So, you want to hang on to that black gold a while before putting it to use? No problem! As long as you follow a few basic guidelines, you’ll have a secure stash to pull from in no time.
Why hold on to dirt?
This is no ordinary dirt we’re talking about! Black gold is a nutrient-rich compost made naturally by Eisenia fetida, otherwise known as the red wiggler worm. Within this fine mixture of worm poop can be found all sorts of beneficial bacteria and earthy organic matter.
Worm compost is put to use in the garden, most often in soil, for its ability to enhance structure, improve aeration, feed plants, and capacity to retain and drain moisture. It’s also an excellent foliar treatment when used in the form of a worm compost tea. It has the amazing power to revive plants and replenish earth that has become infertile, depleted, and unable to sustain life.
With liberal use of fresh vermicompost, abundant vitamins, minerals, and microscopic life quickly repopulate and enrich barren areas. Soon, plants grow healthy again and balanced ecosystems become established with ease.
What’s the secret ingredient?
Here’s where the beauty of worm compost lies- there’s no secret about it at all! This most naturally potent, yet perfectly balanced fertilizer is made from nothing other than the very food and paper waste you would otherwise consider trash.
Instead of garbage going the way of landfills, compost worms devour it, use it to fuel their own population growth, and produce finely textured casts that work as long-lasting fertilizer.
“Finished” vermicompost is about 70-80% worm casts plus organic matter at all stages of decomposition.
Does it have a shelf life?
Once worm compost has been harvested, meaning separated from worms and cocoons, it is ready for use. You could use it with the worms and cocoons in it, but then you will be pulling from your worm workforce.
As this fertilizer holds its “power” in the life within it, it is essential that life be supported even while shelved. This means only that oxygen, moisture, and temperature remain fairly consistent from the start. With these things in place “fresh” worm compost remains viable for up to three years, or more!
Oxygen-loving bacteria slowly consume the organic matter within the mixture and continue to multiply and die off in a natural progression. Without oxygen, however, these strains of bacteria will all perish and be replaced by anaerobic bacteria – which, in part, defeats the purpose of having such valuable compost.
To maintain adequate oxygen you need only to store your mixture in a non-airtight container with the lid slightly ajar or some holes drilled into the top.
Whereas red wigglers love their homes to be kept at a fairly moist 80% humidity, the compost itself need only be just barely damp to support the life within.
As worm farmers prepare to harvest their compost, a drying process allows much of the moisture to evaporate. Mostly, this is so that the clumps and clods can easily be sifted into a loose and easily spreadable material.
Of course, maintaining this moisture in an opened container takes only the slightest effort- a few spritzes from a water bottle every once in a while should do the trick. Just be careful to use dechlorinated water or else you’ll be killing off those good bacteria anyway!
Please note that once dry, life can not be brought back to worm compost by wetting it. The structural qualities become compromised. It no longer serves to condition soil nearly as well as the fresh product can.
Without worms or cocoons to keep alive, the compost itself may have a wider range of safe temperatures. Still, too much cold or heat will also damage the bacteria. It’s best to store what you harvest well above freezing and well below…cooking? A wide range of “average” room temperatures is just perfect.
How to Know if your Worm Compost has “Gone Bad”
It’s always best to use your worm compost as “fresh” as possible when it is most well-aerated, moist, and full of life. But might it ever be too late? Can a bucket of dirt even go bad?
Well, there are two ways to look at it. If you most value the aerobic bacteria and their potential, then yes, they can die and become useless. If they die, anaerobic bacteria will take over and make a smelly situation out of your compost. So, this could be considered “bad.”
However, if you take into account that even stinky compost is super full of vitamins and minerals, you can see how it too can be good – in the right places. Mixed into depleted soil, “expired” worm compost will still improve structure, porosity, nutrient content, and create a better environment for plant life.
NOTE Reserve your very best quality worm compost for amending the soil of vegetable gardens only. When watering, keep edible fruits and foliage clean using only fresh water rather than any tea preparation.
The More You Know…
Here we are, well into a brand new year! At the Squirm Firm, we resolve to continue with our month to month discovery and sharing of how raising compost worms impacts our world and this little corner of the earth we stand on.
It’s been great to know we are in this together! For those of you just joining the party, sign up here to be among the first to see each new issue we email. Once a month you’ll receive your personal newsletter access to all the answers and interesting worm farming techniques we’ve been digging into. Because there’s always more to explore and ways to grow!
Happy worm composting!