Worm Poop

Did you know that worm castings (worm poop) is rich 100% organic humus which contain microbiological colonies that help fight soil-borne plant diseases and repel insects. If this is news to you then you might want to read the following report issued by University of California – Agriculture and Natural Resources – UCCE Master Gardener Program: http://ucanr.org/sites/mgfresno/

Worm-castings are water-soluble allowing plants to quickly and easily absorb essential nutrients and trace minerals. When the manure passes through the worm’s digestive tract, it forms a coating around the grain which allows for the nutrients to “time release” into the soil. Nutrients are readily available to plant material over a greater length of time and will not burn even the most delicate plants.

Analysis of earthworm castings reveals that they are rich in iron, calcium, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (NPK rating: 5/5/3 %). They are much richer in nutrients than bulk compost, therefore application rates are much lower. Chemical fertilizers are a one-shot wonder. The plant uses what is immediately available – the rest leaches out into the soil beyond the plants reach.

Improved Growth: Extensive University testing has been performed by Ohio State, Cornell University, UC Davis and the Australian SIRO to prove the worth of worm castings. The tests have shown improved flower size, bloom quantity, quality and color. Fruit and vegetables tests have resulted in yield improvements from 57% to over 200% as well as improvement in taste and appearance.

A worm castings tea can be made from the castings resulting in a 100% organic spray that improves nutrient absorption. It will NOT burn your plants. This easily absorbed water soluble mixture can be sprayed directly onto plants for immediate absorption or applied once a month while watering.

Putting Worm Castings to Use

Worm Tea – Soak 1 part worm castings in 3 parts water for 24 hours or more – mixing several times. Apply 8 ounces of worm tea per plant every 30 days, or, as a foliar spray, add 4 ounces of worm tea to 1 gallon of water and apply every 30 to 60 days.

*This section on worm poop is entirely taken from an article furnished by University of California – Agriculture and Natural Resources. This blog’s author, although interested in utilizing worm castings to increase vegetable production, does not have direct experience testing the efficacy of worm tea in his garden.

John’s Worm Farm

This is John Allan, aka. Johnny L. Dose. I have been invited to be an author here, so, I’m just testing out the step to make a post.

I have a B.Sc. in Plant Science: Soils emphasis from the University of Delaware (1985: five and a 1/2 year plan, oops). I have worked in the agricultural industry as an environmental fate chemist for 35 years. Main function was to use 14C-radiotracers in laboratory testing in order to determine the half-life of the parent molecule and confirm metabolites of the parent in various soils from the US and around Europe.

My contributions to The Garden Dreamer will be from my own backyard experiences. My first area to discuss is vermiculture. I raise worms. Red wigglers to be specific. These feed on kitchen scraps, lettuce, onion peals, apple cores, cucumber ends, etc. There is some controversy over the use of coffee grounds. To be explored and debated by all in future blogs.

I use Rubbermaid tubs or 5-gallon buckets. These are fixed bottom containers, so water management is key so as to not drown the worms and also to not create on overly stinky medium from getting too anaerobic. If so, then keep your worm tub next to the cat box.

If you eat a lot of salads like Teresa and I do (Teresa: my wife of 21 years full of laughter, love, and two attempted murder charges that didn’t stick), then you will generate plenty of kitchen scraps that can go directly to the worms. I typically pull away the top layer of the worm medium to one side, drop the scraps in the hole, and cover the scraps with the media that was pulled away.

The tub should have a lid, but it doesn’t need to. If you put a lid on, you must provide aeration by drilling holes (3/8 inch drill bit works) around the sides around your tub, up high, but not in the top (six inch spaces). Don’t drill holes in your top. The rain (if kept outside during the summer) will get in and perhaps flood the worms when you’re not there. The holes provide aeration and a means for decomposing gases (CO2, H2S, CH4, etc.) to escape and not suffocate the worms.

If you don’t use a lid, your tub might dry out quickly or attract cats to leave a litter box pal. If you us a lid, you can stack your containers. Note: The tubs can get heavy depending on the size, of course.

Anyway, feel free to ask me any questions about my experiences with worms. I’ll stop now and save some material for my next post.

All the Best,

John Allan

The Garden Dreamer

Red Wigglers – Getting Acquainted

Well, after reading perhaps too much on the topic of raising “red” worms I started a small vermi-composter in my basement.  Keep in mind that this took place some 2 years ago.  I went through the typical start up learning curve of how much water is sufficient, how much food is too much, type of background music, etc.  The first thing a novice wormer will experience is the not so pleasant odor generated by the worm farm.  It is easily taken care of by covering food scraps with soil.  This also takes care of the fruit fly population.

The main objective of having the vermi-composter is to generate the main ingredient for home brewed compost tea.

The container is modest and measures approx. 2 cu. ft.  Based on several recommendations I’m using red wigglers.  I started this system with about 100 worms then after 2 months added another 100 since it seemed that the initial population dwindled fairly quickly (2 month period). After the addition of the second batch of worms it appeared that the same thing occurred. However, the worms that remain appear healthy and continue to devour the food scraps given them. I add about 1 lb. food scraps per week. Anyway, the system seems to be working fine and the worms, as well as a host of other soil microbes, are doing their job.

The main reason for starting the worm bin was to have a fresh source of worm generated compost in order to produce worm tea (liquid fertilizer). So, after 4 months (two weeks from now) I’ll harvest the worm compost system and make several gallon batches of worm tea. During the harvest process I plan to segregate as many worms as possible in order to start a new bin of red wigglers. If the worm tea shows to invigorate plant growth as is claimed by many I will setup multiple bins so that I have the luxury of making worm tea once a month. Not only will I fertilize the vegetable garden with worm tea I also plan to do so for house plants and various plants in my landscape.

What one should consider when using worm tea is that it isn’t only a means to deliver certain macro and micronutrients to your plants but also replenishes the soil environment with beneficial organisms that have a positive effect on root and plant development. I guess one can say that you are improving the ecosystem, on a micro-scale basis or perhaps taking a wholistic approach to plant culture (husbandry). Of course there is a lot of literature on this topic and I hope this writing encourages you to dig deeper into the matter.

One avid gardener remarked that raising worms in a bin, located in a basement and fed weekly allocations of food scraps didn’t make much sense to him. Rather, he suggests that one should build a working compost, located outside and which houses red wigglers. By this approach you will have a much larger mound to work with and with the added ability to compost more food scraps then let’s say 1 or 2 lbs. per week. Granted, the worms won’t reside at the top of the compost pile, especially in cold weather, so you’ll have to be willing to dig a hole to deposit the food scraps where the wigglers can access same. Having said this, I did inspect my compost pile, which is 80 cubic ft, and dug down to the well decomposed material but did not see teams of worms as expected. So, I began to consciously deposit food scraps in certain areas of the pile to attract worms. However, it isn’t yet obvious that the worms are coming up from the soil layer to feast on the goodies. Keep in mind that I was making these observations between January and March of 2016 in central MO.

Another gardener mentioned that she tested worm compost tea versus compost tea made from her back yard’s compost pile without seeing evidence of any difference in plant growth or productivity between the two types of tea.

It is now late summer of 2017 and I have come to the conclusion that the time and effort it takes to make compost tea in your basement can’t be justified if you have the ability to maintain an active compost pile on your property.  I did enjoy raising worms and appreciate the richness of their compost but, quite frankly, I can achieve the same end result via my compost pile in my backyard.



Vermiculture (Worms) – Vermiculture Composting

Honestly, I’m not an expert on vermiculture but I do have an immense appreciation for these type soil dwellers and understand that they play a critical role in keeping our soils healthy.  Yet, I can’t claim to have purposely managed these critters accept through generous contributions of compost to my garden.  For this reason, I am borrowing the following text from…. http://www.worm-farming.org/vermiculture/vermiculture-composting for our collective enlightenment.

Vermiculture composting, also known as vermicomposting or worm composting, is the procedure of using worms and micro-organisms to recycle food scraps and other household waste into a nutrient-rich black soil.  This rich soil (worm castings) is the product of the worm’s digestion.  Worms are capable of eating between half to their full weight in waste each day. The worm castings are a natural fertilizer that provides a wonderful source of nutrients to plants, flower beds and gardens.  The castings are extremely valuable to the texture and fertility of the soil and can add 10 times the nutrients back into the soil that have been taken out during harvests.  Vermicompost increases the water-holding capacity of the soil and improves the overall soil structure. Your plants will grow stronger and have deeper root systems for better drought tolerance and disease resistance.

Red wigglers, manure worms, tiger worms, blue worms and red hybrid worms are used in  the vermiculture business and the vermicompost process.  These worms can be purchased on the internet, in a bait store or from your local worm farmer.  A pound of worms is all that is needed to start a worm farm.  These worms will reproduce quickly.  They have big appetites so expect them to eat their weight in waste every day.
Vermiculture bins can be basically a box with a lid.  They can be made of wood or plastic.  A loosely fitted lid will allow the worms the proper oxygen they need.  Always have drainage holes in the bottom of the vermiculture bin.  Vermicomposting worms like moist, dark and cool places.  Without the proper conditions and temperature the worms will try to escape the worm bin. Building a worm farm is easy and anyone can set up a worm farm.
Commercial vermiculture is the breeding of worms for re-sale. For many years worms were raised solely to sell in bait stores. Now with the new shift to commercial vermicast composting in the past two decades, the demand for worms has greatly increased.
A vermicomposting business solves two very important problems.  It takes care of organic waste and it produces an enriched soil that is extremely helpful for plants, gardens and lawns. Vermicomposting, through the use of worms, changes organic waste into a product that can be harvested regularly and sold.  The need for more vermicomposting sites around the world will continue to grow. Schools, institutions, military bases, prisons and other facilities can set-up vermicomposting bins right on their site to recycle food waste.
Vermiculture is an easy way to recycle food waste, help the environment, put nutrients back into the soil and make money, too. One third of household waste can be recycled through a worm farm. The environment is helped by keeping tons of waste out of landfills and vermicompost is an all-natural fertilizer that eliminates the need for harmful chemicals.  The worm castings add important nutrients back into the soil. This aids in stimulating healthy root growth, control erosion and enhance soil fertility. Worm composting can even be turned into a business with the right vermiculture technology.
 Since writing this piece on Vermiculture I have initiated a humble vermi-
composter. It is a 10-gallon plastic tub containing compost, 200 – 300 red wigglers and food scraps.  The system is kept in my basement where the air temperature stays between 55 – 65 F.    The plastic tub remains covered with a plastic lid.  So that a fresh supply of oxygen is available I drilled 1/4 inch holes around the sides of the container.  The holes are located approximately 1 to 2 inches below the top of the tub.
I monitor the moisture level within the system so that it doesn’t dry out or become too moist.   By the way,  I elected not to make drain holes for this system.   Regarding the addition (1 lb/sq. ft. of system’s soil surface area per week) of food scraps, it is important to keep these covered with soil to reduce the fruit fly (FF) population.  Additionally, I have introduced a FF trap which is a plastic cup, plastic lid, and plastic straw.  By placing a small amount of wine in the cup the FFs will make the long journey to nirvana and not return.  This system, created by John Allan, a well-known vermiculturalist, provides for a zero FF zone.  By the way, red wigglers sourced from California prefer Zinfadel while NY worms seem to enjoy Pinot Noir.
I am happy to be reducing our contribution of waste to the landfill while manufacturing a useful bi-product destined for the garden.  I will also conduct an experiment or two to study the effects vermicompost tea (liquid fertilizer) on plant growth and productivity.
More to come!!!