The Basics


How to make Plants Happy!

If you are new to using Vermicompost in your garden, or new to gardening in general, these recipes will help you grow happy plants!

Starting Your New Seeds while filled with hope for what they will become:

  • Inside – add 10% to favorite seed starting mix
  • Outside – Sprinkle on top of your seeds before covering with soil

New Plants so young and alive:

  • Boost Potting Mix – add 10% to your favorite potting mix
  • Planting Seedlings – put ¼ cup near the sweet, tender seedlings roots when planting.

Transplants who want better living conditions:

  • Replace approx 10% of soil from transplant hole with vermicompost. Surround excited plant’s roots with mixture when backfilling.

Established Perennials – they’ve been around the block a few times and know good soil when they see it:

  • Estimate diameter of plant’s width. For each foot mix 1 cup into top 2” of soil around plant under drip line. Apply yearly, if needed

Plants in containers including houseplants, tender love is what they want:

  • Scratch in 1 tablespoons per quart of soil monthly
  • Or
  • Water plants with tea monthly

​Remember: 
Vermicompost should be worked into soil to encourage activity of microorganisms. A little goes a long way – don’t over use. Application rates depend on each plant’s need and size. Test results showed a bell curve with 40% vermicompost having the highest growth rates. More than this and plants suffer from too much of a good thing. Best results are usually from using 10% - 20% and sometimes as low as 5%. Again it depends on each plants needs.

 

Composting Worms

Maybe you would like to have your own vermicompost bin. You can feed the worms your kitchen vegetable scraps and the worms will give you some excellent soil amendment to use on your plants. It is a fun hobby that kids and adults can learn a lot from. The red wigglers can be used for fishing too. The bins can be kept in your cellar or some other dark place with a moderate temperature. They are relatively clean and should not have an unpleasant odor. The worm bins can be thought of as a low maintenance pet - that never needs to be walked!

How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Bin

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Having a worm compost bin is not hard and it has many advantages. You can make your own vermicompost to nourish your plants. It’s a great way for kids to learn about recycling and food webs. It’s a good way to compost food scraps instead of throwing them in the garbage. Also, you can use the worms for fishing. Below is what you need for a successful bin.
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Keeping a worm bin does NOT have to be messy!
Worms

The worms used in a compost bin are surface dwellers and live in the top 4”. They do not burrow deep into the ground. Eisenia fetida is a common type to use and that is the kind I sell. They are also called red wigglers and manure worms among other names.

Some important facts about red wigglers:
Are 75% - 90% water
Breathe through their skin so don’t let them get too dry or too wet
Reproduce every 90 days depending on conditions
Will regulate population depending on living conditions
Are hermaphrodites – have both male and female reproductive organs
Contain about 1000 worms in a pound
Mature at 8 – 10 weeks
One worm can produce 2 – 3 cocoons per week
A cocoon is the size of the head of a match
Each cocoon has 2 – 10 babies inside of it that will hatch in about 3 weeks
Cocoons change colors from pearly white to yellow to light brown to reddish brown as    they develop
Hatchlings are whitish with a pink tinge and ½” long
Have a life span of about a year
Eat with the help of microorganisms
Eat up to a pound of food a day under ideal conditions

Bins

There are very nice bins that you can buy. If this is your first worm bin I suggest that you just modify a plastic tote. They are inexpensive and they work fine.
A good size for a beginning worm bin is approximately 1’ x 2’ x 12” – 18” deep.
One square foot of surface area for a pound of worms is a good guide.
Drill ¼” holes into sides of bin about every 5”. If you are concerned about the worms escaping through these air holes you can affix screening to the holes.
It is often recommended to put a few holes in the bottom for drainage. If you do you can use the top of the tote as a tray. Cover the top of the bin with a piece of black plastic (a garbage bag works great for this).
I don’t drill holes in the bottom of the bins because then I have to worry about the leachate. Instead I monitor the moisture making sure the bin is not too wet looking especially for water sitting on the bottom.

Bedding

The bedding has to be light to allow the worms to burrow and allow air to circulate. Suitable bedding includes, shredded newspaper (avoid a lot of colored ink), paper from a paper shredder, small pieces of cardboard, composted animal manure, decaying leaves, peat moss, straw, and coconut fiber.
Don’t use glossy paper from magazines.
You should start with 6” – 8” of bedding.
Since worms are 75% - 90% water the bedding should be about 75% water. You want to be able to squeeze out a couple of drops of water. You want it moist but not soggy.
A general guide is the weight of water to bedding is about 2:1. Let the water soak into the bedding and add more as needed

Food

You can feed your worms vegetables, fruits, ground eggshells, coffee grounds, tea bags (remove staples), old bread and things of that nature.
Do not feed them meat scraps, grease, tobacco, citrus and dog and cat feces. 
Worms also will eat their bedding.
A hand full of soil for grit is good for them.
Pulverized eggshells will also give them some grit and is a source of calcium.
Food should be in small pieces to aid in decomposition. The worms eat the food after it has been broken down by microorganisms. The worms also eat the microorganisms. This is part of the food web that happens in a worm bin. 
When you add food cover the food with 1” – 2” of bedding to discourage bugs.

Assembling the worm bin

After you have prepared the worm bin and the bedding, gently dump the worms on top of the bedding. Expose the worms to light. They will slowly work down into the bedding. I suggest leaving a light on over the worms for a few days until they get used to their new home. Do NOT accidentally turn the light off or you will have worms crawling all OVER the place. I’ve done this and it looked like someone through a hand grenade into the worm bin. There were worms everywhere!!
Put a tray under the worm bin if you have drilled holes into the bottom
After a few days you can cover the worms

Maintenance

Red Wigglers like a temperature of 55 – 77 degrees with 68 degrees being optimum
Below freezing and above 86 degrees could kill them
Locate the worm bin in a quiet, convenient spot that is within their temperature range
Feed worms once or twice a week depending on how much food is already in the bin
Add the food to different areas of the bin
When you feed them check on the moisture of the bin. If it is dry around the edges add water. If there is too much water you can do a few things. 1)Leave the top off for a few days 2) add dry bedding to the top, replace the lid and the condensation will redistribute the moisture 3) pull some of the bedding to the side and put in dry bedding

Changing the bedding

After a few months you will want to separate the worms from the bedding and give them new fresh bedding. If there are too many casts in the worm’s bedding they will not be healthy. The old bedding can now be used as vermicompost on your plants.
A couple of ways to sort the worms from the castings are:
1) Dump contents of bin on piece of plastic. Leave as one big pyramid pile or divide into smaller pyramids. Leave a light over the pile. Worms will work their way down into pile. Skim the top layer off the pile. Keep doing this until as much of the old bedding is separated. Put the remaining worms into the new bedding.
2) Let the worms sort themselves. Pull the bedding over to one side of the bin. Put fresh bedding in the other side. Only feed the worms on the side of the fresh bedding.

Vermicompost tea for plants

Research has shown that vermicompost tea improves the speed and rate of germination, increases growth of plants and helps plants suppress pests and pathogens such as verticillium, damping off, fusarium wilt and the root knot nematode.

Following are notes I took about vermicompost tea at the 2011 Vermiculture Conference in Las Vegas. The conference had many speakers who have been involved with or researched vermiculture for years including Dr. Norman Arancon who is currently an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Dr. Arancon spoke about Principles of Vermicomposting, Pest and Disease Suppression Using Aqueous Extracts from Vermicompost, Effects of Verrmicompost on Plant Growth and Suppression of Diseases and Pests.


Preparation:

Mix 1 part vermicompost with 4 parts of water. For example: 1 quart vermicompost and 4 quarts water

Method 1 – Constantly agitate for 24 hours using a tea maker (bubbler) or some other form of agitation.

Method 2 – Let the mix sit in a bucket for 7 days and stir once a day.

Strain mixture. I like to use a 5 gallon paint strainer bag. (You only need to strain the tea if you will be spraying it on your plants. If your just watering your plants you don’t have to strain the tea)

Dilute to a 5% concentration. If using above example you would add 19 quarts water, which would give you almost 5 gallons of vermicompost tea.

Application:


Water or spray plants with tea as needed. Water plants if they look healthy. If they show signs of fungus or insect attacks then spray leaves (spray bottom of leaves as good as possible) Apply vermicompost tea every 7 – 14 days.

NOTE: Research has shown that microbe levels in vermicompost tea stored at 45 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 14 days remain high. After 14 days the levels fall right off.

NOTE: If applying to fruits or vegetables wait 7 days before eating.

NOTE: If you have chlorinated water then let water sit for 24 hours so that chlorine will dissipate.

NOTE: Vermicompost tea helps make your plants healthier so that they can suppress insect and fungal attacks. The tea itself does not affect disease or insect control.

Tea Time in the Tropics is a 70 page handbook for compost tea production and use. It is edited by Theodore Radovich and Norman Arancon and filled with tea making information. To  view or for free download search Tea Time in the Tropics. It was funded through SARE - Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education.  

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Somewhere on the strip in Las Vegas