Deborah Lando writes the weekly gardening column for the Triplicate, a daily newspaper serving the northern California-southern Oregon coastal region. As a longtime nursery owner, and overseer of Alfa Vedic Botanical Gardens, Deborah still finds time to teach gardening classes from basics to master level, and shares her substantial knowledge in organic gardening practices and garden Feng Shui. The following post will appear in the May 20th Triplicate, and the AV Blog will now feature her popular articles with the AV community as they are published here in the pacific northwest.
THE MIGHTY EARTHWORM
Worms! Not one of Nature’s most appealing creations and a bit slimy to boot, but beauty is always in the eye of the beholder. With every turn of the shovel the journeyman gardener is ever mindful that a sighting of these soil creatures is a most auspicious sign indeed.
The value of this small, but critical garden helper is a story worth the attention of any serious horticulturist. Charles Darwin in particular entertained a life long fascination with the earthworm that eventually led to his in-depth research on the matter in the late 1800’s; his definitive findings would become the subject of a book published in 1881. Darwin concluded that millions of these tiny creatures, given time, could change the face of the Earth.
Darwin stated, “The plough is one of the most ancient and most valuable of mans inventions, but long before he existed the land was in fact regularly ploughed, and still continues to be thus ploughed by earth-worms.” His experimental observations were foundational to a belief that the deaf and blind earthworm possessed an innate intelligence, as it digested organic matter, broke it down, and eventually ‘cast off’ what it ate. Today we call it vermicomposting and/or worm castings.
Nearly a century and a half later, our topsoil shares only a vague resemblance to that of Darwin’s time. Commercial fertilizers, hazardous fungicides, and toxic Round-up ready products assault the Earths soil on farms and home gardens on a massive global scale. Disinformation campaigns (marketing) persuade the uninformed that noxious poisons somehow bless humanity, as the “better living through chemistry” mantra has permeated the collective consciousness for decades.
Today we bear unfortunate witness to the ecological devastation upsetting the natural balance of millenniums in a mere few years use of these for-profit concoctions. So what can we do to mitigate these practices that any sane species would consider counter productive to long-term survival? What actions can we take to become responsible participants within the Natural Order? The humble, yet prodigious worm is our answer, and it was Darwin who formally offered a closer look at this garden ally. Current research continues to substantiate the overwhelming benefits of vermicomposting, and the use of worm castings for both large-scale agriculture and home gardening alike. The near-miraculous effects to soil and plant life include the following:
- The minimum application of one cup of pure worm castings applied to a single plant has demonstrated its capacity of producing disease-resistant, vital plants. Recent studies in the Napa Valley Vineyards have shown that 1 cup of castings applied to newly transplanted grapes have reduced plant loss from 20% down to 1%. That’s a 19% drop in mortality! Who needs chemicals?
- Vegetables, fruit trees, or any edible plant have increased flavor enhancement.
- Worm castings have 5 times more nitrogen, 7 times more phosphate, 10 times more potash, 3 times more usable magnesium, and 1.5 times more calcium. Because calcium helps plants uptake nitrogen for green growth, this eliminates the need for powdered store bought nutrients. In addition, powdered nutrients leech away more quickly and are harder for the plant to utilize.
- Nutrients from castings are longer lasting, and easier for plants to assimilate.
- Castings increase soil aggregation, and water holding capacity.
- The worms themselves create burrows when moving through the soil thereby increasing aeration. This is particularly effective for clay and compacted soil.
For these reasons alone, worm by-products are perhaps the single-most powerful technology capable of stimulating a global reset to ecology and agriculture. Can you imagine a world free of hazardous chemicals of any kind? Natural mechanisms would prevail and restore balance with breath-taking rapidity if freed from the toxic burden now overwhelming our waterways, and topsoil.
What can you do to help? Start composting at home, and begin creating your own worm farm.
First, find a shady spot or covered area to protect your bins and/or worm farm tower. Secondly, organic manure and organic food scraps provide an excellent source of food for your worms. Allow an aging of this matter to reduce heat production, and pathogens, then add to your primary worm housing. This process will take 60 days for the creation of vermicompost (partially worm worked material), and a year for pure worm castings. Both are of equal benefit to the soil.
Another by product of vermicomposting is the liquid runoff that can be used as a potent brew called ‘compost tea’. Compost tea has many of the same attributes as castings plus enormous microbial populations that enhance healthy soil production, while liberating vital elements necessary for robust plant growth.
For the DIY folks, an abundance of information is readily available to guide every facet of worm farming from building inexpensive compost bins to tea brewing systems. If you’d rather the plug and play version, several on-line sources are available with varying degrees of cost. The living red wiggler worms you’ll need to prime your farmstead are in the neighborhood of $29.00 per 1000. These are the recommended variety of worms when creating a worm habitat.
It is no wonder that with all the benefits from these incredible creatures the treasure they leave behind for the humans to use is considered ‘black gold’.
“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the Earth” ~ Mathew 5:5