerces)

"The Society collaborates with federal and state agencies including the US Department of Agriculture, as well as scientists, land managers, educators, and citizens to promote invertebrate conservation, applied research, advocacy, public outreach and education. Examples of Xerces Society activities include advocating for invertebrates and their habitats, petitioning for the designation of endangered status for applicable species such as the monarch butterfly, and public education projects. Ongoing projects include the rehabilitation of habitat for endangered species, public education about the importance of native pollinators, and the restoration and protection of watersheds." (Wikipedia)

They produce a wide variety of publications every year. A library of current and past publications can be found on their website. Publication 19-038_01 "Habitat Assessment Guide for Pollinators in Yards, Gardens, and Parks" is a wonderful tool to help you evaluate your site for pollinators, identifying existing strengths and areas that may need improvement.

Download your own copy of the Assessment Guide HERE.

Profiles in Gardening...

Jennie Justice

I’m a native Robertson Countian. I grew up on a dairy farm where I learned lots about farming and gardening from both my parents. Dad was the master gardener of the vegetables and mom was the master gardener of all things flowers. Growing up, I wasn’t always too excited to weed, water, straw tomatoes, pick vegetables, can vegetables, etc., but I usually didn’t tell my parents "No!".

I worked for 29 years as a classroom teacher, primarily at Coopertown Elementary and Coopertown Middle Schools. After leaving the classroom, I became an Instructional Coach focusing on Reading in the middle schools across Robertson County. I currently work as an Academic Consultant for Davidson Academy in Nashville.

My passion has become growing flowers. As much as I hated garden work as a child, I’m pretty sure my parents planted the gardening seed many years ago.

Watching a tiny seed become a beautiful flower is truly a “God-thing” and brings me lots of pleasure. My cut flower garden is at my “home farm" where I grow a variety of flowers. I have sold bouquets at Head’s Farm on Kinney’s Road and to the florists in Springfield. I’m also anticipating being a part of the Cedar Hill Farmers' Market this summer.

I became a Master Gardener in 2023 and currently heading up the Monarch Waystation at the Master Gardeners' demonstration garden located at the Highland Rim AgResearch and Education Center.

Xerces' Monarch Nectar Plants: Southeast

Like Jennie, if you are interested in improving your own yard for the benefit of monarchs, or perhaps you'd like to volunteer to help her with the Monarch Waystation at Highland Rim, there are steps you can take to invite monarchs. Most importantly, planting host plants restores disappearing habitat and provides food for monarchs and their caterpillars.

Xerces Society has a wonderful publication (16-047-01) entitled "Monarch Nectar Plants Southeast" that includes a large chart with reference photos of plants that you can reference. The publication also educates the reader on monarch behavior, planting for success, benefits of natives, pesticide use, and more. Also included is a link to the Native Plant Finder database where you can generate a list of native plants that host butterflies and moths specific to your zip code. Helpful links to additional resources and publications are included at the end of the publication.

Download your own copy of the publication HERE.

Save the date...

Upcoming Events

June 8 - August 24: The Cheekwood Gardening School Classes

Cheekwood Gardens

October 10-11: TN Extension MG Conference

Nashville & Franklin, TN


Contact Us



Shawn Herman

(615) 948-4376


Vice President:

Nola Hastings

(714) 296-2740



Holly Brooks

(760) 861-4833



Sandy Williams

(615) 969-7656


Master Gardener Coordinator:

Bob Ary

(615) 384-7936

Instagram Administrator:

Kathy Doss

(615) 636-5410



Kathy Doss

(615) 636-5410


Facebook Administrator:

Shawn Herman

(615) 948-4376


The Leaflet Editor:

Stacey Haag

(615) 389-4663

Robertson County Master Gardener Association
Facebook  Instagram