Since we have started offering worm castings on our site, I don’t think a day goes by that someone is not asking, “What are worm castings?”
The simple answer is that it is worm poop. Also called worm manure, worm humus or worm compost, this amazingly rich soil amendment and fertilizer is becoming more popular than ever, and for good reason. Word of mouth has spread the good news and as more and more people plant gardens and become ever more aware of the harm that pesticides and synthetic fertilizers can cause, the use of worm castings has increased dramatically with sometimes astounding results. Most people are very pleasantly surprised when they open their first container of worm castings. The odor is pleasantly earthy, it is dry, not moist at all, and the texture will be similar to a good soil/peat mixture. You don’t have to wear gloves to handle it, nor do you have to wear a mask or use in a well-ventilated area. Worm castings are 100% organic, 100% safe for the planet, you and your family and are 100% beneficial.
Worm castings are created by feeding a particular type of worm a variety of organic materials. The worms most often used are Red Wigglers (Eisenia foetida) and one other type of red worm (Lumbricus rubellus). These worms are a top-dweller/feeder, which simply means that as you add organic material they will move to the top to eat it. They are also able to withstand the high temperatures needed for the best composting results and they are prolific breeders. These are not the earth worms that you go fishing with, though I’m sure that any hungry fish would not turn its nose up at them.
The act of worm composting is called vermicomposting. Vermicompost is a verb, not a noun. Home vermicomposters will normally use garden and kitchen refuse of the organic variety, such as fruit and vegetable peels and rinds, leaves and grass clippings. You can also use coffee grounds, right along with the filters, moldy bread, tea bags; anything but dairy products or meat, which can rot and attract unwanted pests. Cooked foods that are oily or on which butter has been utilized is also not recommended. It is true that the worms will eventually be able to break down these items too, but it takes longer and the benefits are not worth the smell or the mess.
So, why do worm castings work so much better than other fertilizers, organic or not? Well, all soil and food has microbial activity. Microorganisms are a critical part of our own lives, as they are of every living thing. Worm castings have 10 to 20 times as much of that microbial activity as the soil and food that they eat. As the organic materials go in one end and out the other, it is mixed with worm mucus, which helps the soil to hold onto the nutrients, rather than having it washed away with watering, and also enables the soil to retain more moisture. When used by farmers or in your backyard garden plot, or even as a top dressing on your lawn, they also attract even more earthworms, which also serves to improve the quality of your soil. Just using worm castings once starts a healthy cycle of soil enrichment and plant health.
The reason that worm castings are so much more beneficial that soluble plant fertilizers is because the nutrients that are stored in the microbial rich organic matter and in the bodies of the microbes is not lost through the process of irrigation, ending up in the ground water. Fungal tentacles, called hyphae that are about the size of a very thin strand of hair, wrap around organic matter and soil particles when searching for food. These form aggregates (a material or structure formed from a loosely compacted mass of fragments or particles) that are the very basis for quality soil structure.
But, to answer the question, “What are worm castings?”, a picture, or two, is well worth a thousand words. We have a customer who bought her first bag of worm castings and decided to share her results, through pictures. She was given some peat-potted cuttings of a white flowered, unidentified perennial. Rather than plant them right into the ground, she chose to pot them first, to see what kind of plant they were. Out of the six plants, only three of them appeared healthy. The others were quite wilted, meaning they were loosely and limply hanging over the edges of their peat pots, with little sign of life, except that they were still green, though quite sickly looking. She decided to plant them anyway and mixed the worm castings with the old potting soil that she had on hand. She also chose to keep them inside until they were well established, as her area of the country was experiencing extremely hot temperatures.
This is the first day, right after planting. As you can see, there are two very upright plants in each planter with another barely upright plant on the left side of the left planter. On the back side of the left planter, and on the back and right side of the right-hand planter, are the three “dead” plants.
And this is the right hand planter on the third day, with the plant on the right really starting to perk up, at which point our customer is convinced that there is no help for the last of the 6 plants on the back side of the planter. It still hasn’t turned brown, but there is little sign of life and no new growth…yet.
And then this is that same right hand planter five days later, just 8 days after they were planted. She turned the planter around in order to get a better view, but the position on the tabletop has not changed, as you can tell by the curtains behind.
Thanks for the great advertising!
What are worm castings? I hope that I have answered your questions. We have built our business on the belief that having a good relationship with our customers is tantamount to having a successful business. Articles like these are just one way that we pass along our knowledge and expertise, free of charge. Customers like the lady above are why we keep on doing it!
Happy Gardening Everyone!