Here’s a question from Corey:
Thanks in advance for all your work and info! It’s truly
appriciated. I have what may seem to be a silly question, but here it
goes : Does harvested vermicompost lose its virality/vitality over
time during storage? My concern is that harvested casings during the
off growing season would sit unused for a few cold months before being
incorporated into the garden-may lose its potency. Just a thought –
but it never hurts to ask –
Corey in PA
Hi Corey – that is actually an excellent question (which is why I decided to post it on the blog). The short answer is definitely “yes” – but there are lots of factors involved (and potential scenarios) here so I certainly won’t leave it at that!
Using high quality vermicompost soon after it is harvested will almost certainly provide you with more benefits than if you use the material after it’s been sitting for 5 years. Unlike a fine wine, vermicompost doesn’t really improve with age (haha). A short ‘sitting’ period can definitely be advantageous in some situations however. You’ll notice I mentioned “high quality vermicompost” – well the stuff that often comes out of the bottom of a ‘Rubbermaid’ tub type of worm bin generally doesn’t fall into this category, in my humble opinion. This is especially true if there are no drainage holes.
This material will very often be overly wet, with anaerobic zones – and may in fact not even be finished vermicompost. Material like this should allowed to sit someplace where excess moisture can drain away and there is plenty of air flow to aid with the drying process and provide plenty of oxygen to allow the aerobic microbes to finish the job.
In the case of the really good quality stuff – material that is harvested from some type of flow-through system for example – the storage stage isn’t really needed, and it will likely be at its peak for beneficial microbial activity. If it is left to sit, microbes will gradually start to die off and/or become inactive since there won’t be all that much ‘food’ value left – it will be rich in humus and thus highly stabilized.
Now don’t get me wrong here – if we take the scenario you mentioned, in all honesty I don’t think you will lose a signficant amount of the potency during the winter months of storage – especially not if you are able to store the material in a cool, relatively dry (don’t let it completely dry out though) spot. Perhaps in your basement somewhere? The cool temperatures (and low moisture content) will slow down the microbial activity, thus also slowing down the ‘aging’ of the vermicompost.
You might also think about doing a gradual freezing of the material. While I probably wouldn’t recommend simply throwing a bag of fresh vermicompost straight into a chest freezer, if you start storing the material in an outdoor shed in the fall, my hunch is that you’ll get a higher percentage of microbes becoming inactive (forming resistant cysts), rather than being quickly killed.
Perhaps you have a spare fridge somewhere? I would think that this could be a good way keep your material fairly fresh as well.
By the way – some other ways you can really speed of the decline of your vermicompost include letting it sit out in the rain and/or hot summer sun. Precipitation is basically just going to wash away a lot of the ‘good stuff’, while the hot sun will likely just end up sterilizing the material.
Anyway – I hope this helps, Corey! Thanks for the great question.