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Earthworm Castings

Some of the best fertilizer in the entire world is so simple to make. In fact, it’s likely being created under your feet right this minute such as earthworm castings. All over the planet, the humble earthworm is hard at work digging burrows and chewing through any material in their way. When pooped out, this digested dirt becomes one of the most beneficial forms of soil amendments in the entire world. And, garbage is what creates it!

Just one tablespoon of worm castings provide enough nutrients to keep a potted plant perfectly fed for two months. Additionally, similar benefits occur for outdoor plants. Best of all, worm castings are simple to make right at home with minimal equipment. With the proper setup, you can create high-quality garden fertilizer using nothing more than the trash you usually throw away.

What are Earthworm Castings?

As the excretions of earthworms, worm castings are what is left of garbage after worms have processed it. Often called ‘nature’s plow’, earthworms push their heads through the earth in order to create their burrows. When the soil is hard, worms move by eating their way through, creating some of the richest fertilizer known to man in the process.

Many nutrients in the soil aren’t available for plants to access until they have gone through the digestive system of worms. The acids in the stomachs of earthworms process common nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Then, they pass them out of their body as small dark droppings (called castings) which make them easy for plants to access. As an earthworm can produce its body weight in worm castings every day, even a relatively small amount of worms can quickly provide you with an enormous amount of castings.

How Do Earthworm Castings Benefit the Soil and Crops?

Not only are worm castings an ideal form of plant fertilizer, they also work as a high-quality soil enhancer and compost starter. Best of all, worm castings are clean and odorless, making it easy to forget how they are actually made.

Unlike other forms of manure or artificial fertilizer, worm castings are immediately absorbed by plants and also enhance the water retention abilities of the soil they are placed in. Thus, helping your plants to better withstand the stress of drought and heat while also inhibiting the development of diseases like root rot. Castings are also gentle enough that they won’t burn plant roots with their high levels of nitrogen. This means that they can be applied directly to your plants without having to be aged first.

Worm castings are also loaded with beneficial microbes from the stomachs of worms that help to renew worn-out soils and create better habitats for soil bacteria. Even better, worm castings contain far fewer pathogens than regular topsoil because worms remove them during their feeding frenzies.

Because castings contain 50% more humus than regular topsoil, they are far more beneficial for plants. Worms also moderate pH levels and remove heavy metals from the soil when they produce castings. Thus, making the soil less damaging for young plants.

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Where Can You Get Earthworm Castings?

Though it’s simple to buy earthworm castings from most well-stocked garden stores, a cheaper option is to create your own in a personal worm bin. These bins can either be purchased pre-made or built from scratch from simple materials. The type of bin you decide to use depends on your price point and the number of worm castings you want to have available.

  • Commercial Bin Systems: Pre-made bins typically contain several interlocking trays and are usually made from durable black plastic. They have mesh bottoms that allow liquid to drain through the layers into a collection system that creates a ‘worm tea’ that can be used to keep the system moist enough. The system works by allowing you to put food scraps in the top bins and stacking new bins on top as they fill. Over time, worms will process the bottom trays into castings, and after several weeks you can harvest these to use as a planting mix. Though commercial systems tend to be more expensive, they make producing worm castings extremely simple.
  • Homemade Bins: For a cheaper DIY alternative, homemade worm bins can be created with plastic storage bins. Though quite a bit of work is needed up front to get these bins to drain as efficiently as commercial bins, they can be just as effective for making worm castings.

How to Harvest Earthworm Castings

Worm castings are ready to be harvested from worm bins when almost all the organic material that you added to the bin has been broken down and you can see plenty of small, dark pellets. To get the worms to leave the castings, take the lid off your worm bin and put the casting-filled bin on top. Sensing the sunlight, the worms will burrow down through the layers into the lower worm bins and leave the castings. After a few hours, you can harvest these castings and distribute them where you need them later using the tray to start a new feeding layer in your worm bin.

How To Use Earthworm Castings

Worm castings make a great addition to potting soil or seed starting material. Simply use about one part worm castings to two parts potting soil for a healthy mix. You can also use them to top dress existing plants every two to three months to keep your plants at peak health.

When adding castings to your garden, be sure to mix them into the top few inches of soil or at the bottom of planting holes when transplanting established vegetables or flowers. You can side dress your plants every few weeks throughout the growing season at a rate close to ½ every two months. There’s little reason to worry about over-applying, as worm castings are too gentle to burn the roots of your plants.

To make a compost tea, you can soak several tablespoons of worm castings in a gallon of water overnight. After soaking, strain and dilute this mixture and use it to revitalize your plants.

Note: It’s not a good idea to use the dark brown waste liquid from your worm bin (called leachate) as a compost tea because it tends to contain phytotoxins that can hurt your plants. Instead, this liquid should be reapplied back into the bin when it seems too dry.

Additional Tips for Using Earthworm Castings

If you want some extra tips for making the most out of your worm bin, you can follow these tips for success.

Is Worm Compost Tea Worth the Hype?

This tea isn’t the kind you sip with your pinky in the air. But it sure is pretty special if you ask me! This unique tea is micro-brewed from fresh natural fertilizer made of red wiggler worm casts.

Worm compost tea, which is also known as vermicompost tea, is a vitamin and mineral-rich, micro-organism packed solution used to fertilize and protect gardens from a wide range of environmental stressors.

You can find this murky mixture for sale in select locations around town and very easily online. But I’m here to tell you that it’s very much worth the effort to make your own.

I’ll explain the finer details in a bit, but it basically requires fresh worm compost, dechlorinated water, and oxygen. Toss them all together, wait a handful of hours or days, depending on your brew, and boom, it’s ready!

Worm Compost Tea, What is it Good For?

Freshly brewed worm compost tea gives a vigorous boost to all kinds of plant life! Gardeners around the world employ its use to sustain all kinds of living landscapes.

Have you tried it yet?

It makes me feel rich! It is the absolute best liquid fertilizer a gardener could use, and it’s FREE!! Here are some ways it’s helped in my garden:

  • Used on the stems and leaves, beneficial bacteria ward off or destroy harmful organisms that may otherwise disease the plant. I spray the leaves of fruit trees and roses early in the season to dissuade insects or disease from taking up residence.
  • When poured into the soil to feed a plant’s roots, the tea delivers a nutrient-rich drink of vitamins, minerals, bacteria, and nematodes right to where the plant can immediately absorb it. My droopy potted plants spring back into full expression after a good soak in worm tea.
  • Soaking seeds in worm compost tea before planting them gives a superior head start by both moistening the seed coat, as well as inoculating the seed from damaging bacteria or pests that may interfere with a young seed’s growth. I definitely see a difference in the vigor of seeds and seedlings on tea!
  • I like to prepare the earth ahead of planting by turning the soil and watering it with worm compost tea to encourage whole areas of the garden to accept young fragile plants without causing shock. The tea creates a living environment that is more hospitable to plants than depleted soil.
  • When I cause bald spots in the lawn from, maybe leaving a pot in place too long, I attack it with tea to encourage rapid new growth. Areas of lawn closest to garden areas treated with worm tea stay green longer and resist more weeds. A denser root mass and thicker blades, lower the chances of random seeds finding either soilsun.
  • Old worm tea stinks. I get rid of it by “top-dressing” my hot compost pile or tumbler with nutrient-rich tea. Any remaining bacteria in the tea encourages faster decomposition.

There’s even more that worm compost tea has been touted as handling. Though I’ve never used my tea in this way, I find it fascinating and encouraging to know that where toxins have polluted the soil, worm tea organisms neutralize heavy metals and metabolize both carbon-based and non-carbon based chemicals.

Leachate’s Mistaken Identity

Worm compost tea is not to be confused with leachate, the liquid that seeps through your worm farm and drains from the bottom of your bin. Leachate is more like toxic sludge compared to the invigorating elixir we make from worm casts.

Leachate contains raw matter that hasn’t been filtered through the worms’ systems and made into casts. It’s the amazing digestive process of red wigglers, in particular, that eliminates harmful organisms and concentrates what’s left into valuable “black gold.”

Non-processed leachate may contain pathogens and rot fungi, a dangerous combination when fed to tender roots and shoots.

Straight leachate should never be used in the place of tea. However, leachate can still be used as a tea starter. Just be wary, if it smells bad it’s going nowhere good. When in doubt, toss it out – to the hot compost pile, where it can become new again.

Brew Worm Tea vs. Buy Commercial Fertilizer

So, why go through the trouble of steeping worm compost instead of just buying liquid fertilizer? Most of my reasons are pretty crunchy, tree hugger, yet every bit as legit.

  1. Using worm tea is an environmentally responsible choice. Eliminating the use of chemical fertilizers could bring life back to many poisoned bodies of water and the surrounding habitats.
  2. By raising worms to create the worm casts for tea, nearly a thousand pounds of your household waste could be diverted from landfills each year. Liquid fertilizer just leaves you with one more plastic bottle to add to the heap.
  3. Homemade worm tea requires almost zero energy output of any sort. In comparison, the fuel, pollution, cost, waste, time, and hazards of creating and attaining commercial liquid fertilizer cause damage before a drop even hits earth.
  4. Chemical fertilizers are known to be harmful to plants when used in too strong a concentration. That leaves a lot of room for human error and damaged crops or ornamentals. In contrast, worm tea will never “burn” even the most tender roots.

What makes up worm tea?

So by now, you may be thinking about what’s actually in the tea that makes it so great. The thing is, there’s no definition or standard when it comes to making a tea. There are only microbes, nutrients, minerals, and water.

Each batch varies according to the makeup of the worm compost (or leachate) and the conditions it was brewed under. As variable as a bin of compost is, is how variable the quality, strength, or physical makeup of your tea will be.

Here’s an example of what you’d find on a commercial bottle of worm compost tea.

  • Organic Carbon 20-30%
  • Nitrogen 1.8-2%
  • Phosphorus 1.2-1.9%
  • Potassium 1.2-1.5%
  • Nitrogen Carbon 14-15%
  • Calcium 3-4.5%
  • Magnesium 0.4-0.7%
  • Sodium .02-.03
  • Sulfur 0.40%
  • Iron 0.3%
  • Zinc 0.025%
  • Copper 0.0032%
  • Boron 0.0032%
  • Aluminum Traces 0.070%

More Bacteria Bang for Your Buck

Notice, this list doesn’t state anything about the quantity or type of beneficial aerobic bacteria, enzymes, and protozoa that populate their concentrate. Interesting, since these are what we particularly want in the highly oxygenated gardens we fertilize!

It may be that commercial bottles can’t quantify such things since a closed bottle doesn’t allow for aerobic activity to continue and the levels are altered as it sits on the shelf. Or, maybe they are more concerned with selling the nutritional benefits alone. Not sure.

We know that some bacteria can hibernate in unfavorable conditions then spring into action when conditions are right. We also know that in the absence of oxygen harmful anaerobic microbes multiply. Uh oh.

Is this the case with these bottled teas? I can neither confirm nor deny that one without more research, but I do know that I can use up a 5-gallon bucket of worm compost tea in no time. Which is good, because not only do the aerobic bacteria from worm compost die without oxygen, they don’t live very long, period.

For what it’s worth, you should never store homemade tea. It should be used up within a day or two of being steeped, more quickly than that if you can. Harmful anaerobic microbes quickly take over the solution once the population of beneficial peaks and rapidly falls.

Why worm compost tea rather than worm compost alone?

It comes right down to bio-availability. In liquid form, roots can suck the nutrients right up and the soil can benefit instantly. The tea is also able to be sprayed to achieve results on leaves, and over a much wider area than an equal amount of compost could be spread.

Worm compost, on the other hand, is a great, long-lasting, slow-release fertilizer. It essentially creates a “run-off tea” each time it rains or is watered over.

Tea stands out because it is made in an oxygen-rich environment. The oxygen is what promotes such great bacterial growth in such a short amount of time.

The densely populated tea delivers similar nutrition as the compost itself, but much greater quantities of live bacteria. It’s the bacteria which bring new life into the soil fortifying the root system and healthy biome in and around the base of your plants.

Brewmaster prepare!

Homebrewing a solution of worm compost tea requires a process of encouraging beneficial bacterial growth in clean aerated water. It can be done in as little as a day and as long as a couple weeks.

There are two very easy ways to make worm compost tea. Both involve creating a solution from worm compost and water. One includes aerating the tea as it steeps. The other is let to sit still a bit longer. As the tea steeps, the beneficial microbes inside multiply rapidly. It’s this life that when applied creates the protection within the soil or on the leaves of plants.

How to Make Worm Compost Tea

Worm compost + non-chlorinated water + oxygen + time = worm compost tea

I was never very good at math, but this kind of equation is simple enough for anyone! The best thing about it is, each part of this recipe can be made to work in a variety of ways.

For example, I know I have some time to play outside today, so I’ll go find a bucket, take a few scoops of worm compost from my most complete batch, add some water from my rain barrel, and I’ll let it sit open in the shade all day. Whenever I happen to walk by I’ll stir it up a bit and just let it steep until it’s time to water new plantings in.

At the end of the day, I’ll add more dechlorinated water and let it sit overnight. By tomorrow I’ll have more nutritious tea to feed my garden with. After that, I’ll add that used up compost to a potted plant and use up the tea so that the bacteria don’t die and start to make a stinky mess of putrid slime. It’s easy enough to start again another day.

Now, how about some tea?

There’s so much to learn and discover about worm composting! It’s an exciting hobby that we love to share with interesting people like you!

Keep connected, sign up for The Squirm Firm’s free monthly newsletter. Once each month we’ll deliver fresh content to your inbox. Inside you’ll find the tips, tricks, and expert advice that make worm composting fun and useful for a lifetime.

Worm Castings 101: What It Is, Its Benefits, How to Make and Use It

Worm castings – you’ve probably heard of this miracle material before, but you don’t quite know what it is. You can use worm castings for many garden applications, including as a soil base or fertilizer.

I love to make worm castings at home, it is one of my favorite home composting methods.

Let’s get right into the basics of worm castings and see how it can help you!

What Are Worm Castings?

Worm castings, also called vermicompost, are the end product of the breakdown of organic matter by worms. Yes, you heard that correctly-worm castings are worm poo. As the worms eat through compost or soil, they absorb certain nutrients that make their waste the perfect material for soil enrichment.

According to the University of California, earthworm casting contains iron, sulfur, and calcium in optimal concentrations. They also determined the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) rating to be 5:5:3.

You can use any organic materials, like food scraps, yard clippings, and animal feces. Toss them into the compost bin, and let the worms go to work! The result is nutrient-rich soil that can boost your plants and protect them against diseases and pests.

It’s surprisingly easy to establish and maintain a worm bin, and you can even keep it inside with a proper setup. Vermicomposting requires minimal care, making it an excellent project for kids to teach them about green gardening.

Benefits of Worm Castings

There are many benefits which worm castings can bring to your garden, they’re the perfect organic compost for the soil and plants with zero harmful chemicals:

Increase soil fertility

Organic worm castings can make better seed germination, more flower and fruit production.

Increase yield

Worm castings can be a huge boon to plant growth, the plants, fruit and flowers can grow faster and bigger. With bacteria and microbes in the castings, it helps the plants become more disease resistant.

Increase aeration and water retention

Worm castings add organic matter into the soil, improving air flow in the soil. It also helps the soil retain water better.

Safe for kid & pets without odor

You can fertilize your lawn in the morning with worm castings tea and allow your kids or pets to play later that day with no worries.

How to Make Worm Castings?

Worm castings need some preparations, but not as difficult as you thought. Below is my process to make worm castings, just give it a try and you can also make your worm castings at home. It’s actually fun!

Step 1: Choose the bin

Choose a stackable vermicomposting system. The purpose of stacked trays is to allow worms working from a lower tray to upper tray, and prevents pests from getting in.

Put the bin into a cool, dark, dry area away from the hot sun.

Step 2: Add bedding

Place coco fiber brick in the bowl and cover with water, wait 2 hours for it to expand.

Place fabric and newspaper on the base of the first working tray. Once the coco fiber brick has expanded, grab it out of the bowl and layer it over the newspaper.

The purpose of the fabric on the bottom is to filter everything that will spill or go down from the bedding.

Step 3: Add worms

Get red wigglers, the most common compost worms. You can order them from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm.

How many worms do you need? Think about how much food you throw away per day. Worms can eat half of their body weight worth of food.

Add the worms on top of coco fiber and newspaper. Meanwhile, keep any bedding that came with the worms together. And cover with hessian as a worm blanket.

Step 4: Feed & Don’t feed worms

Dig a shallow trench on top of the bedding, place food scraps which are only half the body weight of the worms, and then cover with the bedding and blanket again.

When adding more food, dig a new trench next to the previous one, continue this until you reach the end of the farm, then jump back to where you started. And make sure you tear the food up into small pieces because worms have small mouths.

Here’s a list of food you can and can’t feed your worms:

Feed Don’t Feed
Raw & cooked food(except meat) Citrus and onions
Fruit & vegetable scraps Diary products
Coffee grounds & tea bags Eggs, meat, fish bones and scraps
Old flower,rotting leaves & grass Cheeze, butter, salad
Shredded cardboard Spicy, salty, or fatty foods
Pet Waste

Step 5: Maintain conditions

Covering the worms helps them eat faster. It also helps keep flies away since they can’t access food buried below the dirt.

It’s better to maintain your bin under the temperature from 55℉ to 90℉ and moisture from 60% to 90%.

Step 6: Harvest worm castings

The worms naturally migrate away from the lower tray up to the upper tray when there is nothing to eat in the lower tray, leaving the lower tray full of rich, dark composted matter and very few worms.

Remove the lower tray, screen and sort out undigest organic matter, and put left worms back to the new tray. For the left composted matter, dry them out and you will have the perfect worm castings!

If above process is too troublesome for you, then just directly purchasing wiggle worm soil builder worm castings is a good choice : )

How To Use Worm Castings?

You can use worm castings in a variety of ways.

Indoor potted plants

Apply an inch to the top layer of soil and scratch it deeper into the soil. The earthworm castings will help the plant if it has any nutrient deficiencies. Re-apply every two months.

Outdoor plants

Apply two inches to the top layer of soil and then work it into the ground with a spade. Worm castings will provide long-lasting nutrients to your outdoor plants.

Lawn and turf

Spread four pounds of worm casting for every 100 square feet of grass. After you apply the earthworm castings, use a sprinkler to ensure the castings absorb into the ground.

Worm tea application

“Worm tea” is a liquid fertilizer made from dissolving worm castings in water.

Collect worm castings in cheesecloth or T-shirt, soak a bundle in a bucket of water overnight, and then strain liquid and add to a spray bottle, you will get the perfect worm compost tea!

You can directly spray worm tea on plants and soil.

FAQs

What are worm castings good for?

Worm castings are essentially a time-release fertilizer made from 100% organic matter. It can help plants grow, increase soil fertility and help soil retain moisture.

What are the disadvantages of worm castings?

Worm castings aren’t great for acid-loving plants. Since worm castings have a neutral pH, they don’t support plants that like an acidic environment.

If you’re making your own worm castings, getting enough casting to use as fertilizer can take months. The upkeep will also take a considerable amount of time.

For most plants, worm castings aren’t enough. You’ll have to purchase other sorts of fertilizer depending on the plant you’re feeding. For example, once a tomato plant begins fruiting, you’ll need a fertilizer high in nitrogen and potassium, something worm castings don’t have.

Are worm castings good for all plants?

Ye, worm castings are good for almost all plants as they contain a variety of nutritions which are ready to be absorbed by the plants. You can use worm castings for your container plants, flower beds, lawn, herbs, cannabis and more.

How often should you use worm castings?

If you use worm castings as a fertilizer for potted plants, it’s recommended to reapply the castings every month. After a month, the primary nutrients have already deposited themselves in the soil, so you’ll need to reapply to get more plant growth.

Can I use too much worm castings?

Not really! Worm castings don’t contain any chemical fertilizers, meaning they won’t cause fertilizer burn on your plants if you use too much. As you water, more nutrients are released, but never too much to damage your plant.

Can you start seeds in worm castings?

Yes, you can, but you need to make a potting mix. An excellent soil mix for seeds should only have a small amount of worm castings. The vermicompost acts like time-release fertilizer, giving your seeds nutritious soil to grow in.

Making Compost a Way of Life

I always put two dedicated stainless steel bowls in the kitchen. One is for collecting food scraps for worms, the other is for bokashi composting. Both composting methods are fun and satisfying as soon as you get used to it.

If you have kids, kids would definitely like to engage with the lovely worms. And unlike chemical fertilizers, worm castings are completely non-toxic and won’t hurt people.

Ready To Get Started with Worm Castings?

Worm castings are a fantastic tool for any gardener. From worm casting tea to its uses as a grass fertilizer, there are countless ways you can use worm castings in your garden.

If you need more motivation and enjoy connecting with like-minded gardeners, welcome to join our Garden Alchemist Facebook community. Let’s compost “Gold” together!