This spring we put two new raised beds in our garden and filled the beds with a mixture of our own Living Worm Compost and a topsoil blend that we purchased from our favorite local supplier. I planted my early crops, weeded and waited.
About a week before my pak choi cabbages were ready to harvest I noticed they were not growing as well as they should have been. So being a curious gardener, I investigated, both above and below the ground!
In the soil I noticed a small reddish-brown worm-like creature that I had never encountered before.
Folks, my lovely topsoil blend that I bought from our favorite local supplier came with its own batch of wireworms! And wireworms, it turns out, are bad news. They eat the roots of plants, attack seedlings, and bore holes into potatoes, radishes, and carrots.
I promptly called the local supplier to let them know they sold me tainted soil and asked them for suggestions on ridding my garden of these nasty critters. Unfortunately their only solutions involved chemicals, and lots of them! No thank you!
So like any good Master Gardener worth her weight in compost, I did a bit of my own research. I soon discovered that beneficial nematodes would do the trick and clear these things right up.
Now, what in the world is a beneficial nematode you ask? Let me explain. Beneficial Nematodes (Steinernema feltiae) are effective killers of any pest that lives in or on the soil, but they’re safe for humans, pets, plants, and earthworms. These amazing microscopic parasites continue working in your soil for 18 months after application.
Some of the 230 pests that beneficial nematodes can destroy include wireworms, white grubs, fungus gnats, and black vine weevils…just to name a few. I ended up ordering my nematodes online since the discovery was made on a holiday weekend and I was unable to find them locally.
While I waited for my order to arrive I did try an old-time remedy I found online: I cut a potato in half and stuck a stake in it then buried it in the soil. The wireworms were attracted to the potato and ultimately left my plants alone while I waited for my beneficial nematodes to arrive. (In my opinion, the potato trick was a nice temporary fix, but would not have saved my garden; the beneficial nematodes were absolutely necessary to fix the problem. However, seeing that potato draw in the wireworms did help me feel like I was being proactive while I waited for my nematode delivery.)
Like all organic remedies the beneficial nematodes took a few days to work, and I will have to apply them again next season just to be sure I don’t see wireworms again. But that’s a small price to pay for a pest-free, and chemical-free, garden.
-Corey Veldheer, Certified Master Gardener and owner of Good Sweet Earth
Back in the spring, as you were getting your garden ready for the year, you most likely worked some compost into your soil (hopefully Good Sweet Earth's Living Worm Compost!), you planted your garden and now you are waiting for those first red tomatoes of the year… or maybe you’re already enjoying some fruits of your labor. So there’s nothing left to be done, but pick cucumbers and make pickles, right? Unfortunately, no. Your plants continue to need nutrients throughout the season!
Now if you’re growing your garden the right way—organically, with no chemicals-- that means Miracle Gro isn’t an option at this point. But the plants still need some food—so what do you do?
Six words: Top dress, top dress, top dress.
If you want to maintain your chemical-free organic garden, and see amazing results, you need to top dress your plants at least once during the growing season. This tried and true organic garden practice is easy and your plants will flourish. I’m serious, they’ll absolutely explode. In fact, I’ve seen a tomato plant more than double its production from year to year when top dressed with Worm Compost.
Here’s what you do: take some Living Worm Compost and place a layer around the base of your plant approximately ½ inch think and 3 inches wide. After spreading it around your plants water deeply to let the nutrients go down into the soil. Take care not to spread compost in the bare spots in the garden as you don’t want to feed the weeds!
Here’s the best part: Living Worm Compost can be applied as often as you like—you’re never gonna overdo it or burn the plants. But at a minimum, you need to do it at the beginning of the season and again when your plants start fruiting. Pair Living Worm Compost with our Worm Tea and you’ll see some amazing results!
Did you know that Living Worm Compost can also be used on potted plants as well as your lawn? If it grows in soil, Living Worm Compost will feed it! Try a bag, and see how much of a difference top dressing can make.
If you've got tomatoes, try top dressing with Bold Tomoto. Got roses? Try Dulce Rosa. You'll be amazed by the results!
-Corey Veldheer, Certified Master Gardner, Michigan State University Extension & owner of Good Sweet Earth
Steve & Corey Veldheer are organic yard & garden specialists in west Michigan.