A recently-released study from an international group of scientists and researchers (link to PDF) shows that vermicompost (compost produced by worms) not only improves crop productivity, but actively fights fungal attacks that can destroy harvests. This is great news, not only for organic farmers, but also home gardeners who are looking to boost their harvest and prevent fungal outbreaks without using harmful synthetic fungicides and fertilizers.
Their scientific conclusion:
"The application of vermicomposting to agricultural land increases productivity by a multifaceted impact on soil health and crops, facilitating nutrient enrichment and preventing pathogen development. Vermicompost and its derivatives, such as vermiwash [liquid extract produced from earthworm-rich vermicompost], along with associated decomposer bacteria, act against fungal pathogens. The antifungal efficacy of vermicompost may be associated with bioactive compounds present in the CF [coelomic fluid], mucus, skin secretion of earthworms and metabolites secreted by decomposer bacteria. The CF of earthworms has an inherent ability to defend worms against diseases. It inhibits the growth of a variety of fungal pathogens, such as Rhizoctonia solani, Alternaria solani, Aspergillus niger, A. flavus, Fusarium oxysporum, and F. graminearum. The metabolites from vermicomposting bacteria, CF, mucus, and skin secretion synergistically combat phytopathogenic fungi. As an organic product, vermicompost and its derivatives are environmentally friendly. Thus, these products should be used to boost agricultural productivity by nutrient enrichment and reduction of plant fungal diseases."
The layperson's summary:
Worms which break down organic matter have to be able to fight off harmful bacterial and fungal pathogens in the soil, so they secrete fluids from their bodies to do this. These fluids are also present in the vermicompost (their poop) that we apply to the soil in our pots and gardens. Therefore the study shows that because of the composting worms' fluids present in the vermicompost, their vermicompost also acts as an antifungal agent for your plants.
To order Living Worm Compost for your garden and potted plants, click here.
If you’re familiar with compost tea, our Worm Tea is similar, except instead of using traditional hot compost (or thermophilic compost), we use our own Living Worm Compost. Our Worm Tea is sold by the gallon to backyard gardeners for flowers, fruits, veggies, shrubbery and as a compost pile activator. It’s also used by farmers on their crops as a microbial drench and anti-fungal agent. Finally, we use it on lawns.
Before we get into how we make our Worm Tea, let’s look at different types of microbial tea and the different methods of making it. Then we can get into how we do it, and why we do it that way.
The basic recipe of compost tea consists of compost (the source of the beneficial microbes), a food source for the microbes (typically molasses) and water (distilled, rain or well water; using municipal water straight from the tap can kill the microbes because of added chemicals like chlorine). Other things can be added to give the finished product a more complex microbial population or nutrients. But those are the basics.
For a simple recipe, just throw a pound or two of compost into the bottom of a five-gallon bucket, add a half cup of black strap molasses and fill the bucket with distilled water. Let it sit in the sun for a few days, and you’ll begin seeing some film, froth and bubbles. This is evidence of your microbial population growing. You could simply add this to your plants and soil.
The problem with this method is it’s a little haphazard. First, it’s anaerobic, meaning there’s no added oxygen, so you can often end up with dangerous microbes. Second, traditional hot compost isn’t very uniform. It might not be completely “finished” (meaning it might contain pathogens or materials that aren’t necessarily beneficial), it could be too “finished” (meaning it lacks any sort of nutrients), and since different materials break down differently, every batch of hot compost is completely different from the next.
To create a safer compost tea, you could consider adding oxygen by way of an aquarium or pond aerator. Simply use the ingredients from above, but then plunk some aeration stones attached to an aerator and let it bubble for a couple days. This will give you an aerobic (active in the presence of oxygen) tea.
The problem you might face now is a product that doesn’t come out of a spray bottle cleanly. With your compost simply tossed into the bucket, you’re going to have chunks and slurry in the finished product. To fix this, use an old pair of panty hose. Or a burlap sack.
So now comes the question: What’s the difference between tea made with traditional hot compost and tea made with vermicompost (like our Living Worm Compost)? Difference #1: Vermicompost is completely “finished.” You never have to worry about semi-composted chunks of matter (sometimes containing pathogens) getting into your tea. When a worm eats the organic material and poops it out, it’s done. It gives you a more uniform result because vermicompost itself is more uniform than hot compost. Difference #2: Unlike traditional hot compost, which often has all the nutrients leach out or get destroyed by the high temperatures, vermicompost still contains trace amounts of nutrients. That’s good for your plants.
At the end of the day, tea—whether it’s made from hot compost or vermicompost—is meant to give your soil and plants a boost of microbes. Those microbes, both fungi and bacteria, help break down organic matter in your soil and serve as an anti-fungal agent. Without life in your soil, your plants will suffer.
So now on to how we make our Good Sweet Earth Worm Tea:
We use specially-made compost tea bags that we fill with our Living Worm Compost. We also add a special blend of alfalfa meal and kelp for added growth hormones and iron, respectively. To that we will add black-strap molasses. We add the water from our underground aquafer (fancy way of saying “our well”) and turn on the large pond bubbler. The whole thing is done inside our 100-gallon tank, which we can use to apply it directly to lawns, transfer into a farmer’s irrigation tank, or put into jugs and buckets for individual use.
We let the tea brew for between 24 and 72 hours (earlier in the season, when temps are still cool, it takes longer to get the microbe population up to where it needs to be; in mid- to late-summer, the microbes multiply faster in the heat).
Now when it comes to brewing our Worm Tea for use on lawns, we’ll at times add other ingredients based on the needs of a customer’s turf at any given time. Sometimes we’ll add more kelp extract, sometimes we’ll add another bit of alfalfa. If we want more a more fungal tea (not typical for lawns), we can add oats or spent distillers grains. If we want a more bacterial tea (good for lawns), fish emulsion or additional sugars (maple syrup, cane sugar, etc) can be added.
For the tea that we sell at farmers markets and on our website, our recipe is pretty standard: Living Worm Compost, aquafer/rain water, kelp, molasses, alfalfa meal. This is the recipe that we’ve found gives the best results, and it keeps things consistent for everyone that uses it.
And there it is. It sounds relatively simple, and at its core, it is. However, what we’ve been working on over the past several years is ingredient ratios, brew time and oxygen levels. And that’s where we feel like we’ve hit the sweet spot. If you’re interested in purchasing our tea (available only in West Michigan), check out our product page. Be aware: Since it does contain living organisms, you will need to use it within 8 hours of getting it.
In 2017, (thanks to our customers!) we were able to support more non-profits and environmental organizations than ever before
The primary reason we got into the organic lawn and garden business was to make a difference. Taking care of our planet is important to us. That means we want to make soil healthier, water cleaner, loved ones less-exposed to carcinogens, pets safer, farms more sustainable, air less-polluted and plants less-reliant upon chemicals from a laboratory.
Our company's motto is “Healing the planet, one yard at a time.” We know that fixing the planet is a lot bigger job than we can handle with our soil amendments, fertilizers and lawn & garden services, which is why we make it a point to give back to organizations that believe in the same things we believe in: growing community gardens, promoting sustainable family farming, cleaning up our waterways, reducing waste and combating climate change.
In 2017, we did this in three ways:
First, we donated a portion of our profits to organizations that support sustainable agriculture and a cleaner environment. Last year, those organizations were Farm Aid and the West Michigan Environmental Action Council.
Second, we partnered with West Michigan non-profits that have started community gardens, through our Give-a-Bucket program. In 2017, the two organizations that we worked with were Benjamin’s Hope in Holland and SECOM Resource Center in Grand Rapids. Individuals were able to donate Living Worm Compost at a reduced rate directly to those organizations’ gardens.
Finally, we made several in-kind donations to groups like Camp Sunshine, the Grand Rapids Public Museum and Eighth Day Farm, to help support the work that they do.
And so in 2017, because of Good Sweet Earth's amazing customers, we were able to give just over $850 in cash, compost and services to all of those great organizations listed above. In 2018, we’ll be doing it again, and we hope to double, or even triple, that amount. The more we bring in, the more we give away!
So thank you, friends and family, for helping us in our mission to heal the planet, starting with your yard. Then from your yard, through donations, we’ve been able to reach even further across our planet, bringing about cleaner water and soil, a reduction in greenhouse gasses, and stronger family farms. In fact, every bag of compost or gallon of Worm Tea you buy helps heal the planet well beyond the edge of your yard!
Vermicompost-- or compost made by worms-- is not only a great alternative to chemical fertilizers, it's also a better alternative to traditional compost. We've been using it in our yard and garden, and selling it to our customers, for years with amazing results.
But what are the actual benefits of vermicompost-- what's the science behind it? We've laid it out for you below:
What is vermicompost? Vermicompost-- or worm compost or worm casting or worm poop-- is what you get after worms consume organic matter and excrete it. As food passes through their digestive tract, worms secrete chemicals that break down organic matter into sustainable nutrition. These chemicals, excreted with their castings, comprise vermicompost, which improves soil texture, structure and aeration. From the Latin “vermi,” which means worm, vermicompost offers nutrients that are immediately available to plants. It can be applied as mulch, incorporated as a component in potting mixes or brewed in water as a compost tea liquid fertilizer.
Soil enrichment. University studies have shown vermicompost to actually add nutrients to the soil, which are immediately available for plants. This makes it superior to traditional "hot" composted material, and it makes it a nice organic alternative to chemical fertilizers. Purdue University reports that earthworms leave soil 5 to 11 percent richer in the essential plant nutrients of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium than when they first ingest it. As an organic fertilizer, vermicompost is a substitute for synthetic fertilizer in soil-enriched vegetable transplant potting mixes. As a soil conditioner, vermicompost is superior to traditional compost for its ability to improve soil structure and increase its water-holding capacity, according to the University of California’s Project Compost.
It increases crop yields and plant growth. Gardeners and organic farmers like using non-synthetic amendments and fertilizers for the benefits it provides to the environment. But when these fertilizers also produce faster plant growth and higher crop yields, it’s an added bonus, says Clive Edwards of the Ohio State University Extension. Edwards’ collaborative field crop experiments on tomatoes, peppers and strawberries showed that plants fertilized with organic vermicompost significantly outperformed the same crops fertilized with inorganic, synthetic chemicals. Edwards’ research revealed vermicompost tea fertilizer yielded dramatic plant growth rates and crop yields of up to 50 percent.
(Source: SFGate Home Guides) Read more about the benefits of vermicompost here.
If you'd like to try vermicompost for yourself and see the amazing results in your yard and garden, check out the Good Sweet Earth product page.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Victory Garden. In case you’re unfamiliar with this bit of agricultural history, here’s a quick summary:
Victory Gardens became popular during World War I as a way to ease demand on the public food supply, as well as boost morale for Americans struggling through a major war. The Victory Garden campaign was then resurrected during World War II for all the same reasons, but this time, it spread across European nations as well.
The government, during both wars, encouraged families to grow fruits and vegetables in their yards, as well as in community gardens.
The idea to encourage backyard and community gardens sprung from the need to increase food supply at a time when our agricultural resources were being shifted elsewhere, and transportation facilities were needed for the war effort.
Every family that grew their own tomatoes, carrots, berries, herbs and cucumbers did so because they truly felt like their backyard garden was contributing to a larger cause. President Woodrow Wilson said, “Food will win the war.”
So what does this have to do with us today? Is there a place for Victory Gardens in 21st century America?
Well, let’s think about this: there might not be a great American war raging in the traditional sense, but what about a war against corporate greed? Unsafe farming practices? Chemicals invading our environment and polluting our water supply? An economic culture that forces us to rely almost exclusively on corporations for our well-being? Worker exploitation?
What if we started fighting for the small family farmer? For a cleaner watershed? For an environment with less greenhouse gasses? For healthy soil that won’t erode when the wind blows? For produce grown in an environment that didn’t exploit labor?
The more food we grow ourselves, the less we rely on corporate supermarkets, shipping companies and corporate mega-farms for our food. For every tomato we grow ourselves, that’s one less tomato that had to be trucked across the country in a hot semi from a corporate farm to a chain store.
The more organic fertilizers and soil amendments we use, the less we rely on multi-national chemical companies to feed our plants (and ruin our soil). For every bag of Worm Compost, or alfalfa meal, or biochar, or fish emulsion, we use, that’s less money going into the pockets of billion-dollar chemical companies. Natural fertilizers and amendments also replenish the microorganisms and organic matter in the soil that chemicals destroy.
The more we shop from local farms, co-ops, CSAs and farmers markets, the more of our money stays right here in our own community. For every bundle of radishes you buy directly from the local farmer who grew it, that’s money going to a family that lives, plays, works and goes to school within 50 miles of your own home.
So, you want to do your part to heal the planet? Rely less on corporations for your food. Rely less on laboratories for your fertilizer. Rely MORE on locally-grown organic food—that either you grow or a small family farmer has grown for you. Let’s re-introduce Victory Gardens for the 21st century— the war might not be the same as it was a hundred years ago, but if we lose this one, what kind of planet will we leave for our kids?
If you’d like to grow more chemical-free food for your family this year, check out these Good Sweet Earth products, or (if you live in West Michigan) hire your own personal garden consultant to walk you through the growing season. If you’d like to buy some local produce, here are a few local West Michigan sources we love that you can try out this year as well:
Steve & Corey Veldheer are organic yard & garden specialists in west Michigan.