Pros: Excellent for starting plants
Whenever a review is about to fall on a 100 boundary, in this case my 300th, I always try to do something special. However, I must admit that this time I was at something of a loss. Luckily, Sue (elzora) gave my conscience a boost by writing a good review about Miracle Grow Plant Food. In the ensuing discussion about environmental issues, I realized that I have been practicing organic gardening for many years, but I have yet to review an organic gardening product. "Well," I thought, "It's time to put my mouth where my money is. It's time to get my poop together!" and so I have.
Wiggle Worm Soil Builder Earthworm Castings from Unco Industries is, to put it politely, worm manure or, to put it less politely, worm poop. Don't worry gentle reader; there is nothing malodorous or yucky about this fine product. If you were to stick your hand in it, as I have many, many times, you would be hard put to tell it from rich, black topsoil. The only clue is that perhaps it is a bit too regular in consistency. What makes this product special is that it has passed through the digestive tracts of the gardener's most important ally, the humble earthworm, and that has broken down the organic matter to a form that is easily accessible to plants without it being water soluble.
Now let's face it, the relationship between earthworms and plants has been going on for hundreds of millions of years. Long before a lanky and somewhat overrated ape thought it was cool to walk upright and wear digital watches, the worms were digging the soil, and the plants were digging the results. This is natural. This is evolution.
Back in Unco Industries almost-secret base in Wisconsin, baby worms are nurtured in custom worm-condos and fed a tasty mix of compost, grains and vitamins. There they play and grow. By the time they have reached adult size, every 1000 baby worms have already produced about 1/2 a cubic yard of castings. These castings are nature's special food, and are prized by organic gardeners everywhere.
Now many gardeners accustomed to the huge NPK (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) numbers associated with synthetic fertilizers will think the 1-0-0 rating of worm castings rather puny, but don't be fooled. There is a lot more to gardening than NPK, and the castings contain many valuable trace products like magnesium and calcium. Also, the castings have the food in the plants favorite form, straight from the worm. While many water soluble fertilizers will rush off with the first rain, anxious, no doubt, to pollute our streams, rivers and estuaries, worm castings are not going anywhere. They stay where they are placed and feed the plant.
Now personally, I find worm castings a bit expensive to give my plants as an everyday snack. I prefer to use it at the time they need it most, mainly when they are first planted/transplanted in the garden. Whenever I transplant a tomato, pepper or cucumber from their temporary home on a windowsill to their place outside, I like to surround the root ball/ pellet with a couple of healthy handfuls of worm castings. I find that this does the most to encourage quick and prolific root growth, which in turn produces a large, healthy plant. Similarly, whenever I plant large plants as seeds, such as a zucchinis, squash, melons, beans or peas, I like to snuggle the seed in a handful of castings, just to keep it warm until it grows. My zucchinis and half my beans germinated today (May 7, Zone 6a), so I must be doing something right.
In addition to providing an excellent medium for plant growth and health, I think worm castings contain earthworm eggs. Now, I have never seen any worm casting company claim this, but I believe that it is true. I primarily plant potting soil in pots. Every year, when I empty the pots in the fall, the pots that have received worm castings have several large, healthy earthworms in them. The pots that do not receive castings do not contain worms. It has been too consistent and too predictable to be a coincidence. Now earthworms in pots are not that beneficial, but if you are using the castings out in the garden, getting extra earthworms is a win-win scenario.
Last year, I started an 8' x 4' raised bed. This bed was separated from the topsoil beneath it by layers of landscape fabric and newspaper and filled entirely with soil and compost bought in bags. However, the plants within it were given plenty of worm castings as seedlings. By the time harvest came around, it was clear that the bed had a decent earthworm population. Is this proof? Well no, but it does make you think.
And while we are on the topic of thinking, where do you suppose all the run off from watering and rainfall goes? Hint: if you are thinking the oceans, you are on the right track. Since the days of Rachel Carson's publication of "Silent Spring", most gardeners have figured out that careless use of pesticides can have disastrous consequences. (That goes double if you plan to eat the produce.) However, many people have not yet realized the consequences of misuse of fertilizers. Overuse of fertilizers, particularly water-soluble synthetic fertilizers is a major contributor to a host of environmental disasters.
For example, while the so called Red Tide (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_tide) is a natural phenomenon, known since the days of the early Spanish explorers, it is hard not to attribute the ecological holocausts now common around the Florida coastline and off the shores of Southern California to the actions of man. And, while large scale agriculture was undoubtedly the major culprit, they are cleaning up their act. Fertilizers cost money, and money is tight these days. More and more of the responsibility for over-fertilization, now falls on the home consumer, with their manicured ultra-green lawns and over-lush gardens. Also, while Red Tide may be one of the most visible and immediate consequences, it is by no means the only one, and it is probably not the most serious one either.
Organic Gardening, and sustainable garden practices concentrate on the viable long term health and productivity of the soil, and worm castings are a useful part of that philosophy.
Okay. I will put my soap box away for now. Thanks for reading.
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For the record, I have been an industrial chemist for far longer than I have been a gardener. I wrote my first thesis back at the end of the 60s, and the subject was the environmental impact of pesticides, primarily DDT and Malathion. I have been a committed ecologist ever since. With a foot in both camps, I try to take a rational and balanced approach to environmental issues.
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