Worm Castings and Drought Resistance

Worm Castings May Help Plants Resist Drought

Hi everyone. Sorry I haven’t been able to write as much as I’d like lately. With our new addition to the family (who arrived back in September) I definitely need to be a bit more attentive of the ol’ ‘bottom-line’ (thus spending more time on actual ‘work’ projects).

Anyway, enough moaning for one post (haha). I have some exciting an unexpected results to share with you. I’m sure some of you will remember that a little while ago I received a complimentary tub of Worm Power castings (which led to me acting like a crazy fool, I might add – haha).

Well since that time I’ve been playing with these worm castings a little to see how they perform. My houseplants have never looked better!

I actually had a specific experiment I wanted to try out, but it ended up going awry (will try it again though, so won’t say more than that). Interestingly enough, I threw together a tiny side experiment just for fun. I separated out two batches of seeds and let them soak in water overnight. The control seeds had nothing added, while the other seeds had a “pinch” (literally – I have a set of measuring spoons and one of them has the volume of a “pinch”) of worm castings mixed in with the water. Be assured, we’re talking about a very small amount of castings.

After the seeds had soaked overnight in the solution I next spread them on absorbent pieces of cardboard (my favourite for worm bins – egg carton cardboard), moistened them a little more, and closed them within a small seedling growth tray.

I’ll be honest, initially the results were less than spectacular. The water-only teatment seemed to germinate first for the most part and those seedlings even seemed to look more vigorous as they grew. Things gradually started to change though – kinda like the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. hehe

The castings-enhanced treatment grew steadily and it wasn’t long before they were looking like healthier seedlings than the water-only treatment.

But that’s not the exciting part!

Despite some interesting results, I pretty much stopped watering the seedlings and kinda forgot about them in general. One day I happened to look at them and noticed some startling results. The water-only side was badly wilted, while the castings-treated plants were healthy and vigorous! Thinking it might have just been a fluke, I watered both sides thoroughly and once again left them unattended.

Today I just happened to check in on them and low and behold I saw the same results – this time even more pronounced (since they have been ignored longer). The picture above was taken this morning.

Now here’s the thing – if this were a soil-based experiment I could definitely see how castings would improve water retention since they definitely help improve soil structure etc. But this is an experiment with NO soil, and the tiny amount of castings added were simply mixed in with the water solution the seeds soaked in (so certainly not much, if any, in the way of solid castings material on the cardboard growth platforms).

This is totally cool!

Anyway, I’m going to repeat the experiment, this time adding one more cardboard platform to each treatment and also mixing treatments together (making sure to mark them of course), so I can eliminate the possibility of biased watering or anything like that.

Be assured, I will keep you posted!

[tags]worm castings, plant growth, plant health, worm tea, vermicomposting, vermicompost, worm compost, worm composting, seedlings, fertilizer, plant nutrition[/tags]

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    • Green Thumb
    • February 11, 2008

    I just want to let you know I appreciate all the postings you make on your site–from the experiments to interviews to musings. As a scientist, this last one moved me to comment. I really like your curiosity in addition to both your willingness to post preliminary findings and your understanding for the need to repeat experimentation to support your findings. Keep it up!!

    • Bentley
    • February 11, 2008

    Hi Green Thumb,
    I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts. It definitely means a lot to have the approval of a scientist, thats for sure. While I do have a solid background in science myself, I’ve always been much more of an ‘unstructured’, rebelious kinda guy (haha). Nevertheless, I guess my education has at least instilled the importance of proper experimentation before drawing firm conclusions!
    Thanks again


    • Alison
    • February 14, 2008

    Hi Bentley, this is VERY interesting! The possiblities are enormous.I have an exciting happening to share as well. I was given 5 macadamia nuts still in their shells and I planted 4 in regular soil and for fun I buried one in one of my worm bins and forgot about it.One day I went to that bin to start sorting the castings and I found something putting up a very strong healthy shoot and it took a minute to realise this was my macadamia nut and it was growing very well indeed.The ones in the regular soil never did anything.I do not know if my little tree can grow in my area or not but I am thrilled to see what worm casts can do.

    • Bentley
    • February 17, 2008

    Hi Alison!
    That’s really cool. I wonder if the nuts in the regular soil will ever germinate? Were they getting a decent amount of water?


    • Alison
    • February 19, 2008

    Hi Bentley, no the other nuts died, they had a very good depth of soil so I do not really understand it.The pot they were in was very large and it had good drainage in the bottom.The young tree looks great but time will tell if it can grow here in our climate.

    • Anna
    • May 9, 2010

    Might this be an effect of the microbial community (and it’s associated moisture-preserving exudates) introduced with the castings?

    • Bentley
    • May 11, 2010

    Hi Anna,
    That seems like a pretty solid theory to me! Your comment here reminds me I need to test this out again.

    • JeLL-O
    • March 20, 2018

    Hi Bentley

    Thanks for all you do for your fellow vermicomposters. I cannot accurately convey my gratitude here.

    To piggy-back Anna’s theory … I remember reading about “brewing” tea from castings and one of the major steps in the process was oxygenating the solution exactly for the reason Anna posited; to propagate the beneficial microbes. Perhaps in your case the oxygenation took place over a longer period of time (for tea I believe they recommendeded 24-36 hours) albeit @ a slower rate. A gradual propagation of the microbial community would also explain your initial results. Altho, the same article was also quick to point out the rapid decline in population of said microbes once oxygenation ceased. So possible hole there.

    In any case, keep up the awesome work as your little one allows 😉 Oh!! (I’m echoing your emotional outbursts mid post) I was very taken by your LM posts. As a suggestion/question – is it possible to propagate (I don’t think I’ve used this word this many times in such a short span my entire life) LM within a given vermicomposting setup? or will the little stinkers (figuratively not literally) gobble up any growth before it can become significant?

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