Most effective way to use castings in a SFG

Lisa.HDecember 16, 2012

Hello. I'm starting my first sqare foot garden this spring and have my first castings to use as well. I'll have six 4' square raised beds and only have maybe 2 cubic feet of castings ready. My question is, in your opinion would it be more effective to split my castings evenly between the six raised beds and just mix into the soil, or should I place a concentrated amount right where I plant the seeds or in the hole where I plant transplants? What has your experience been? Would it make a difference either way? I just want to make sure I'm using them as effectively as possible. Thank you!

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A whiskey glass of vermicompost in each planting hole. More for plants that take more space.

Some things you will plant a bit after others. This will give you extra weeks and days to harvest, age, reharvest more vermicompost for those plants.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2012 at 10:37PM
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Thank you for the response. I will try it that way. I should have a few more bins ready to harvest around planting time, so hopefully I will have enough for all of my vegetables. I also have young blueberry bushes planted last spring (around 2-3' tall now). Any ideas on how much VC to use as a side-dressing around each one? Do you think this would be all the fertilizer needed or would you recommend using commercial fertilizer along with the VC? Thanks in advance for the help!

    Bookmark   December 31, 2012 at 9:18AM
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Most people who take care to use vermicompost do not use commercial fertilizer or bug spray. Some may add a natural fertilizer.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2012 at 11:37PM
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Equinoxequinox, Thanks again for the reply. I do plan to stay away from the chemical bug sprays and planned to stick to only the VC in the veggie garden, but I've read so many different things about blueberries, aside from having to keep the soil acidic, about when to fertilize and what types of fertilizers to use, I am still not sure what to do for them. I know how you hate when people post about things they haven't completely researched, so I won't go any further here as I know I still have research to do on this. I just wondered if people who used VC tended to use it as their main source of fertilizer or if they found a combination of VC and other fertilizers (natural preferred) to be optimal, and if so, what combinations yielded the best results. I realize that this is moving toward more of a gardening question, so I think I'll post on the fruit and orchards forum. Again, I appreciate the help.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2013 at 8:56AM
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Hi Lisa;

One of the problems with posting on the Fruit & Orchards Forum is that (unless people are also using Worm Castings on their trees and bushes) you probably won't get positive feedback about using non-chemical fertilizers.
On a personal note; this past summer I planted out my first Earthbox-type SWC using only Worm castings as primary fertilizer. Even though (almost) everything I've ever read suggests fertilizing with Miracle-Grow, I decided to use only castings. While some things did poorly (not because of the quality of the fertilizer but because they needed their own space with more fertilizer being made available to them), the Basil has grown to over two feet and been cut back (almost to the ground) eight times since June. As for your Blueberries, you could try mulching them with Pine needles as Pine is quite acidic.


    Bookmark   January 1, 2013 at 6:21PM
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Yes, I am fortunate enough to live across the street from an apartment building with two big pine trees by the street. Needless to say, when they dropped their needles in the fall I took full advantage. I don't think the owners minded. I'm so excited to use my castings this spring on the blueberries as well as a veggie garden and the strawberry patch. I've been scouring the internet and YouTube for good examples of the effects of using worm casts. I'm very tempted to do my own experiment comparing with and without the VC to see for myself what a difference it will make. I don't know what a SWC is, but I'm glad to hear your basil has done so well on just the worm casts! That is very encouraging!


    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 11:13PM
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Hi Lisa;

SWC stands for Self-Watering Container, mostly sold by the 'Earthbox' Company but do-it-yourself plans are freely available all over the internet.


    Bookmark   January 3, 2013 at 1:26AM
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Are you using a DIY Earthbox-type SWC?

Any comments on not the basics of the system but what magic might occur, other than constant fertilized water, that makes the system work so well?

$$ Purchased systems look nice. I love to see peoples gardens. I am not looking for Better Homes and Gardens type gardens but off season gardens. The garden got away from me garden. The sheep got in the garden, gardens. The garden was doing well but drought or perhaps tons of rain happened gardens. What did well, what did not. What thrived despite it all? I like to see real peoples real gardens as they are maybe even at their worst or spent out time. I especially like to see the ingenious ones with DIY SWC made out of whatever is ubiquitous to the area and FREE gardens. They have a certain I do not know what about them that makes the garden real.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2013 at 4:27AM
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I run several homemade SWC's - about 25 for the 2011 season and changed to larger and fewer (12 I think) for 2012 season. While a few of mine are still 5 gallon bucket size the majority are 18 gallon tote type.

I am starting to think that SWC's are really just a poor man's hydroponic. I used a mix of 2:2:1 peat:perlite:pine bark fines as my base media with a touch of compost mixed in the upper areas. Add a lot of calcium if you're growing tomatoes or peppers as BER will be a problem. BER was a real big problem with determinant tomatoes setting all at once.

The real magic is in that root zone having a constant water supply in the correct moisture level. That said expect to water everyday in the late summer when the plants are large.

While I will continue to use these I will have fewer SWC's next season in favor of large traditional containers.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2013 at 6:27PM
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I would love to have 25 SWC's. Problem is that I don't have an actual garden, but only a large porch/patio area. Also those 18 gal totes that you pick up at Walmart's or wherever, for $5- cost me over $20- each in Israel. So altogether it could cost me around $70- per 'Earthbox'. I use a mix of 3 parts Sphagnum Moss, 2 parts Vermiculite and i part Perlite. As far as the mix, it seems to have worked ok. I also added powdered Eggshell for Calcium besides the Castings as primary fertilizer. I think for this first I was a little over eager and planted too much in the (16-gal) container: 2- Eggplants, 2- Chili Pepper, a Cherry Tomato and the Basil. Nothing did half as well as the Basil and I finally realized that it was just too overcrowded for the size of the container. I have to check back with a bakery that gave me free 5-gal pails (from frosting). If I can get more of those then I'll concentrate on planting in them instead of the big totes.


Ps. That's the Cherry Tomato on the left (front), with the Basil in back and one of the Eggplants on the right.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2013 at 4:38AM
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I've wanted to try these self watering containers ever since I read about them a while back in "The Urban Homestead" by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen (full of really awesome tips, by the way!). The book also gives their website, with their page on SWC at

How do you build yours, Shaul? I'm probably going to try to get some buckets from a bakery or something like that and make some of these. Do you have any advice?

    Bookmark   January 5, 2013 at 9:36AM
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I went with SWC's because my prime garden area happens to be a concrete patio.

Most of mine were 5 gallon buckets but just became too tedious to keep filled with water. The 5 gallon bucket size works well for smaller plants like basil, peppers, and even ice box watermelon.

If using buckets the easiest way is to nest two together to make the reservoir and use a yogurt cup with a few holes drilled in it as the wick cup. Here's a link to a forum post I made about how to build one of these quickly. Or this user's blog has some good designs too.

I've built these from rubbermade totes, buckets, plastic file boxes, an old plastic foot locker, a cut down trash can, and a few other things that I forgot about.

This winter one of my projects though is to build a few large traditional wooden planters to replace some of these SWC's.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2013 at 11:43AM
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Hi Lisa;

My SWC was built from plans in a pdf file from a website that no longer exists. Even so, GardenWeb doesn't allow pdf files, so I can't post it here. It's basically on the order of Mr. Yan's project except that I used two 16-gal bins. The lower one is the water reservoir with the overflow hole drilled on the side. The upper one is raised up on short (4"-6") lengths of plastic pipe (in the four corners) which are secured with cable ties. Also, the bottom of the upper bin is drilled out all over with holes (for air flow to the roots). In the middle of this (with the air holes) a large hole was cut out (approx. 3" on a side) and a plastic container (as long as the lengths of plastic pipe supporting the upper bin) was attached underneath with cable ties. This container which had holes drilled on the sides (to allow water to enter) is the 'Wicking' container which will wick the water up into the potting mix. On this site: Green Roof Growers, there is a discussion about a fabric called Pellon Thermolam Plus which has excellent wicking properties; removing the need for a wicking basket.
Open the link, I'm sure you'll find it interesting.


    Bookmark   January 7, 2013 at 8:04AM
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priswell(9 CA)

>>two big pine trees by the street. Needless to say, when they dropped their needles in the fall I took full advantage. Pine needles are great, but they take a long time to break down. . .for us, about 2-3 years. I generally process the pine needles in a separate worm bin to give them time to break up.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 9:19PM
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Hi Lisa, I actually did a bit of research myself for both of your questions and found that a lot of people put 2 TBLS. of castings in a new planting hole and that coffee grounds and organic compost, including dried leaves, are good for blueberries. So in addition to buying a bag of worm castings since I won't have enough as soon as I'll need it, I also made a garbage can composter for things I don't put in my worm bin, based on these plans found at Instead of aluminum pipes, I used PVC and it works great so far and will produce useable compost quickly. Mine isn't wrapped in anything and I didn't use the bolts after all because the holes I made in the top and bottom for the PVC pipes are a very snug fit and help keep the lid on and to roll the bin (extending about 5" above the lid)--I didn't have enough scraps to fill it immediately and didn't want to have to take the bolts off every time I add to the bin. :) And I set it up on blocks with a cut gallon jug fitted snuggly under it to catch the leachate. So if you have a drill and way to cut the pipe and threaded rod as needed, you should be able to do that easily as well.
I do a lot of container gardening too and was considering SWCs, but thanks to the responses here, I think I'll pass on that option; especially since I recently installed an irrigation system which will help an awful lot when it comes to watering. So as always, thank you all for sharing your experience and great ideas!
BB in FL

    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 11:32AM
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