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Home > Feature Articles > Landscaping

Worm Composting Turns Green Waste Into Black Gold Soil Amendment

Compost from earthworms provide natural conversion of waste into fertile soil amendments.

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earthworm for soil conservation Childhood memories stay with you. When I was a child, our neighbor turned his long chicken house into an earthworm farm. Today earthworms are grown for fishing bait, bird food and compost/soil amendments. Worm Castings around a plant's root ball, or applied as a mulch, makes plants grow unbelievably well. This is the kind of nutrient giant pumpkin farmers use to grow world record crops.

Earthworm vermiculture for compost from green waste Dictionary.Com defines Vermiculture as "The raising and production of earthworms and their by-products". Some would consider Vermiculture a 4-syllable word for poop! Earthworms are masters at turning waste vegetation into an all natural, nutrient filled soil amendment. The technical name for this soil amendment is "worm casts," and considered by those in the know as the best soil amendment available.

Worm casts can be applied around a plant's drip line; mixed directly into the plant's roots, or applied as a mulch, adding valuable nutrients to strenthen the root system, thus making plants grow unbelievably well.

Jerry Gach, Managing Partner of Blue Ridge Vermiculture (WWW.BlueRidgeVermiculture.Com) raises a variety of earthworms for use in turning waste into soil amendments.

It's All in the Dirt

Healthy plants need healthy soil, and “Dirt” becomes fertile soil only when nature's balance of components are in place: organic matter, Living Organisms, Moisture, and Nutrients for both plants and their essential buddies, microorganisms.

Healthy plants need healthy soil

Organic soil amendments are materials derived from plant and animal parts or residues such as Blood Meal, Compost, Bat Guano, Manure, Seaweed, and Worm Castings.

Synthetic fertilizers are inorganic compounds - usually derived from by-products of the petroleum industry. Even petroleum has distant roots in living organic material (carbon from ancient plants and animals) but it doesn't have other essential soil features.

Synthetic fertilizers are inorganic compounds

Plants cannot distinguish between an organic or synthetic fertilizer – the nutrients are processed in exactly the same way. However, the similarity stops there.

Chemical fertilizers add nutrients to the soil, but they don’t add anything else. Plants needs more than just nutrients to survive. They also need organic matter and living organisms.

Synthetic fertilizers do not support microbiological life in the soil. The application of a synthetic fertilizer actually kills a significant percentage of beneficial microorganisms. These tiny creatures are responsible for breaking down organic matter into a stable amendment for improving soil quality and fertility. Some convert nitrogen from the air into a plant useable form. Compost and organic material introduce beneficial microorganisms into the soil's complex mix.

Composts contain an astonishing variety of microbes, many of which may be beneficial in controlling pathogens. Beneficial microbes help to control plant pathogens.

Organic matter improves soil structure, resulting in a crumb-like structure that improves water retention, air infiltration and enhances soil fertility.

Comparing Synthetic and Organic Fertilizers

Organic conversion of plant and animal materials into soil is nature's method -- and organic agricultural systems mimic that natural process to work with plants in providing the variety of nutrients they need for growth and health.

Organic conversion of plant and animal materials into soil is nature's proven method of fostering healthy biological life.

Plant Nutrient Requirements

Plants require 13 nutrients. There are three primary macronutrients; nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). These nutrients are used in significant amounts, so they must be replaced periodically to sustain productivity.

The secondary nutrients are; calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S). There are usually enough of these nutrients in the soil, so additional fertilization is not always needed.

The micronutrients used in small quantities are; boron (B), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), chloride (Cl), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo) and zinc (Zn).

Comparative Limitations of Organic and Synthetic Fertilizers

Organic amendments (which include more than nutrients) can be highly variable in composition. They are also a dilute source of nutrients compared to inorganic fertilizers, so the nutritive shock to the growing system isn't as noticeable. Because of this diluted feature, organic materials might be more expensive than petroleum-based synthetic fertilizers and might be difficult to justify economically for large-scale production.

And if you don't like to get your hands dirty, you might shy away from the earthy qualities of organic soil amendments that mimic nature's own highly variable results based on microbiological activity and soil temperature.

Synthetic fertilizers usually do not contain micronutrients and they do not support microbiological life in the soil. Because of their high concentrate, they can be easily over-applied and can "burn" roots with a concentration of salts. When synthetic fertilizers release nutrients too quickly, they can create a great deal of top growth before the roots are able to balance the growth underground. This top-heavy growth can lead to weaker and disease-prone plants with less fruiting because of the need for moisture and nutrients provided by a robust root system.

And synthetic fertilizers also leach into water tables, streams and lakes, causing water quality problems when not carefully controlled in the field.

Numerous California companies offer starter worms and bins, and you can contact Jerry Gach for supplies and vermiculture expertise for both small and large sites. If you process an abundance of waste plant clippings or other green waste, you can install industrial size vermiculture composting facilities right here in California. What a way to regenerate nutrient-rich soil, reduce waste and be a responsible link in the natural resources recycling process.

Jerry Gach
Blue Ridge Vermiculture

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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