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:
The term crop rotation seems like a daunting concept and something that only farmers need to think about. Well I have news for you— if you’re planting things in your yard then that makes you a yard farmer, and crop rotation is something you need to think about if you want a healthy yard! So let’s break down the basics of crop rotation together.
First off, what is crop rotation? Simply put, it's planting your tomatoes in a different spot than you did last year. You are rotating the placement of your crops throughout your garden from year to year.
Why rotate crops in my garden? By rotating where you place each type of plant, this reduces pathogens and pests in your soil. If a certain pest likes tomatoes, and you plant tomatoes in the exact same spot year after year, eventually that pest will set up shop because you’ve created a consistent place for it to live and thrive. Moving plants around also improves soil structure and nutrient levels. For instance, if you put peppers in the exact same spot year after year, the peppers will eventually drain your soil of the very nutrients they need to live. In a nutshell by rotating where you plant things, you will deal with less pests and diseases and have healthier soil.
How do I rotate the crops in my garden? Simple: note what you planted where this year, so that next year you can move things around. Draw a picture of your garden before this season is done, so when you go to plant next spring, you won’t have to guess. It’s helpful to note which biological family each plant belongs to since members of the same family are susceptible to the same pests and diseases.
From there, design your garden based on these guidelines:
Finally, not sure how to shake things up? Good Sweet Earth offers a personalized garden planning service, but slots fill up fast so book for next year as soon as possible! Email me at Corey@GoodSweetEarth.com if you’d like help mapping out your garden for next year— it’s only $25, so it can fit any gardener’s budget!
As always happy gardening!
“To be a successful farmer one must first know the nature of the soil.” -Xenophon (430-354 BC); historian, soldier, philosopher.
“The nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself.” -Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945); president.
“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.” -Wendell Berry (1934- ); writer, activist, academic and farmer.
“If I wanted to have a happy garden, I must ally myself with my soil; study and help it to the utmost, untiringly. Always, the soil must come first.” -Marion Cran (1879-1942); first female gardening radio broadcaster, author.
“The thin layer of soil covering the earth’s surface represents the difference between survival and extinction for most terrestrial life.” -John W. Doran (1945- ); University of Nebraska agronomy professor, author.
“Soil is the last necessary thing. With air and water, a person can live 30 days; add but a comely pile of dirt and life expectancy expands a thousand times.” -Justin Isherwood (1946- ); fifth-generation Wisconsin farmer, author.
“You can’t chemical your way out of soil infertility” – Joel Salatin (1957- ); holistic organic farmer, author, lecturer.
“If you think organic food is expensive, have you priced cancer lately?” -Joel Salatin.
“Each soil has had its own history. Like a river, a mountain, a forest, or any natural thing, its present condition is due to the influences of many things and events of the past.” – Charles Kellogg (1868-1949); Vaudeville performer, naturalist.
“We abuse [soil] because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see [soil] as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” -Aldo Leopold (1887-1948); author, scientist, ecologist, forester, environmentalist, University of Wisconsin agricultural economics professor.
When I think of farmers of the 19th and early-20th centuries, I think of simple, honest, noble and humble people. When I think of farmers of the late 20th and 21st centuries, one of the first thing that pops into many people's heads are chemical-spewing, soil-destroying, government-lobbying, labor-abusing corporate farming businessmen.
Now don't get me wrong, I know there are still family farmers working the land the correct way-- right here in west Michigan-- but for the most part, we have corporations playing the role of "farmer" in America today. Tens of thousands of acres, producing crops that we don't really need, with genetically-modified seeds, using chemicals that are bad for the environment, and killing pests and diseases that only exist because they've destroyed the natural order of things. And then there's Monsanto-- a seed company that actually forbids farmers from collecting and saving their seeds for the next year. A company that sues farmers when "their" seeds blow from one farm to another.
This is just the epitome of arrogant human behavior. And these practices are destroying our farms and our soil. Soil, mind you, that took up to 1,000 years to develop. Soil, that once it's wiped out, is gone for good. This "money first" approach to farming is the total opposite of the image of the humble farmer-- being a steward of the land, working his or her soil with care and compassion.
And you know what? Humility and farming should go hand-in-hand. The word humility actually derives from the word humus-- which is soil. The Latin noun humilis means "grounded" or "from the earth."
So that's how we need to approach farming and gardening-- with humility. That means before we enjoy the flowers, or bite into those strawberries, or share our abundance of zucchini with the neighbors, we need to do right by our soil. We need to humbly approach our gardens, and realize that good crops don't come from a bottle or a chemical lab. Good crops come from good soil.
That means no synthetic chemical fertilizers. They kill the microorganisms that our plants need to survive and thrive. Humble farmers for thousands of years provided nutrients to their crops by way of compost. We should too.
That means no synthetic chemical pesticides. Humble farmers for thousands of years dealt with pesky and destructive pests without chemicals. We should too. There are always organic ways.
That means no synthetic chemical herbicides. Humble farmers for thousands of years dealt with weeds by picking them and by having healthy soil. We should too.
That means using compost, peat, Biochar, Worm Compost, clean soil, ground up egg shells, coconut coir to condition the soil and provide water retention and aeration.
If you're going to be a gardener, if you're going to be an urban or suburban farmer, focus on the soil, be grounded, be mindful of the earth in which you're sowing your seeds. Humility-- it's really understanding that humans don't always do things better than the rest of creation.
Steve & Corey Veldheer are organic yard & garden specialists in west Michigan.