On Vermicomposting and What Makes this Sh!t so Sh!t Hot
I frequently preach about why composting is important. The spiel goes something like this: it saves sending our organic waste to landfill, which results in less greenhouse gases and less pollution on the planet (a more informative version of my explanation can be found here).
This alone is an excellent reason to compost. But the product this process results in, the vermicompost itself, is also a hero in this story. And it provides you with a second excellent reason to get composting. This blog explains just how valuable vermicompost is for our soil and plants and gives us a better understanding of how composting turns our trash into something we can truly treasure.
The Hidden Treasures in Vermicompost
Vermicompost is largely comprised of actual sh!t. The worms eat the trash, the worms digest the trash, and the compost is what remains after they have pooed it out. It’s the age-old story of digestion. But to end the story there would be to seriously betray the complexity of vermicompost and the rich diversity of microbial life it contains.
In reality, vermicompost is actually the jewel in gardening’s crown. But if it’s just sh!t, why is vermicompost so sh!t hot? Let’s break this poop down.
Worm Castings (to refrain from the toilet talk for a moment and give it a respectable title) contain a long list of minerals beneficial to plant growth. Here are a few to give you an idea: borax, calcium, carbon, cobalt, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, nitrates, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. Castings also contain a highly active biological mixture of bacteria and enzymes.
Vermicompost is also made up of high level of humus, the organic matter that hasn’t actually been through the worm but forms when plants and animals undergo the process of decay. Humus consists of a whole heap of useful nutrients, including the Casanovas of your garden soil, nitrogen and humic acid (see below for full details of their charms in the garden).
All of these elements are excellent at increasing the microbial activity in our soil and ultimately improving its quality. And the better our soil, the more productive our veggie patches will be. Which is exactly what we want.
Cutting the Crap: What exactly is compost doing for my garden?
The following list gives you some idea of what vermicompost is doing for your gardens. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s enough to demonstrate what a true treasure your vermicompost can be for your soil and for the quality of your home grown veggies.
- Vermicompost improves soil’s water retention, aeration, and drainage. Specifically, it decreases drainage and compaction problems in clay soil and improves water retention in sandy soils. It also clusters in a way that helps soil withstand erosion.
- The humus in vermicompost is good for the bulk density of soil because it adds organic matter. The more organic matter in your soil, the lower the bulk density and the higher the productivity of your garden.
- Humus also extracts toxins and harmful fungi and bacteria from the soil.
- And in amongst the whole beautiful mess are more worm eggs so that the process of decomposition can continue as the new worms hatch (although t’s worth noting that composting worms are reliant on large amounts of organic matter to survive. This means they are unlikely to flourish in soil in the same way that earthworms do but at least they will leave a valuable nitrogen deposit when they die).
- Were you aware of just how incredible humic acid is?! In short, humic acid stimulates plant growth. But its real beauty lies in the details. Humic acid increases nutrient uptake, seed germination and drought tolerance. Because it increases microbial activity in soils it makes for a highly effective root stimulator. It also helps aerate your soil, increases the nutrients available to it and balances the pH. All of this promotes improved plant health and growth. Humic acid for the win!
- That’s not to down play the importance of nitrogen. The nitrogen-fixing bacteria in vermicompost returns nitrogen to the soil in a way that plants can easily access. Nitrogen is vital for our soils because it is a major component of both chlorophyll (used by plants to access solar energy, which in turn produces sugars from water and carbon dioxide). It is also an important building block of protein, without which your plants will just die.
- Vermicompost is a slow-release fertilizer. That is, it holds onto nutrients allowing them to be released gradually released to plants instead of leaching away.
Vermicompost is also ready to use without altering or diluting the product before adding it to your garden – there is no risk of burning your plant, a common problem with fertilisers.
- Vermicompost provides protection against nasty pathogens in the surrounding soil.
- Humus can surround potentially harmful chemicals and prevent them from causing damage to plants.
Test the valuable properties of vermicompost next time you plant seeds by preparing half your punnets with vermicompost and half without.
And be sure to use your vermicompost wisely. You can (and I often do) simply throw your vermicompost onto your garden as a means of top dressing the soil mid-season. This is great, but if you have a limited supply and need to use it sparingly by sprinkling it into your seed rows or adding a handful to the bottom of each hole you dig for your plants. You will get maximum value from your vermicompost this way!