How to Grow Vegetables, Courtesy of Live Free Or Die

Though the cast of Live Free Or Die are positioned as back-to-nature technophobes, they’re also children of modern society who know precisely when to take ethical shortcuts that don’t compromise their values too much. Put another way, they’ll use technology if there is no reliable workaround. Colbert occasionally drives a truck; he also has a hunting rife in case things go south. Gabe lugs around a guitar that he certainly did not build himself. The cast’s back-to-nature lifestyle isn’t codified, so they aren’t necessarily violating any strict dogma by salvaging an old bathtub or using recycled steel, but anything that can’t be made by hand is still used sparingly – and usually sufficiently prefaced by explanations (read: excuses).

And while most on the show adhere to a hunter gatherer lifestyle – Gabe frequently dines on rats, while Tony and Amelia prefer roadkill – modern farming has also made its way into their back-to-nature lifestyle. Gabe utilizes some plastic buckets and his own personal waste to fertilize the area around his cabin. And in their attempt to grow mushrooms, Tony and Amelia’s recently-adopted worm fertilization techniques have actually hopped onto a cutting-edge trend in cultivation and farming (insomuch as farming techniques can be trendy).

Tony and Amerlia oppose synthetic fertilizers, yet they need the nutrients and satiety that mushrooms provide. Their solution is a process called vermicomposting, a type of organic fertilization which helps catalyze and expedite their harvest through a strategic use of worm poop. Tony and Amelia use red wigglers – a specific type of worm that doesn’t burrow deep into soil – to digest bacteria and excrete castings. After obtaining and “raising” red worms, Justin (Tony and Amelia’s worm guide) removes the castings. Then, he passes the castings off to Tony and Amelia, who use it to fertilize. They’ve hit the logs with a wooden mallet to activate the mushroom spores, and accelerate the growing process by sprinkling on some castings.

The benefits of vermicomposting are numerous, even in relation to how traditional fertilizer helps nourish crops. Castings can help generate up to a 20% or more increase in plant growth by detoxifying and enriching the soil. They’re also a cost-cutting measure: castings can reduce irrigation. But importantly, castings don’t suffer the shortcomings that traditional fertilizer. According to the New York Times, worm castings can help restore microbial richness and diversity in soil that’s been corrupted and poised by synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

While the Live Free Or Die couple makes the formula on their own, it’s commercial form has become quite popular as a fertilizer substitute in recent years. As the Times article mentions, venture capital investors are funding companies that may introduce the product to wider markets. There are also various types of boutique composting methods which are tailored to help specific plants thrive.

Watch the penultimate episode of this season of Live Free Or Die next Tuesday at 10p.