So, I stumbled across a bit about using worm castings to make soil more fertile, does anyone here have any experience with it? E.g. does it work well, what's a good brand, how do you use it, etc. Thanks for your time!
I don't know of any good brands to purchase, but I can recommend the Lee Gee brand. It is exactly the same as the future "Heiden Lentz" brand.
Vermicomposting or vermiculture is the fine art of widening your circle of friends who will live in a bin, Red Wiggler worms. Feed them your veggie and fruit scraps (except for citrus and onions) and they will produce for you the second best fertilizer on the planet next to bat guano (poop).
It's easy to do small scale. Look online and find a pound or two or red wiggler worms. Careful with shipping in the winter, they might get left in a truck overnight, not good. As you are awaiting your worms to arrive - Get two totes or bins that will nest and have fitted lids. Cut a hole, small-ish in the middle of one short end on the bottom. This bin goes inside the other bin and will catch the worm tea. You can dilute this and spray it directly on the leaves or water it in to the soil. Back to the bin set up. Drill holes in the top of the interior bin that sits above the bottom bin. Your worms need to breath. Get some newspaper, black and white print only - colored inks may contain heavy metals, and shred it and soak it in water. Wring it out, fluff it up and put it into the bottom of the inner bin. Wad up some newspaper and put it semi snugly in the hole in the bottom of your bin. You want liquids to drip through but want to prevent red wiggler suicides. When your worms arrive, put them in their new home. If you have a good distributor, they will include some starter food with the worms. Harvesting worm poop depends upon how many worms and the size of the bin, the temperature and how much you feed them.
This is a good tip - if you want to avoid fruit flies, freeze your fruit and veggie scraps first, it kills the fruit fly eggs.
Worms like to be in the dark so keep the lid tightly on, put them under the sink, the bottom of a closet or drape some cloth over them. You now have a forever source of great fertilizer.
Oh, your new best friends will multiply if fed well, so you can split them and make another bin, or give them away.
Here is a link of 'red wiggler composting' to get you started:
Worm castings indeed work very well both for enriching soil mineral content and adding to the bacterial species and numbers, then there are the extra enzymes that are present in worm castings as a little bonus to the bacterium.
When looking for "bagged" castings you want to read the label very carefully and hope that the bag is labeled "USDA certified organic", which means there aren't any really nasty components used in the bagging or treating of the contents.
As Lee Gee brought up, you can very easily grow your own castings by starting a worm farm.
If you can't afford a large quantity of red wigglers to get started, you can go to a store that sells fishing bait and buy red wigglers in tubs of 50, just a couple of these tubs will get you started.
When you are testing "nesting tubs" try to determine how much distance there is between the two tubs when stacked one inside the other, you can get away with just an inch but two to three inches is super.
The holes need to be small enough to keep the worms in or you can use window screen wire held in place by a bead of silicone caulk over larger holes.
The "tea" is mostly water released by the vegetable matter the worms eat but sometimes it goes through enough castings to make it more of a primordial soup type liquid, which is very good for any plant.
I harvest castings in the spring and again in the fall, I have 2 50 gal. bins with over 8k worms between the two and I harvest around 15 lbs. wet castings per harvest. (you can dry castings but I don't recommend it)
To use castings you just sprinkle them around the plant then gently work them into the top inch or two of the soil so they stay where you want them.
This is one of those items where a little is great, more is less than great. It's better to give 4 applications over 4 months than to make one single heavy application.
For an extra boost you can alternate castings and Epsom salts (one shot of Epsom in the early spring, then the 1 shot a month for the next four months of the worm castings) to not only benefit the plant but also the microbiome that feeds the plant.
Right now, my backyard composter is full of partially finished and frozen, uncooked compost, including lots of rabbit bedding and coffee grounds. I have taken to layering my rabbit litter atop my weekly compost contributions right in my garden bed. The eggs of the worms I introduced last season will hatch, find the candy that is the raw paper-based bedding and coffee grounds, and turn it into Christopher Kott Brand worm castings.
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein
It is simple to use Heiden. I mix a scoopful (1/2 to 1 cup) into the hole/soil for each baby tomato sized transplant. When planting seeds I lightly rake some into the top layer of soil before planting. Or simply spread it around & water it in. Can make compost teas out of it too. Hard to go wrong with vermicompost.
Don't recall ever buying any. Easy to make at home. I use the bin technique for kitchen waste & scrap paper. In the process of building a larger scale system for composting cow pies & chickenstraw. This polar vortex thing isn't helping:) The worms speed up the composting process & provide superior results. Wouldn't bother moving cow poo if it wasn't worth it. For great quality soil ... make, or at least use, vermicompost.
Good luck. Welcome to permies.
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