Worm castings - miracle cure for diseases and pests?

dolce_vitaMay 28, 2003

Ah, the farmer's market transforms into a small town carnival...local vendors hawking their wares, proclaiming miracle cures!

After months of battling rust, spending hours on hands and knees personally defoliating 40 rose bushes of the hateful orange powder, my defenses were low...I was drawn in by the mere thought of renewed plants with increased production, and the wonders of miracle soil amendment and less watering...

I happened upon a woman at the farmer's market selling organic cheese, who also deals in worm castings. But dang -- its expensive...$20 for a 10lb bag! Three applications two weeks apart are recommended, several cups per plant. The testimonials sound promising. My heart lept at the thought that powdery mildew and rust would vanish overnite!

Anyone using this with stellar results, it must be miracle, magic stuff for the price....

TIA Dolce

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mdryja(z7b WA)

Hmmmm, whereas bat guano, worm castings, etc., are great sources of fertiziler, I don't see how they can prevent pest and disease problems, inasmuch as they are just fertilizer.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2003 at 2:58AM
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Worm castings are okay for what they are -- a very, very expensive, weak fertilizer that those worms in your soil are already busy making for you at no cost.

I've never understood how or why people would spend that kind of money for a "fertilizer" that has an N-P-K of no more than about 0.5-0.5-0.3. But, after all, Barnum based his observation on a lot of experience with the public.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2003 at 1:45PM
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Mercy_Garden(z5 Santa FeNM)

I have used worm castings and, more effectively, worm tea that my own little herd of worms makes for me in a worm farm bucket for a couple years. The stuff IS great--it really adds bioactivity to the soil. It has an especially dramatic effect on "dead" dirt--dirt that has been baked by the sun without much organic matter (meaning plants) there for a long time. And, the effect it has cannot be accounted for by the meager numbers. Also, there are many tiny tiny worms and worm eggs in the castings that, wallah! in turn go to work for your soil. (This of course assumes that the castings you use are very fresh and haven't been roasted in the hatchback of someone's car, for example).

That said, they are certainly not a cure-all for pests--they are basically a very nice soil conditioner. I guess one could postulate that through healthier soil one gets healthier plants that are naturally able to shrug off pests and disease, but I'd say the claim you heard is a bit overstated.

PS--I would recommend spending $10-$15 on 1000 red wriggler earthworms and another $4 on a big plastic tub instead, and doing your own! Its pretty simple. Check the book "Worms eat my garbage" out of the library.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2003 at 5:26PM
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I agree with the above poster: Make your own worm compost.

Its not hard, its excellent for the environment, its non toxic, it reduces waste in the landfill (unless you already compost, in which case thank you!) and this moist black stuff really does an amazing job of retaining moisture. Free extra worms for fishing!

My tubs are made of rubbermaid plastic tubs. I use the smaller sizes, and have several of them. Sometimes a bin can go bad, especially when you are starting out, and I just think several smaller ones (10 gal size? Its a rectangular shape. Maybe 15 gal?) are better than one big one.

I used a dremel tool to drill lots of small holes in the top for air circulation (tops of the sides, not in the lid,) Also some larger holes are drilled in the bottom to allow for drainage.

For bedding I use shredded newspaper (office paper line shredder, not confetti,) and 1 bag of starbucks used coffeegrounds. They usually give them out free in silver 5lb bags, (or will save them if you ask,) and its the perfect amout for a smaller rubbermaid bin. I add no water to the paper, I mix those two together, put the lid on and by the next day, the moisture level is perfect. The ground are moist. I also mix in some leftover horse vitamins (not sure what else to do with them,) a handful of real soil ("for grit" its recommended,) a little bone meal, and little alfalfa meal for boosted nutrition, then I pile in all my old tea bags, pieces of leftover fruits and veggies and kitchen scraps, no meat.

Then in a few months, you'll have the richest darkest moistest worm castings. Have fun seperating them from the worms. :) (That's the hard part.)

But that book recommended above is excellent. There are a million websites and there is a whole forum here about it called "Vermicomposting" where they'll answer all your questions.

Aerated compost tea made from worm castings is just fantastic. But to me, especially for tropical plants or houseplants, there is no better product. Its not the fertilizer "rating", its the incredible biological activity in the castings which make them priceless. This breaks down nutrients already in the soil much faster and makes them more available to plants. It absolutely holds moisture better and yet has great drainage.

An example: Last year I went nuts and grew 15 different tomatoes in big 15 gal pots. I decided that I would use 3/4 potting soil, 1/4 chicken manure and worm compost mix (which had worm eggs in it, and some worms.) Plus about two cups of a mixed organic fertilizer.

Plants grew great and died and I put them aside without dumping. I need soil now and am going through them. Of course the roots of the plants died when I chopped them off and have been degrading. The soil inside these pots is like BLACK GOLD. It is FULL of worms, its RICH, when I pick up a handful, I really have to fight myself not to just lick it or something, it looks that good. :) I planted bulbs only in that and they were amazing. The "quality" of the soil, the feel of worm compost is just so perfect. Its about "the big picture" of available micronutrients, quality and biological life, rather than just NPK.

So spend the 10 bucks on the book and some worms, read the vermicomposting forum and get ready to really spoil your roses. Oh, also, I think what they were trying to say with "stronger roses" claim, is that a plant which is getting all the nutrition it needs is less likely to be attacked by insects (which its now being shown prefer weak new high N growth, often created when people really pour on those liquid fertilizers...) more drought hardy, more winter hardy, stronger and overall a healthier plant. The healthier you are (us too,) and less stressed, the better you can fight off disease and pests, period.

Definitely check out worm composting. Its super easy, its not smelly (it shouldn't be,) and the product is worth any trouble, for me at least. Good luck!

    Bookmark   June 6, 2003 at 6:09AM
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WifeofBath(z10-So Cal)

Worm castings are great for the soil and for preventing white fly infestations. There is some substance in the castings that is taken up by the plant and when the buggers bite into the leaves to start nesting, it proves very distasteful to them and they go elsewhere. I've used it on my white fly-prone plants (morning glory, brugmansia, datura, and of course, hibiscus) with great success. Works much better than spraying soap or oil after the fact. PLUS, it's a super fertilizer.

I've used the Worm Gold brand, at $15.00 for 20 pounds. I only use about a cup per 4 feet of plant and that seems perfect, at least in my climate. And man, do we get white flies!

Good luck and happy casting. :)

    Bookmark   June 10, 2003 at 11:51PM
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Mercy_Garden(z5 Santa FeNM)

Wow, thanks Ashkebird. After reading your post I went out and talked to my worm colony about speeding up their work a little bit. I'm thinking of setting up a second bin.

I am thinking it might be more correct to call worm castings a miracle preventor of disease and pests.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2003 at 12:28PM
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Organic_Worm_Guy(z4 Indiana)

Worm Castings are great. I have been useing it in my garden for years. It really helps everything out in the garden. It works well on holding down the weeds too.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2004 at 8:38PM
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WildBloom(Z9 SoCal)

I know it may sound hard to believe but I have to say it does work like a organic systemic pesticide. I have roses in my front yard that were riddled with rose slugs. After seeing how effective worm castings were on getting rid of white flys on my morning glories in past years I thought I would give it a try on my roses. I stripped off every leaf with holes from the slugs and applied the castings to the soil and watered it in well. It worked like a charm for a few weeks, then you could see it starting to wear off as the holes started to reappear. I added more casting and the holes stopped. And come to think of it, none of these roses are bothered by rust or blackspot or mildew.

I must say I am reluctant to tell people about it because I can't verify it scientifically, but I can attest to it from personal experience.

I do have a worm farm, but I also buy worm castings because I use so much.

1 Like    Bookmark   October 22, 2004 at 4:09PM
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After learning that coffee grounds are a favorite food for worms, I started sprinkling grounds around the base of the roses. It is a good way to concentrate the worm population and activity in a specific area.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2004 at 7:11AM
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What kind of amount are we talking Althea ?
and at what piont would it alter the PH or would it ?

    Bookmark   October 30, 2004 at 3:48AM
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Hi Forest_er,

I can't give an exact amount. I just use the grounds from our daily pot-o-coffee, distributing them to various garden beds and sometimes just into the compost. My best guess is @ 1 cup of grounds total sprinkled beneath the roses throughout the growing season - not all at once.

I've read that brewing the grounds eliminates or at least significantly reduces the acid content, so ph hasn't been a concern.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2004 at 7:27AM
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Clarification: I should have written, "sprinkled beneath each rose bush".

    Bookmark   October 31, 2004 at 7:29AM
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since I started to add coffee grounds to my gardens the soil has been loaded with earthworms which produce their own casings

    Bookmark   November 5, 2004 at 11:04AM
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natasha687(10 california)

Stronger plants= More resistance to disease!!!

    Bookmark   January 17, 2005 at 7:31PM
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I've been using "Wormgold" for a couple of years now on a Peace rose that is very susceptible to black spot. The years before I used it, it was impossible to get rid of the black spot. I've been putting it into the soil under the rose in early spring now for a couple of years, and no black spot. Much better than spraying every week with deadly chemicals.

While this is anecdotal, I'm very happy if it just does that. My rose stays beautiful most of the summer. I've got an insect problem (sawflies) that hits at the end of the summer and the leaves get lacy, but not fungus. I'm trying Bayer "Rose and Flower Care" this year for the insects, so I'll see if that works.


    Bookmark   January 22, 2005 at 12:36PM
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lakeerie4ever(Z5B OH)

Where can I find worm castings here in ohio. Do I have to buy off the internet

    Bookmark   January 30, 2005 at 7:57PM
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elks(US5 Can6)

Find a place that farms worms for fishermen. If they haven't yet figured out they can sell the 'spent' soil they use, they sometimes give it away. That is so here in London, ON.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2005 at 6:46AM
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Bayer "Rose and Flower Care" is not an acceptable organic product an dshould not be mentioned on an organic rose growing forum. I have never seen anything form Bayer CropScience that would be acceptable here.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2005 at 6:53AM
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brskovich(z8 OR)

I don't know about miracle cure for what ails the rose, but it does make a great
compost tea that's especially good for potted roses in my experience. I bought
a large bag at Green Thumb nursery in Ventura, CA the last time I had some. I think
it was $10 for 20 lbs. It didn't seem all that expensive compared to some other

    Bookmark   February 3, 2005 at 1:37AM
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lily_HB(z9 CA)

I've just been buying red worms at the bait shop, and digging a hole in the garden, throwing in a bunch of kitchen waste and the worms, and then covering it up. Last year I planted tomatoes where I had composted with worms, and they were beautiful. (the tomatoes, not the worms :)

Wow! Those worms take really hard clay soil and make it into black loamy wonderful soil! It's great to buy worms instead of their castings--that way they stay in your garden and make lots more castings. I've heard you have to be consistent about feeding them (kitchen waste) or they leave.

I'm not organized enough to buy a box, drill holes, etc., but this method seems to work pretty well.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2005 at 3:10AM
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I like to also add banana peels, the worms go crazy for them.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2005 at 7:20PM
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Do a google search for info on Worm Gold. It provides disease and insect resistance by strengthening the plants and from micro-organism active. It also provides improved growth compared to other fertilizers. It has many scientific studies and field applications confirming this. The reason is it isn't just NPK; plants can't survive on just NPK. It contains soil conditioners, other micronutrients, beneficial micro-organisms, vitamins like B1 and plant hormones. Basically everything. That's why you need so much.

To make your own just pile up some shredded mulch no more than 3 feet deep (so air can get in), plus 0.5% rock dust (about 1/2 cup per cubic foot). Fenced or unfenced; doesn't matter. You can ask local landscapers for yard waste. Avoid wood or perhaps sift it out later; it takes "forever" to break down and is tough to shred. Adding nitrogen to make compost is optional (google for more info). The earthworms will multiply on their own after several months if you don't want to buy them, but until then other critters (harmless bugs) will take advantage of the hiding place. Keep lightly moist with ocassional watering, but not wet or it won't get air. Aerobic decomposition (with air) will neutralize all odors, even items that used to stink. Anaerobic decomposition (without air) will smell like a rotten bog.

This year I'm trying to plant in containers to save on fertilizer. I'm buying the castings because 6 inches is a lot of mulch to hunt down. I've made my own before and it worked well, but it took a lot of setup time and waiting time that I don't have.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2009 at 10:54PM
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Ugh sorry I forgot to mention the amount. Worm Gold recommends 1 inch the 1st season and 1/2 inch each following season mixed into the top 6 inches of soil. It takes 6 inches of mulch to make 1 inch of earthworm castings.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2009 at 10:58PM
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Oh yeah you don't need a box with holes drilled or anything. You can just put a pile anywhere. Or just mulch right on your garden and then you'll never have to move the finished castings. Sorry, last post really.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2009 at 11:10PM
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Worm casting can be a part of what the soil needs to be good and healthy and grow strong and healthy plants that will be less susceptible to plant diseases and insect pests, but they would be only a part. They would not be a cure all. If your plants show signs of disease or are bothered by insect pests, enough to cause concern, there is a soil related problem that needs to be corrected.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2009 at 8:10AM
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Research has proven that worm castings can repel insects and control fungus problems, as well as condition the soil. Take a look at this link.

Here is a link that might be useful: Good Earth R.O.S.E. Care

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 2:55PM
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I've not had success in keeping worms in my sunny rosebeds. They stick around in the shade but not the sun. Any thoughts from those who live in hot climates?

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 1:59PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Mulch. If you maintain a 2 to 3 inch layer of organic matter (wood chips, bark chips, pine straw, etc.) over the soil, you'll be creating an environment that is cooler in the summer, warmer in the winter, moist, and all those other attributes that foster a healthy root/soil system (and worm environment).

    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 2:22PM
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JessicaBe(5-6 Central Ohio)

Worms like coffee grounds... I don't drink coffee maybe once in a blue moon but what about tea 'grounds' and egg shells... Can I just sprinkle that on the top of the soil.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2012 at 7:47AM
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teka, worms need moisture to stick around. The soil needs to be kept damp and cool and mulching with natural materials will do this. Continue to feed your beds organic matter also.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 10:14PM
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This is a long winded thread and Im glad. I started vermicomposting last april 2013 . I didnt get enough castings to use last summer . But I did have enough to put in some cuttings I over wintered and I used nothing but castings and liquid seaweed. The cuttings are doing well and leafing more than I remembered other cuttings doing. This year I will have enough to try on my roses and honeysuckle and others. Plus I will be trying worm tea, in fact Im brewing a batch at present which Im going to test on my cuttings and seedlings. Hopefully all will go well and I can report back in detail.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 12:13AM
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strawchicago 5a IL(zone 5a)

Thank you, hummersteve, would love to see the results !! I was reading on whiteflies and folks reported that worm-casting on top in pots discourage whiteflies from hatching.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2014 at 10:52AM
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