Vermicompost as Germination Mix

morgan_3February 4, 2012

Some thoughts about using vermicompost as a germination mix.

When I first started using vermicompost as a germination mix, I thought I had to heat sterilize using a small lab oven I had. After a year or two of this tedious process I came across a thread which recommended using a diluted solution of 3% hydrogen peroxide (1/2 cup/gal water; 1:32) to prevent such things a dampening off. Another advantage of using hydrogen sulfide vs. heat sterilization is the salvaging of valuable nutrients.

However, one down side is using the hydrogen peroxide method does not destroy tomato seeds. During harvest last fall I processed more than five gallons of tomato waste in my indoor bins, and the tomato seeds are still sprouting in those bins. Using vermicompost as a germination mix can result in getting a rogue tomato seedling instead of the one(s) you planted.

If you are using pure worm castings it is advisable to dilute these with either; soaked and drained peat moss; choir; or purchased germination mix; since the nutrient level may be too high for germinating. My spent media or vermicompost is taken from the tops of the bins at feeding time and do not qualify as pure worm castings. They may contain a very small amount of uneaten worm food; coffee grounds; and new media (peat moss).

Tip: Although I like peat pots for starting lots of different seeds, I recently discovered something new which I will be using for various small seed transplants such as romaine, butterhead, and other types of head lettuce. The newer rectangular plastic yogurt cups are ideally suited for this purpose. A single seed flat will hold 24 of these cups vs. 18 peat pots. Simply punch a hole in the bottom center of the cup and fill with your seed starting mix or grated vermicompost. I like to add 1/4-inch of crushed gravel fines to the bottom of the cup for drainage and bottom watering purposes. I use a seed tray insert, plastic dome, and a heat mat to accommodate these cups. Just be sure to label each cup and remove as soon as the seeding has broken the surface, and replace with another cup for successive plantings.

That's my story...what's yours?

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ralleia(z5 Omaha, NE)

I've used the straight worm compost (not the castings) without any kind of pre-treatment to germinate brassicas so far. We don't have any tomato seeds in the compost, so those aren't an issue. A lot of alfalfa sprouts get grown in the house however, so rouge alfalfa seeds do survive and germinate.

Peat pots have caused me problems in the past by not decomposing fast enough for root growth or wicking water away from the plant, so they've been banished. The coir pots seem like they would do better, but my favorite setup is these "APS" units from Gardener's Supply Company.

The cells have no bottom. They sit on platform on a capillary mat, and then you fill with mix (or worm compost), fill the watering tray underneath, and the capillary action keeps the mix moist.

The lack of a bottom means that it's really easy to poke the plants out when it comes time to transplant them. I only have two of these APS setups--they're about seven years old, and I just keep reusing them. I also use those black plastic inserts and black pots--I have hundreds of them from decades of gardening. I need to figure out how to share some with someone that needs them for their plants!

Here is a link that might be useful: APS Planting Cells

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 9:50AM
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I hear your ralleia on the peat pots. Most people have issues with them such as yours. I typically use peat pots for germinating my hot pepper seeds and tomato seeds. These plants don't seem to mind having their roots ruffled, so transplanting them is not a problem. I don't place the peat pots in the garden when transplanting, instead I grind them up and toss them into the outdoor compost bins. Working with peat pots is an art which takes time to develop, however they will tell you when it is time to water or back off.

Those black plastic seed starting cells are so flimsy it is difficult to extract the seedlings without damaging the cells, thus recycling them is a hassle for me. That is why I have gone to using the new rectangular yogurt cups. They are not only sturdier, the individuality makes them easier to work with for me.

It's good to know you can germinate your brassicas seeds with out any kind of pre-treatment. I also like your method of using the capillary mat. I have used this matting in various was, but the open bottom method is one have not tried.

I wasn't sure what if any response I would get from this posting, but I have definitely gained some new insite from your response ralleia. Sometimes I search old threads for hours just to come across some new idea or food for thought.

I would also be interesting in hearing any ideas on other uses of vermicompost besides germinating seeds or potting mixes.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 11:27AM
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ralleia(z5 Omaha, NE)

For the next round, instead of using mine as a potted germination medium, I'm planning on trying my vermicompost as the final layer over prepared garden beds for use with a mechanical multi-row seeder.

I have the Johnny's Seeds 6-row seeder, and it requires a very finely prepared seedbed for proper operation. This will be my first time using it. I have clay soil, which tends to form clumps, so I hoped that layering an inch or so of the vermicompost over my soil would do the trick.

Now I'm just waiting to get past the current cold spell to try seeding my mesclun salad mix with the method and the vermicompost.

In the meantime, I'm trying to establish a second wormery using 15-gallon nursery pots, as one poster suggested in the "what have I learned" thread here. My main wormery is a Can O' Worms.

It'll be a few weeks, but I'll post here once I can report on results!

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 1:29PM
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I have added vermicompost to the material I use to refill holes dug in the garden for cucumber, squash, mellons, pumpkin, tomato and pepper transplants. The mix includes soil for the top six inches of the holes dug; composted cow manure; and about two cups of vermicompost including the worms. Red wigglers typically don't survive our harsh winters, however they perform their task of aerating the soil in the holes throughout the growing season.

I also have a single row seed feeder which came with an attachment for adding fertilizer. I have about a dozen seed wheels for the various sizes of seed, but frankly I don't like the tool for that purpose. The fertilizer attachment however works well for adding grated cow manure compost with some grated vermicompost added as well. I like to dig a trench along my soaker hoses for a number of seed plantings and run the seeder fertilizer attachment down the row before planting the seed.

For ease of application it's best to grate the various composts through a 1/4-inch screen before applying. If wet or clumpy these materials can clog your applicator rather quickly.

You might even consider if row planting, adding small seed like carrot and parsnip to the vermicompost before applying. If mixed in well you can get a more even application.

I plant loose lettuce mixes and kale in a raised bed using vermicompost which has been grated then pulverized with a mortor and pestal. I fill one of those hot seed shakers like you find a Pizza Hut with the pulverized vermicompost. Then I remove it and mix in my seed selections and replace it in the shaker. Saves on seed and you can easily go back and reapply where missed or after an area has been harvested. I have several of these shakers for various mixes, so I label each to keep track of what I'm planting.

I annually produce more than 60 gallons of dried vermicompost for germination of seedlings, potting mixes, and garden use, and it's never enough. So you might go sparingly when you plan on using it the garden.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2012 at 7:01AM
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I'm confused as to why you would choose to use vermicompost for your germination and then proceed to sterilize it. If you sterilize the worm compost, aren't you losing all of the value of the benificial bacteria that comes with the worm poo? I understand that this load of microbes is actually which makes this form of fertilizer so valuable and superior to other compost.

Here is a link that might be useful: Mictrobes in worm farming

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 12:34AM
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tobytub, precisely. The purpose of sterilization was to prevent dampening off or mold during the germination process. Heat sterilization of the vermicompost did exactly what you commented on. It removed beneficial microbes, whereas a 1:32 ratio of 3% hydrogen peroxide to water did help prevent dampening off and early mold production, without killing off valuable microbes. I only use this process for tomato and pepper seeds which take longer to germinate than other transplanted vegetables. When potting up the tomato and pepper seedlings this procedure is not required.

I germinate my tomato and pepper seedlings using covered flats: (1) Standard seed flats with clear domes using peat pots; and (2) COSTCO roasted chicken containers with six rectangular plastic yogurt cups. These flats are set on a seedling heat mat until seeds start to break the surface, then they are removed to similar flats and placed under fluorescent lights. The clear domes used in the germination process hold in heat and humidity, and can develop mold or the dampening off disease in just a mater of a few days.

Tomato seeds generally germinate in the vermicompost media an about five days and once uncovered will be ready to transplant again in about two weeks. However hot pepper seeds generally take twice that long or longer, which usually results in mold on the peat pots or surface of the vermicompost. Typically I use a small fan to eliminate the problem after potting them up individually.

My least successful attempts are with Habanero seed since they take so long to germinate and reach the initial transplant size. I have since gone to small ornamental hot peppers for my really hot sauces and dishes. The smaller peppers like pretty-in-purple, maui, etc., are plenty hot and grow much more quickly than Habs.

Straight vermicompost has worked fine for me as a germination media and in potting mixes as well. Rogue tomato seedlings are the only other problem I have to deal with. Other seeds which may sprout from the vermicompost can be easily identified from their counter parts and snipped off.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 11:40AM
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