Compost and worm castings are both powerful storage houses of nutrients for your garden plants. There is a lot of talk about these both, and on the surface, they seem almost similar. Compost has many benefits, and I first started my soil health journey with compost.
When you make compost, you are making a soil amendment that is not only going to be used in your garden, but you are also making this amendment for the good of the planet.
You are taking waste and turning it into something useful.
Worm castings came later in my journey. They have their own set of unique advantages. Which one to use depends on what your garden needs.
When done correctly, compost and worm castings have many benefits for you and the earth. They have their differences but both are full of nutrients that plants need in order to grow.
The main difference between worm castings vs. compost
Compost is the byproduct of decomposed green and brown materials. Compost often includes fresh animal manure, larger quantities of straw, leaves, and organic waste.
There are many good things about compost, and a traditional compost pile should be part of every homestead. Regular composting requires very little maintenance, and kitchen waste can be added daily.
Worm castings are the byproduct of composting worms consuming brown and green material, and are often called black gold because of their powerful effect on plant growth.
With higher yields and better plant health, worm castings can be added to plants as a worm casting tea, or added to the top of the soil.
Worm castings tea is when castings are steeped in water for 24-48 hours.
Both have an end product that has many nutrients beneficial to plants, but worm castings are coated in beneficial bacteria.
This gives worm castings a leg up in the competition between worm castings and compost. Castings are a more concentrated composition of nutrients and organic matter, making them more powerful.
What are Worm Castings Made of
I set up my first worm bin in 2021, during a particularly cold season. It all started with a small ziplock bag filled with castings and red wiggler worms. It was a thrill to start such a farm.
Worm castings are the waste of earthworms or red wiggler worms that have been fed organic matter. These worms don’t actually eat the organic matter that you feed them.
Rather, they feed on microorganisms like bacteria and fungi, which through decomposition break down organic matter into digestible material for the worms.
In short, they feed on the bugs that break down the food. As the banana peels, chopped lettuce, and blended potato skins decompose, the worms feed on the byproduct.
The waste material is broken down further by microorganisms introduced by the worms once they have eaten their fill.
Nutrients in Worm Castings
Worm castings are a great all-purpose amendment because it has a broad range of nutrients.It is a good source of nitrogen and phosphorous, which are key ingredients required for plant growth.
All the microorganisms that are present in the worm castings break down dead organic matter into digestible material for the worms to eat.
This includes both animal and vegetable matter. It also includes soil organisms like microorganisms, fungi, and soil amoeba.
These are essential parts of the ecosystem that allow plants to grow.
The pH of the worm’s castings is slightly acidic, with a pH hovering around 6 or 7 (just slightly higher than neutral). This helps break down dead organic matter and encourages microorganisms to work harder.
How To Make Vermicompost
Worms and Bedding
1. Start by mixing worm bedding with organic material like leaves, grass clippings, etc.
The bedding serves as a place for the worms to live and keep them insulated. This is important because if your worm farm gets too cold, it will die.
It is also very important because, without insulation, the worms will overheat and die. Buy your worms from a reliable source, such as uncle jim’s worm farm.
For us in zones 2 and 3, worms can be stored in the garage, in a heated building, or even inside.
I stored mine in our utility room, and they were fine…..until I killed them (more on that later!)
2. Worms need food to survive. Feed them scraps, food leftovers, etc.
Worms need a constant supply of food to live. If they do not get enough food, they will eat each other’s Reproductive organs until the population drops.
Potato skins blended with water turned out to be an amazing worm feed. Whenever I fed them blended potato skins, the population increased dramatically.
You don’t want to feed them meat or bones.
3. Keep a healthy population of worms in the worm farm.
They are going to be eating most of the time, which is good because this means that they are producing castings.
It is important that you keep a steady population of worms in the worm farm because it will suffer from overcrowding very quickly and die if there are too many worms and not enough room for them to expand their bedding area.
Check periodically to give them more bedding, moisture, and food. A healthy vermicompost bin does not smell bad.
4. Worm castings need to be separated from the forms periodically.
This is probably the biggest hassle of keeping a worm bin because it can be difficult to separate the worms from the castings. It works, it just takes time and the end result is worth it.
You won’t get many worm castings at the beginning, as the population needs to grow.
The mistake that I made with my red worms was letting them overheat.
We had a mild summer last year, with cooler temperatures then normal. I checked on the red wigglers often, and noticed in July that they had turned all of their material to worm castings! This was great.
The worm manure looked fantastic. I fed them some more scraps, and let them be.
About 2-3 weeks later, I started noticing a smell. When I checked the compost bin, I was horrified to see many dead red wigglers, and a very sloppy, soggy mess.
Over this time we had our first heat spell of the summer. Too much heat, and not enough bedding and food, caused the worms to start dying rapidly.
Not sure how I was going to recover from this mess, I put the entire contents of my worm bin in my compost pile outside.
My hope was that some red wiggler worms would recover and I would be able to start a new bin.
I should have saved at least a zip-lock bag of worm castings. The worm eggs in the castings might have been enough to start a new bin. But I didn’t.
I was never able to find any red wiggler worms in my compost heap, so as of today I have no red wiggler worms.
I saw Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm also sells red wigglers through amazon, so as a Canadian, that is probably my best option.
Benefits of Worm Castings
Vermicompost has more nutrients than compost.
It also requires less space and less time. Worm castings are a more fine material, that is rich in nitrates and can be done indoors and outdoors.
It also takes less work than composting usually does, as there is no turning required. Vermicompost is a peat-like material that has good aeration, drainage, water-holding capacity, and high porosity.
What is Compost Made Of?
Compost is simply a mixture of brown and green matter that has been broken down into a more usable form.
Typically, as compost, you add materials like dead leaves, grass, waste wood, coffee grounds, kitchen scraps, and other organic materials.
In short, compost is decomposed plant and food waste. The resulting mixture is rich in plant nutrients and beneficial organisms.
Nutrients in Compost
The main nutrients in compost are nitrogen and phosphorus, both of which are required to help plants grow.
Compost also contains many other nutrients, such as carbon, iron, boron, copper and zinc.
How To Make Finished Compost
Composting is a very easy process. All you have to do is make sure that your materials meet the requirements for compost, then let it sit for a few weeks or months, and it will be ready for use in your garden.
The longer you wait, the more powerful and healthy the compost will be.
To start a compost pile, first, decide what type of compost you want to make.
Cold heap compost takes the longest to decompose. This is when you layer in green and brown organic material, and let it sit. Turning it once a week is recommended.
This can take several months to decompose.
Hot Heap Composting is similar, but you take more care to layer in the right percentage of green and brown.
Then the pile gets covered with a tarp and heated to 130-140 degrees. At this temperature, microbes are breaking down organic matter and reproducing at high rates.
The high temperature also kills most weed seeds and harmful bacteria. Not only that, but with hot composting, you can have fresh compost in as little as 3 weeks.
Hot heap composting has its own set of benefits.
Worms Castings Vs. Compost: which one is better?
Composting worms and vermicomposting worms are both excellent ways to use our waste and turn it into something useful, but there are some differences.
Vermicomposting has the benefit of they don’t need any extra heat or lighting. It is entirely renewable and the microorganisms used in vermicompost are all local and natural, so it is completely biodegradable and safe.
Because worms are self-feeding, they will work endlessly until they have consumed every bit of material available to them, making it an endless supply of nutrients for your plants.
It is also very important that you make sure that you keep a steady population of worms so their numbers do not drop over the course of time.
This will cause the environment to become unpleasant for the worms, causing them to die off.
You can make it with almost any type of organic material. It can be something as simple as grass clippings or leaves or even something as disgusting as rotten potato skins.
The intriguing part of this is that you are able to make your own specialty fertilizers. For example, if you want to produce a high-potassium worm casting, feed them a lot of banana skins.
Worm castings also have the benefit of being odor free and do not kill beneficial soil microorganisms. It can be used as a fertilizer, or as a soil amendment.
Compost has the benefit of producing a lot more at a time, especially with hot heap composting.
While composting can take a long time, you also have much more in the end product than in one worm bin.
If you want to amend your soil, I recommend composting.
If you want a rich plant food fertilizer, use worm castings. They are both natural fertilizers that are great for fruit and vegetable gardens.
Composting and Vermicomposting are both good options for getting rid of waste and are both excellent organic fertilizers.
Because of its higher nutrient content, worm compost is a more effective and efficient fertilizer for plants. For a large plot, compost can amend larger amounts of soil quickly.
A soil mix of both compost and worm poop is an excellent soil builder.