Waterford Hot Air Balloon Festival 2014

The 4th annual Waterford Hot Air Balloon Festival kicked off Friday afternoon on the grounds of Evergreen Elementary School, and our cameras were there to capture some of the atmosphere of this great family event for the YouTube video above. The weather was beautiful, and the Lake Michigan winds gradually died down, permitting a number of hot air balloons to launch from the field. Then, sunset kicked off Friday’s “Evening Glow” activities, with a group of inflated balloons on the ground igniting their propane burners in unison to beautiful effect.

A pair of helicopters flew the adventurous on $40 sorties out of the parking lot, out over the surrounding landscape, and back again. Booth vendors offered a variety of food and beverage options, as well as arts and crafts, gifts and novelties. Games and activities for the kids included the Waterford Fire & Rescue Department’s “Survive Alive House,” teaching youngsters how to safely exit a burning building.

Earthworms & vermiculture grow in Union Grove

Perhaps you have heard that worm castings (a.k.a. worm manure or worm humus, the digestive waste produced by earthworms) might be the finest organic fertilizer on earth. Possibly, you read somewhere that earthworms can be raised for this purpose — and also to supply live bait for sport fishing. Did you know, though, that an impressive little company in the Racine area has been growing and thriving in this business for decades? In the video above, we visited it recently to learn more.

The raising and production of earthworms and their byproducts is known as “vermiculture.” (The Latin root word for “worm” — vermis — also gives us vermicelli, the spaghetti-like pasta that resembles “little worms.”) Unco Industries Inc. of Union Grove, Wisconsin, has been engaged in vermiculture since 1976.

Unco CEO Tom Chapman started the business at an old Racine dairy farm on Highway 38, originally raising the redworms that are typically associated with vermicomposting. Soon, though, Chapman started making improvements. He implemented cost accounting, inventory management, and technological systems — and also developed a better breed of earthworm, a “cultured nightcrawler” which could not only produce a consistent supply of worm castings, but could also be sold as live bait via sport fishing outfitters.

Worm castings in one ton bags at Unco Industries Inc., Union Grove, WI

Today, according to operations director Amy De Pelecyn, Unco Industries ships tons and tons of worm castings — upwards of 15 truckloads per week — throughout the U.S. and Canada. Their castings are certified by the Organic Materials Review Institute and the California Department of Food and Agriculture. The castings are used to fertilize farm crops, sports fields, and golf courses, as well as being sold to home gardeners via garden centers.

The company’s new Union Grove facility measures 55,000 square feet and currently employs 17 people in all.

In addition to supplying worm castings, live nightcrawlers, and live worm cocoons (from which baby earthworms are hatched), Unco also serves as a consultant to vermiculture newcomers, marketing The Unco System of worm farming to beginning growers through instruction, support, equipment and supplies. Chapman says a small, part-time worm-raising operation can be housed in a one-car garage or a similar space in a basement, and would require only about 8 hours of work per week.