Maintaining a vermicomposting bin means you have a supply of worm castings at your fingertips. This dark, nutrient-rich organic fertilizer is perfect for side-dressing your vegetable garden. Certain types of vegetable plants, and certain soil types, can benefit from consistent side-dressing. Let’s find out when to use side-dressing, and how to do it.
Side-dressing means placing fertilizer on the ground near the plants, or in a little furrow right by the plants. The best type of fertilizer is 100% organic and natural. If you purchase Red Wiggler composting worms from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm, set up a simple vermicomposting system nd feed your fruit and veggie scraps to the worms, you will soon have access to plenty of organic fertilizer. You can apply worm castings directly or make your own compost tea.
When to Use Side-Dressing
Side-dressing is helpful when:
- You have sandy soil, which doesn’t hold the nutrients very well, or
- The plants have a growth spurt, at flowering or fruiting time and in the second half of the growing season, or
- When recommended (look up your particular vegetable)
Not all plants benefit from side-dressing. The types of common North American vegetable garden plants that can benefit from side-dressing are: beets and beet greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, kale, lettuce, melons, onions, peppers, potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, summer squash, sweet corn, Swiss chard, tomatoes and winter squash.
How to Apply Side-Dressing
With worm castings, you have two choices about how to apply it: as worm tea, or as a direct application of worm castings.
Worm tea is not difficult to make. The only tricky part is that you will need an aquarium bubbler with tubing, to force air into the mixture. Click here for directions on making worm tea. When the tea is ready, use a watering can or backpack sprayer. Just make sure you choose an application tank that has never been used for herbicides. Apply the worm tea to the leaves of the plants. Spray until the liquid drips off, especially on the underside of the leaves, where the pores are most likely to be open. Best times to spray are early morning and early evening, because the liquid will be absorbed quickly. Don’t spray during rain, very hot or very cool temperatures.
Worm castings are the result of worms eating fruit and veggie scraps. They gradually fill up your worm composting bin. Many gardeners choose a tray composter, such as the Worm Factory 360. Using trays makes the worm casting easy to harvest, because you can encourage the worms to move up. When the bottom tray is nearly full of dark, moist humus (worm castings), start another tray above and the worms will move up. Keep doing this and you can easily harvest the worm castings from the bottom. Click for details about harvesting worm castings from various types of composters.
To apply the worm castings as side dressing, pick one of these methods:
- Place a small handful of castings at the base of the plant. Gently rake or work it into the earth, very shallow so as to not damage the roots. Water. Or,
- Dig a narrow furrow down a row, or around each plant. Place the organic fertilizer in the furrow and cover lightly with soil. Rake gently and water. Or,
- When plants begin to bear fruit for the first time, sprinkle worm castings over the whole bed. Water.
If you research the topic further, you may find other types of organic fertilizers and soil enhancers that are also useful for your specific soil conditions and situation.
Side-dressing is an age-old method of boosting plant growth. It is difficult to do any damage to your plants when using worm castings, because they are all-natural, organic and made by red worms. Teaming with beneficial bacteria and nutrients, worm castings are great for your plants. They also save resources because you can recycle kitchen and garden scraps. Worm castings are right at your fingertips when you need them – no need to transport fertilizer from the store or via mail order. Feel good about your garden and enjoy the bounty at harvest time!