Manure Chard Challenge – Another One Bites The Dust!

I hate to be a real ‘Debbie Downer’ today, but I figured I was on a roll with the bummer news, so it wouldn’t hurt to tell you about another experiment gone ‘bye bye’!

All joking aside, as many of you know all too well, in the past I’ve had a bad habit of simply never writing again about various experiments that have gone awry – not because I was trying to hide my failures or anything like that (I openly admit that I’m a walking disaster zone – haha), but simply because I get focused on other (more positive) things and/or don’t really have the time.

Long-winded explanations aside, what I’m trying to say here is that my intention moving forward, is to keep everyone posted on any and all experiments and “challenges” that I start up, since I know the failures are just as important to learn from (if not more so) than the winners!

So yeah…on to the ‘Manure Chard Challenge

The results of this one are actually very interesting to me! As I alluded to in my recent potato box meltdown post, I am really starting to suspect that the presence of high numbers of composting worms in a grow bed can potentially cause problems for developing plants.

Now let me clarify here – what I mean is that when the plants roots are located ENTIRELY within the confines of a worm bed there can be issues. My trench and vermi-mulch systems are different because much of each plant’s root system is actually located in the ‘regular’ soil itself (where Red Worms do not reign supreme by any means). The one potential exception seems to be my ‘laundry-line bean gardens‘, but the fact that I added LOTS of inert peat moss (where the densities of worms are likely lower) to those boxes probably helps to explain that.

So what happened with the chard experiment?

As mentioned in my last chard challenge update, plant germination success and just growth in general have clearly been better in the ‘manure-only’ bucket. Close to the end, I had two very sad looking seedlings in the worm bucket and six healthy looking seedlings in the manure bucket – so there was obviously something going wrong here!

In a rather funny twist, when I dumped both buckets out to see how things were looking with the manure in each bin (and to determine the status of the worm population in the worm bin), I discovered that a handful of worms had somehow managed to get into the manure-only treatment!

I’m impressed – these buckets were up on pedestals and separated from one another, so I’m really not sure how this happened. I can pretty much guarantee that the material was completely worm-free to begin with as well. I do seem to recall some rainy weather closer to the beginning of the experiment – so maybe some adventurous escapees from the other bucket managed to sniff out and discover the virgin territory of the no-worm bin. Who knows?!

Another interesting observation was the fact that even though both buckets received the same amount of water, the contents of the worm bin appeared to be much wetter and compacted. This is of course not too surprising since the worms were obviously converting the manure into a material (castings) with a smaller particle size, and likely a greater potential for water retention. I can’t help but wonder if this extra sogginess contributed to the issues with the seedlings (just as I wonder if this was one of the main issues in the potato boxes). The material in the manure bucket looked moist but had much more of a porous (ie great aeration) look about it – probably much better for the roots!

I didn’t actually quantity the population of worms in the worm bucket, but it did look as though it contained at least the original 1/4 lb (if not more) – I know some of the worms left the system initially, but I’m sure there have been plenty of little worms that have grown up etc during the course of the experiment.


Anyway – all in all, another interesting set of findings! Later in the week I am going to be writing about some results on the other end of the spectrum – i.e. from systems where the plants have appeared to reign supreme (and the worms have suffered as a result).

Stay tuned!

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    • Kim from Milwaukee
    • September 16, 2009

    Bentley, in regards to your surprise worms, isnt’ it true that compost worms will miraculously just ‘show up’ in a pile of mature animal manure? I’ve heard or read that somewhere, and maybe that’s how your ‘no worm’ bucket ended up with some worms in it. Is it possible?

    • Bentley
    • September 16, 2009

    Hi Kim,
    While it may seem like these worms just magically appear in a manure heap, there still needs to be some sort of dispersal mechanism at work. Whether it’s a matter of cocoons blowing in the wind or getting stuck to the bottom of a birds foot, or actual Red Worms travelling from some other (presumably nearby) location, something had to be added to the pile (assuming there wasn’t already a few worms or cocoons).

    I actually remembered after writing the post that aside from leaving the buckets out in the rain on the deck, I also left them down on the lawn near my composters for a day or so. I propped them up on boards, but they weren’t even as far off the ground as they were on the deck, if I remember correctly. I think these worms are pretty talented at seeking out and invading available (and desirable) habitat.

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