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I’m a Lousy Gardener…


..but my herd of composting worms are helping me look pretty good this year!

I’ve had an interest in ‘growing things’ for quite a few years, but to be totally honest I’ve never actually dedicated myself to the task of becoming a real gardener. In a sense, one of the things I actually love about gardening is the fact that you don’t really need to be a green thumb in order to make something happen. If you put some plants in the ground and give them some water, they will generally grow. This is why I strongly encourage everyone to give it a try – regardless of your skill level!

Still, when I see what serious gardeners are able to create, I can’t help but be a little envious. The problem likely stems from the fact that I’ve always preferred to do things my own way (not necessarily “by the books”), so I’ve never focused on learning all the proper techniques or the special requirements for different plants – I just ‘wing it’ for the most part!
Here are just a handful of things I do wrong, year after year:
1) My veggies always go in late
2) I never give any thought to the fact that some types of plants don’t grow well when planted close to one another.
3) I do little to nothing about pests and disease
4) I don’t do anything different for plants that are acid/alkaline loving
5) I often don’t provide enough spacing between plants (without using any ‘square foot gardening’ techniques to compensate)
6) Most years, I let weeds run wild – undoubtedly sucking up valuable nutrients and water that could have otherwise been used by my plants.

My gardening efforts have always produced fair to good results – and to some people who aren’t gardeners themselves, it might seem like I know what I’m doing. But when it comes down to it, I really don’t. Having a care-free attitude, while perhaps making my gardening efforts more relaxing and enjoyable, certainly won’t help me win any gardening awards!

This year has been a little different. I’m still doing a lot of things the wrong way, and lazily at that – but I’ve been more active in the garden, and more importantly, I finally unleashed my secret weapon – vermicompost!

It’s funny, I’ve been composting with worms for close to 10 years, yet I’ve hardly ever used vermicompost in my gardens. I guess this is partially due to the fact that I just haven’t produced enough of the stuff to really be able to put it to use outside, but there’s also my overall vermicomposting laziness to take into consideration!

This year, I finally decided to make an compost access door for my big outdoor worm bin. The bin was built two years ago, and has processed a lot of organic waste during this time – yet I’ve never removed any vermicompost from it. In a sense I am glad I waited – with the launch of my new composting business, it’s probably not a bad idea for me to have a decent looking garden, right?

The beauty of vermicompost (especially the material that is almost entirely worm castings) is that a little goes a long way. While many refer to it as an organic “fertilizer” (I myself am guilty of this), it is not really the N-P-K values that make vermicompost so special – in fact, from that perspective it actually looks pretty pathetic in comparison to a regular inorganic fertilizer.

Extensive research at The Ohio State University has demonstrated time and time again that there is something extra in vermicompost that helps to boost plant growth and overall health, above and beyond that provided by nutrients. They’ve demonstrated this by comparing the growth of plants that have ALL been provided with their full nutritional requirements (via quality inorganic fertilizer). Some of the plants are grown with vermicompost as well, while others are not. Not only have researchers found that vermicompost provides significant growth promoting effects above and beyond those provided by the fertilizer, but they also found that it can have a significant impact when it makes up as little as 5% or less of the potting mix.

Interestingly enough, plants grown in pure vermicompost (still with the required nutrients provided) didn’t do as well as many of the other treatments!

Is is important to mention that there are countless different types of vermicompost, and an endless range of maturity levels – like ‘regular’ composts, vermicomposts are not all necessarily created equal. Although the terms ‘vermicompost’ and ‘worm castings’ tend to be used synonymously, it is quite difficult to create 100% pure worm castings, which is technically the material that passes out the rear end of the worm (i.e. ‘worm poop’). Most vermicompost contains varying levels of castings, along with lots of other humified organic materials, and other materials not fully decomposed. Screening worm compost will obviously help to refine the mix, but it is still a stretch to claim that every last particle of waste material has been through the digestive system of a worm.

But I digress…

With all that being said, I don’t mean to imply that vermicompost can’t be used as the sole source of nutrition for plants. This year I have been doing exactly that, as well as incorporating various in situ vermicomposting systems into my gardens. The results have been outstanding! My tomato plants are already bigger than the maximum size they reached last year, and look like they will bear and abundance of fruit (I fed my plants with regular inorganic fertilizer last year). My honeysuckle looks more like the plant from ‘Little Shop of Horrors” (“feeeeeed me some worm poop, Seymour!”) than a climbing vine.

The list goes on…

I can only imagine how well everything would be doing if I was using proper gardening techniques and/or some slow-release inorganic fertilizers! Surprisingly enough, all of this is making me want to be a better gardener. I think it would be fun to see what is possible.

Time to hit the books, I guess!

[tags]worm composting, worm castings, vermicompost, vermicomposting, compost, organic gardening, gardening, garden, vegetable gardening, tomatoes, fertilizer[/tags]

Written by Compost Guy on July 21st, 2008 with comments disabled.
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#1. July 22nd, 2008, at 3:07 AM.

What a wonderful and honest post about gardening.

Thanks for keeping us all encouraged!