“My plants don’t seem very healthy. How can I improve my soil?”
This is the number one question that our customers ask us. We’re located in Central Florida where the soil is sandy, but soil optimization is extremely important no matter where you’re located. In this article, we’re going to cover five easy ways to use worm castings in your garden to revive depleted soil:
- Top Dressing
- Amend Your Soil
- Seed Starting Mix
- Make Worm Casting Tea
- Rejuvenate Sad Dirt
1. Top Dressing: fertilize existing plants with worm castings, no mixing required
Top dressing refers to the application of worm castings right on top of the soil. Just sprinkle a handful right where the roots go into the ground. Then, the nutrients filter down with the water and feed the plant. This is the easiest way to apply worm castings as it requires no measuring or mixing.
This is also called side dressing. The concept is the same. Every few months you add a handful of worm castings to the base of the plant. Every time it rains, or when you water the plant, a tiny bit of worm castings goes down into the soil, and your plant gets a delivery of organic vitamins and minerals. It’s that simple!
2. Amend Your Soil: incorporate the castings into your potting mix
Amending your soil with worm castings is done before planting (unlike top dressing, which is done after planting). To amend your soil, you mix potting soil or garden soil with the worm castings so that it is evenly distributed throughout. This way, the worm castings also surround the roots once they extend into the earth.
This type of application requires more worm castings to start with but enhances the overall structure of the soil. It increases the nutrition and the biology that's needed for healthy plants to grow. This is the key to our Living Potting Soil Mix—many folks know this as the Clackamas Coot Soil Mix. Oh, and by the way, we did an interview with Clackamas Coot himself that you may find interesting—be sure to check it out.
3. Seed Starting Mix: give your plants a boost by adding earthworm castings to their diet from day one
Gardeners who take the time to grow plants from seed know that they require a tender touch, perfect sun exposure, water, and nutrients to grow into maturity. By incorporating a healthy dose of worm castings in proportion to the rest of your seed starting mix, you give that little seedling a better chance of not only surviving but thriving.
A report out of South Carolina State University states that germination and seedling growth are improved by planting in high-quality worm castings. Research from Cornell University has shown that good microbes in worm castings can colonize a seed’s surface and protect it from infection by releasing a substance that interferes with the chemical signaling between the host and the pathogen. Essentially, worm castings act like a shield protecting the seed from harmful components found in native soil.
Once you add our worm castings to your seed starting mix, you’ll see how easy it is to start seeds all on your own.
It’s also worth noting that adding worm castings to your starting mix can be hugely beneficial when starting plants from cuttings (or slips). A cutting is when you start an entirely new plant by cutting off a branch from an existing plant. This is a common practice but it’s important to have a hearty, nutrient-dense starting mix for your new plants; this sets up the plant for success after undergoing the shock of being cut from the vine.
4. Make Worm Casting Tea: gardens love a good dose of liquid fertilizer
Don’t drink this stuff! Plants love it but humans should stick with chamomile. Worm casting tea is sometimes called compost tea. It is made by steeping worm castings in water–just like you would a cup of tea. As the worm castings soak, beneficial microbes multiply, creating a tonic that quickly delivers nutrients to the plant. You can spray this tea directly on the roots and even on the plant leaves as protection from airborne diseases and infestation.
Brewing worm tea can be tricky to get right, but don’t worry. We already made a chemical and preservative free worm casting tea for you (ADD LINK)! If you would prefer to try making some at home, follow the steps below to get you started:
- Mix 1 part worm castings and 3 parts water in a bucket
- Let that mixture soak for 24 hours or more, stirring occasionally
- Apply your tea: there are two main ways to use your tea. (1) You can pour an 8-ounce cup of tea per plant at its base every 30 days or (2) you can add 4 ounces of the tea to 1 gallon of water (make sure to strain it through some fabric—an old shirt works great) and apply it as a foliar spray. If you make a spray you can apply it every 30-60 days. You could spray it more frequently if needed without running the risk of burning your plants.
5. Rejuvenate tired soil: bring that dirt pile back to life with organic worm castings
Don’t throw out that old soil! Add finished organic worm castings to a pile of tired and depleted soil and watch it come to life again. In a matter of weeks, the microbes in worm castings will have done their magic—repopulating the soil, breaking down the organic materials, and reestablishing that sad dirt into valuable organic living soil. When you feed your soil worm castings, your soil will pass the love on to your plants—just like mother nature intended!
One of the great things about worm castings is that they have a near-neutral PH which means that you don’t have to worry about throwing your soil out of balance. If you’ve never tested your soil to see how it’s reading you may want to consider giving that a try. Maybe you’ve wondered why your plants continue to struggle even though you’ve loaded up your soil with compost and fertilizer—it very well may be that your soil is out of balance! Thankfully, once you’ve achieved an ideal PH level, worm castings are a near fool-proof addition to your soil that will liven things up overnight.
It’s hard to screw things up when using Worm Castings in your garden
You need to be careful when shopping for fertilizer. Synthetic fertilizers can burn your plants and have negative effects on your health. Compost can be made with a whole host of random ingredients. When dealing with high-quality, organic Worm Castings, you can cast those worries aside (pun intended).
Whether you live with the sandy soil of Central Florida or rely on your own soil mixes for urban gardening, or if you’re just new to this whole world and want to know where to start, you need healthy living soil. Worm castings can get you there.
If you have any questions, reach out to us. We love talking worms and living soil.