The thing that most new gardeners don’t get is that it takes time to build up good soil. You didn’t have a good first year? Most likely it was either poor soil, not enough water, or not enough sun. Sometimes it is all three. Then throw in a few pests like aphids or hornworms, you can get very discouraged.
With my old yard, it took me about 5 years until I got to where I’d removed all the rocks and added enough amendments from free sources that my soil was rich and loamy. I effectively built a layer of soil on top of the original soil.
In order to speed up soil improvement, it helps to actively work in compost and especially worm castings. My original yard had less than an inch of dark topsoil and under it was this red clay which was terrible for multiple reasons.
What are Worm Castings?
Worm castings are worm manure. You throw in some cardboard or a banana in a bin or bucket and the worms get attracted in and munch on things. Then they poop this very useful worm poop that is excellent for plants.
Worm poop is a very neutral ph of around 7 and can go right to use in any garden of basically any type. I also like rabbit poop as it is pretty easy to put to use without burning things. One of the first big blunders I did was trying to compost all my chicken droppings for fertilizer and completely killed that part of my yard for basically half a year.
The neat thing about earthworms is that they are so well adapted as well as good for the soil. They move around and eat palatable organic matter. Their guts work this organic matter in a bath of enzymes, bacteria, and they help get all that good nutrient stuff out of there (magnesium, calcium, potassium), and they might even drop more cocoons down that turn into yet more worm babies.
Plants thrive in this stuff and was almost exclusively how I fertilized everything as I had tons of it and never had to worry about burning my plants.
Great Things About Worm Castings
The big thing is they are the foundation of healthy soil. This is what leads to amazing plants with huge growth and yield. They are said to help make the soil safer for plants by:
- reducing bad fungi and bacteria
- they help balance out heavy metal ratios in the soil as they keep the metals in their bodies
- the ph of the manure helps balance soil
- the soil will have enhanced aeration, better drainage, as well as many enhancements that affect plant health and nutrient absorption
- finished compost won’t burn plants and are considered a no salt slow release fertilizer
- can be used for any plant or tree
- are consistently shown to increase yield by a pretty hefty degree
How to Use Worm Castings in The Garden
The most common way I see people use worm castings is they add a few tablespoons around their plants or use maybe one pound of the stuff for every square foot of their garden. Some people also like to sprinkle it all during the season to keep their heavy feeding plants growing steadily.
Other people do this compost tea thing where they put water, worm compost, and unsulfured molasses in a bucket and wait about a day while keeping it aerated, then they spray this everywhere they want some plant nutrition.
I was lazier than this honestly and my solution was to plan my garden beds and put a 5-gallon bucket right in the center of my planting grid as was mentioned by a random forum goer back many years ago. There were holes in the bottom that allowed worms to come in and out as they pleased and they would consistently spread their poopy goodness around.
All this kitchen waste can be turned into worm food.
I’d just fill the buckets and wait for them to break down, if a lot of finished compost was resting in a bucket I would spread it around and refill it again according to resources on hand.
Where to Get Worm Castings
Worm castings can be acquired by buying bags of worm castings from various garden and farm stores. The expensive bags are often better than the manure or regular compost offerings.
Worm castings can also easily be ordered online and shipped in.
I usually liked to encourage whatever local worms were in my soil. They could be put to work by either doing the bucket in ground method or digging worm compost trenches where I put in worm food on an unused part of the garden and let them work it into the rest of the soil.
Of course, there are considerations to make like not digging up or tilling the active worm sites and not using pesticides. Mulch also helps a ton and in a pinch, a lot of shredded cardboard or waste paper from junk mail and such sources is useful as a free mulch.
Worm populations do take a bit to increase though over time their numbers can get very high.
If a person wanted to make a specialized worm bin to be kept indoors they may choose to go with red wigglers specifically as they seem to do best in captivity.
I like to use little bins like the below for a variety of functions as they are good for holding worms, cloning, planting, or bottom watering, etc. Though the worm enclosure should have very small holes added for water drainage so you don’t accidentally flood the worms.