They’re slimy and wriggly and gross looking. But worms might just be one of the best things you can have in your garden. Many gardeners gauge the health of their soils by the number of worms living in them. And the reason? Worms make worm castings – vermicompost – a highly valuable plant food that is full of life. Vermicompost will help your garden thrive.
What makes worm castings so great for your garden?
Compost is full of life. The billions of microorganisms in compost interact with plant roots to help them grow and produce. But worm castings contain even more life – between 10 to 20 times as much microbial activity than surrounding soils. Studies show that worm castings can contain a higher saturation of nutrients as well as reduced levels of contaminants compared to the materials before vermicomposting. Worms also have significant amounts of microorganisms in their gut that help to digest and break down organic materials.
The organic materials digested by worms are converted into water soluble nutrients. It is important for nutrients to be water soluble because plants can more easily absorb them. As worms break down organic materials, they also leave behind a trail of mucus. Worm mucus helps prevent nutrients from washing away in rains. Because vermicompost is so effective as a nutrient rich soil amendment, it is commonly used in organic, and small scale sustainable agriculture.
Is it good for seedlings?
It’s that time of year to start seedlings, so you might be thinking about using vermicompost to boost early plant growth. Is it a good idea to add vermicompost to your seed-starting mix? Some studies say that it increases the rate and speed seed germination. But gardeners beware. It can contain weed seeds that can compete with your germinating vegetable seeds. If you make your own vermicompost, you can ensure that there are no weed seeds. If you plan on using vermicompost to give your seedlings a boost, a good ratio is 70% seed-starting mix and 30% vermicompost.
How to make vermicompost
You can make vermicompost at home quite easily. Instead of sending your food waste to the municipal organics processor, you can use it as a resource right at home and decrease your ecological footprint. Vermicompost bins can take up a much smaller space than traditional composting and you can even manage it inside through the winter. Don’t worry, it doesn’t smell. You can either buy a premade bin that is meant for worm composting or build your own with a little effort.
A good option for a premade bin is the Worm Factory 360. It has a compact design, it takes less than 15 minutes of work per week and you don’t need to manually separate the worms from their castings. That last benefit will save you time and the effort of handling worms. Check out details for the Worm Factory 360.
To make your own worm bin, check out a helpful guide HERE. Do-it-yourself projects can be fun and sometimes you can simply use materials you already have around your house. It might save you some money; but, going with a premade system like the Worm Factory 360 is a bit better because you don’t need to separate the worms from their castings. This would be a significant turnoff for some people.
Luckily you don’t necessarily need worms to get your hands on some vermicompost. There are companies that produce it and sell it online in stores.
Wastenot Worm Farms is a small Caledon based business that collects organic materials from businesses across the GTA and converts it into high quality vermicompost. Organic waste makes up a third of the waste produced in Ontario, and much of it still ends up in landfills. Organic waste in landfills creates about 8.5 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year as well. Businesses like Wastenot Worm Farms are doing their part to reduce GHGs and convert what was once considered waste into a valuable resource.
Vermicompost – a secret for your garden this year
Vermicompost is often an overlooked gardening secret that can greatly improve the health of your garden. If you are looking to expand your gardening hobby this year, vermicomposting at home might be a great addition. It is a great option over the winter months as well, especially as you await the start of spring. It’s also a great way live more sustainably and recover that value of your organic waste in a very productive way.
As you start to think about the start of gardening season, don’t forget about the potential of worms and vermicompost. Maybe you won’t think worms are gross anymore now that you know they turn waste into wealth for your garden.
 Government of Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. (2016). Strategy for a waste-free Ontario: Building the circular economy.
 Compiled from Government of Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, 2016, Strategy for a waste-free Ontario: Building the circular economy, p. 29.
By Nate Van Beilen