Worm compost benefits are attained through biology, chemistry and microbiology. There is an amazing interplay of these sciences in producing this extraordinary soil amendment and plant nutrient.
WORM COMPOST BENEFIT #1
Increases Soil Fertility Humic acid stimulates plant growth, even in very low concentrations. It also stimulates development of micro flora populations in the soil (such as mycorrhizal fungi) which in turn, stimulate root growth. The soil profile on the right shows why it is so important to increase the humus. The deeper it is the more plant root development and increased ability for nutrient uptake.
WORM COMPOST BENEFIT #2
Aids in Pest/Disease Resistance Humus in worm compost withdraws toxins and harmful fungi and bacteria from the soil, giving plants the ability to fight off diseases such as powdery mildew and damping off (a common greenhouse problem).
Antibiotics, produced by certain bacteria, fungi, and actinomycetes, perform vital functions by inhibiting or killing certain microbe populations. During the decomposition of plant residues, antibiotics such as natural streptomycin, Terramycin, bacitracin, colicine, polymyxin, clavacin, and penicillin are produced. These antibiotics have a significant influence in plant-microorganism relationships and their presence is further ensured with the use of humus-rich vermicompost.
WORM COMPOST BENEFIT #3
Regulates Plant Nutrients The castings themselves have the ability to fix (or hold in suspension) heavy metals in organic waste. This prevents plants from absorbing more of these chemical compounds than they need. Humic acid in the compost is especially beneficial in freeing up nutrients in the soil so that they are made available to the plant as needed. For instance if an aluminum molecule is bound with a phosphorus molecule, humic acid detaches them making the phosphorus available for the plant.
Organic plant wastes usually have a carbon-nitrogen ratio of more than 20 to 1. Because of this ratio, the nitrogen is unavailable to plants and the soil around the organic waste becomes acidic. Worm compost reduces the acid-forming carbon in the soil and increases the nitrogen levels in a state that the plant can easily use.
This nitrogen uptake is slow, but continuous as opposed to chemical fertilizers that are quick-acting, leach out even faster and must be re-applied several times during the growing season.
WORM COMPOST BENEFIT #4
Optimizes Soil Environment Worm Castings act as a barrier to help plants grow in soil where the pH levels are too high or too low. They prevent extreme pH levels which would make it impossible for plants to absorb nutrients from the soil.
Humic acid in the compost stimulates microbial activity by adding to the microbe population and providing the native microbes with a carbon source for food.
WORM COMPOST BENEFIT #5
Improves Soil Structure Due to the structure of worm compost, it aids in loosening and aerating the soil so that more oxygen gets to the roots.
The compost castings form aggregates or mineral clusters that are held together by mucus from the worms which acts as a "glue". These aggregates combine in such a way that they can withstand water erosion and compaction; thus, they can remedy both sand and clay soils.
The ability of soil to retain water is increased by the use of vermicompost. Humus is hygroscopic; it can hold the equivalent of 80–90% of its weight in moisture and therefore increases the soil's capacity to withstand drought conditions(Caesar-Tonthat, T.C.,2002 and Olness, A., Archer, D., 2005)
As Janice Sitton explains in her article
"Vermiculture Gains Momentum",
vermicomposting is not just another waste reduction methodology, or a way to make compost faster or more efficient—there seems to be a qualitative difference in the end product that results in better plant growth and decreased instances of disease.
She adds the example of the loss of 25% of grape vine plantings in the early 2000's. After a trial application rate of one cup of worm compost per plant, only two of 400 plants were lost at the vineyard located on the Worm Farm (at NCSU). An un-named Napa vineyard began using the compost on two acres of vines and had no vine loss.
"These kinds of anecdotes from vermicomposters themselves appear to be backed up by academic research. In fact, tests by Norman Arancon of the University of Hawaii suggest that application of worm compost showed significant and repeatable suppression of pythium, verticillium wilt, rhizoctonia solani, powdery mildew, plant parasitic nematodes,
cabbage white caterpillars, cucumber beetles, tomato hornworms,
mealy bugs, aphids and two-spotted spider mites' damage to a broad range of edible crops."
O layer is the topmost layer of undecomposed litter. A layer is surface soil where fully decomposed humus resides. B layer is subsoil. C layer is rock.
Image source: Wikipedia
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