By Sara Smith
Composting is becoming popular for several reasons – one of which is our overflowing landfills. According to the NC Cooperative Extension, about 75 % of what we discard is organic material. Why not turn it into a wonder soil amendment for your plants?
Another reason for the popularity of composting is the rise in home vegetable gardening which produces more organic waste and more of a demand for organic fertilizer.
Vermicomposting is one form that turns garbage into organically rich castings containing microorganisms, minerals, enzymes and more all in a form that is easily accessible to plants. It produces less odor and attracts fewer pests than putting food scraps in the garbage can. It requires very little space, labor or maintenance.
Growers prefer castings over compost because they have a higher concentration of micro-organisms, better disease control, and enzymes and plant growth regulators only found in worm work soil. Plants grown with worm castings tend to have greater leaf areas, heavier root systems and larger and sweeter tasting fruits.
Worm bins can be purchased or homemade. Because there is no odor, bins can be kept inside for easy access or outside in a sheltered place. Use slightly damp shredded newspaper to begin the bedding. Keep a layer of bedding on the top of your food scraps.
The worms to use in your bins are top feeders and must be purchased from a knowledgeable vendor or acquired from someone who has a working system.
Worms eat any organic waste and paper products such as toilet paper rolls and coffee filters. Do not feed them meat, dairy, citrus, tobacco or pet waste.
In about 3 months, food scraps and bedding will be turned into a rich, soil-like material. Mix it into soil for new plantings, spread around existing plants including potted plants. An easy way to harvest the worm castings is to move all the bedding material to one side of the bin and continue to feed only on that side. In a couple of weeks, the worms will migrate to the feeding side and you can scoop out the vermicompost. Fill the empty side with bedding and begin the process again.
All these are compelling reasons to have a worm bin, but I needed to see for myself the benefits of using vermicompost as opposed to compost. A fellow Extension Master Gardener Volunteer and I bought a six pack of impatiens. We transplanted two using Durham soil. Another two were transplanted in a mix of Durham soil and compost. The last two were transplanted in a mix of Durham soil, compost and vermicompost.
Six weeks later, the ones planted in Durham soil looked dwarfed compared to the ones in the mixtures, but the clear winners were the ones with the vermicompost. They were half again the size of the ones in Durham soil and compost. Their leaves were deeper green and they had more flowers.
We then unpotted one of each set to compare their root growth. The one in plain soil was a small clump with a few strings sticking out. The one in soil and compost was about twice as large and the one with vermicompost had roots that hung off the dish. Tangible proof that vermicompost really does make a difference. So, set up a worm bin and reap the benefits.