“Compost” is a common term among gardeners, but what about “vermicomposting?” If you’ve never heard of vermicomposting, it’s composting, but with worms! However, not just any worms will work for an efficient vermicompost bin. The earthworms that you find naturally in your garden can still break down food waste but they aren’t the most efficient eaters. Instead, you’ll want to use red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida) or European nightcrawlers (dendrobaena hortensis). These worms have more voracious appetites and can process food waste much faster than your garden variety earthworm.
Vermicomposting has many benefits for your garden, but one of the most common reasons why gardeners like it is because there usually aren’t any odors, especially if you have an in-ground worm bin, buried into the soil. Compost worms work fast – most kitchen scraps can be turned into finished compost, the worm castings, in less than two weeks.
Worm castings are extremely beneficial for your garden as well. Worm castings increases soil fertility by adding humus (decomposed plants and other organic matter) which is high in microorganisms, that can help plants absorb nutrients. A worm’s digestive system also contains enzymes and hormones that helps break down food waste as it moves through their digestive tracts, and thousands of good microbes gets passed down into the soil, which can help fight off plant diseases.
Water retention is also aided by the use of worm castings, because worm castings can hold three times their weight in water. This means that even in dry conditions, your plants can stay hydrated longer. Worm castings can also help your soil structure by improving aeration, infiltration and drainage and can aid in stabilizing pH levels.
Worm castings contains high levels of chitinase, which is an enzyme that helps dissolve chitin, which is what most insects’ exoskeletons are made of. The use of worm castings can help repel insects that suck and chew your plants, such as aphids and whiteflies. If these types of insects eat a plant that has absorbed the chitinase, it dissolves their stomachs and kills off the troublesome pests.
While worm castings contains approximately seven times the amount of nitrogen and five times the phosphorus and potassium in regular topsoil, worm castings won’t hurt your plants. Pure worm castings are a gentle slow-release fertilizer, so you don’t need to worry that it will shock or burn your plants. And while a little goes a long way, it’s actually pretty difficult to overfeed your plants with worm castings.
----Photos from Alison Cooksey