If you check the soil of most healthy gardens, you'll find a thriving population of earthworms living there. While some people might find worms a bit unsightly, gardeners can't get enough of them — mostly because these critters are particularly good at aerating the soil and replenishing its nutrients. Knowing how to properly take advantage of worm droppings, also known as castings, can make all of your plants happier and healthier in the long run. Of course, you can’t stop worms from traveling beyond the confines of your yard, so how do you keep all of that goodness for yourself? All you have to do is take up vermicomposting and start creating your own worm colony! It might sound like something that would stink your house up or be hard to get involved in, but it's actually a much more pleasant process than you'd expect it to be.
As we mentioned earlier, castings are just the masses of waste worms produce on a regular basis. They sure sound unappealing, but remember that they're no grosser than any other manure you'd use in your garden. Worm castings are shaped like little footballs and act as powerhouses when it comes to improving your soil's nutrient levels. They can also help increase the amount of water that the soil retains and improve its overall drainage capacity.
Why Apply Worm Castings?
You might be thinking that you could get the same benefits from a store-bought fertilizer without having to deal with worm excrement, but you'd be missing out on some of the castings' unmatched benefits. First and foremost, you can apply worm castings directly to your plants without having to worry about nutrient burn. Plus, you can use them on just about any variety. Since worm droppings are naturally occurring products, you can also put the fear of ever over-fertilizing them out of your mind. Finally, you'll be glad to hear that once you've covered the initial cost of assembling a colony, you’ll only have to put a minimal amount of money into your vermicomposting endeavor.
The Art of Vermicomposting
The process of creating your own worm castings through vermicomposting is actually pretty easy. Simply buy or make a bin or box for your worms to live in, put compostable materials in it for bedding, and throw in a little food. Give the worms a little time to adapt to their new home, and soon enough you’ll have plenty of precious waste to use in your garden.
You'll find some excellent vermicomposting kits online that can be set up and maintained with little to no difficulty. These bins are typically multi-tiered, which will allow you to cultivate a few different colonies at the same time. If you decide to make a container from scratch, try not to make it any deeper than 12 inches. It might seem like a good idea to add more depth in order to house more worms and composting materials, but deeper bins are always more likely to emit a strong, unpleasant odor. You’ll also want to make sure your bin has a decent number of drainage holes in its underside. As long as your worm habitat is relatively shallow and has adequate drainage, you shouldn’t have a problem with bad smells.
Once you've got your hands on a good container, you’ll want to line the bottom of it with some moistened newspaper strips and a bit of sand. Add a layer of leaf litter or other compostable materials over that, followed by some more newspaper strips and finally soil. At this point, you can insert the worms into the bin alongside a few kitchen or garden scraps for food. From here on out, you'll replace the food scraps and dry bedding as needed.
After a few months, you'll have to separate the worms from the vermicompost material. There are a few ways to go about this, but one of the easiest is investing in a dual setup. If you have two composting bins, you'll be able to move the worms from one to the other when it comes time to collect their castings. Once you’ve settled the worms into their new habitat, you can spread the soil from their old one all over your garden.
Many people think that starting a colony is as simple as going outside and pulling some of the worms they find in their gardens, but the reality is that only certain species will thrive in composting bins. These include Lumbricus rubellus, also known as red earthworms, and Eisenia fetida, commonly referred to as red wigglers. Luckily, both of these species can be purchased online for your vermicomposting convenience.
Depending on the species you choose to cultivate, your worm population will usually double every few months or so. A single worm cocoon can have anywhere between two and 20 babies inside of it, and all of those larvae can start having offspring of their own shortly after hatching. Most earthworms have an average lifespan of six to nine years.
Time to Harvest Some Worm Castings
Vermicomposting is a fun and natural way to pump some beneficial nutrients back into your garden’s soil. Unnerved by the thought of having to touch worms? Consider making this a family project and including your kids or grandkids. They're much less likely to have a problem picking up "creepy crawlies." Above all else, remember that keeping earthworms is easy, doesn’t smell when done correctly, and can really help your garden produce some beautiful blooms and bountiful harvests.