Worm Castings in the Garden

There was a break in the weather today, so I dashed outside to plant a row of bareroot berries I’d bought on impulse at the nursery. I planted 2 each of Willamette raspberries, tayberries (a blackberry/raspberry cross), nectarberries (similar to a boysenberry), and dewberries, which are, as far as I can tell, a kind of blackberry. Scott’s the baker in our house—as long as I keep him supplied with berries, we’ll eat tarts and pies and fruit-filled crepes all summer. (By the way, check out Raintree Nursery if you’re in the market for some berries, and for further enlightenment, get Stella Otto’s The Backyard Berry Book)

Now all I needed were some worm castings to get the berries off to a good start. It was time to rotate the stacking trays that make up my worm bin anyway, so I lifted each tray off, put the middle one on the bottom, set the top one in the middle, and made the old bottom tray the new top tray. There were only a few worms left in that tray—mostly it just contained rich moist castings and crushed eggshells (worms can’t eat the eggshells but I add them anyway because it helps reduce the acidity in the bin.) I fluffed up the castings with a garden fork, which made the few remaining worms dive into a lower tray to get away from the light. Those castings went into the bed I’d prepared for the berries, along with a fertilizer from Gardens Alive I like called Fruit Trees Alive. The fertilizer addresses the particular nutritional needs of fruit trees and berry vines: low nitrogen to encourage fruiting over foliage, sulfur and copper to produce sweet-tasting fruit, and boron to help resist diseases. The worm castings are brimming with beneficial bacteria and other microscopic creatures that will help the roots access the nutrients in the fertilizer.

That’s one way to think of worm castings—as a digestive aid for plants. I feed the worms, the worms feed the berries, and sometime next summer, the berries will feed us. I’ve always maintained that worms make the best pets: they’re quiet and loyal and surprisingly clean. What I mean by this is that the worms are reward enough by themselves; the berries are a bonus, a kind of vermicultural windfall.