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Organic Gardening Tips: How to Keep Your Plants Healthy

All Factfile Articles

by Master gardener and author Annie Spiegelman

It’s time we started showing some respect and gratitude for the underappreciated earthworm and his boy back-up band, fungi & bacteria. They are the true humble heroes and workhorses who do the necessary dirty work to keep your soil full of nutrients.

Yet, in our home gardens, we’re constantly killing earthworms with synthetic fertilizers. We’re baking them to a crisp with unnatural, high-levels of nitrogen and salts. Worms don’t want to see any neon colored manmade crystals.

Remember, earthworms are garden superstars, but they don’t insist on the center-stage spotlight! They thrive in moisture and dark. All they require is some good old fungi, bacteria, a banana peel or two and yesterday’s sports page to create nature’s best fertilizer in their castings, for free!

5 Dirt Diva Reasons Why Gardeners Should Love Earthworms (Eisenia foetida)

1. Worms help air and water enter and circulate through soil. As they crawl underground they loosen the soil so plant roots have plenty of oxygen and room to spread.

2. They break down organic matter, such as leaves, into nutrients plants can use. Earthworms transport minerals from the subsoil to the topsoil, and they keep the soil’s pH level and organic matter content just right.

3. Worms secrete slime, which contains nitrogen, one of the most important elements for healthy plants. Nitrogen gives the dark green color to plants and increases the growth of leaves and stems.

4. They eat and dump, and leave behind those precious worm castings or pure fertilizer. Their castings are rich in trace minerals, plant nutrients and plant growth enhancers. In fact, a recent study by the Rodale Institute showed that worm castings have growth benefits that exceed even those of plain compost.

5. Castings have a NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, potassium) ratio of 3.2-1.1-1.5. These nutrients are readily available to the plants and will never ever burn your plants.

These five dirty diva reasons are exactly why you should build a worm bin for your garden.

How to Create a Worm Bin So Your Flowers Stay Beautiful All Year Long:

1. Get yourself an opaque 10-14 gallon plastic storage bin at least 12 to 16 inches deep, with a tight fitting lid. Drill a dozen pencil sized holes in the top and sides for ventilation.

2. Tear your newspapers into 1inch strips lengthwise for bedding or use your shredded documents that you neglected to show the IRS. No color or glossy paper. Wet the bedding with a garden hose and wring it out like a moist sponge.

3. Buy some red wigglers! You can find it at, or check with your local plant nursery. Start with 1 pound. (Eight adult red worms can produce 1500 babies in 6 months!)

4. Fill your bin with the wet newspaper and 2 big handfuls of garden soil. Mix it up and gently add the worms in, covering them in the paper. Add a handful of food scraps under the newspaper. Cover the bin and keep it sheltered from heat or cold. You could keep the bin under your sink or in the garage shed.

5. Feed them fruit, vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells, leaves, grass clippings, yard waste. No meat or dairy. Chop up food items into smaller pieces.

6. Check on your earthworms once a week to make sure the bedding is still damp. Don’t feed them more food till they finish everything on their plate! They will eventually eat the bedding so add more as needed.

7. In 3 months you will have rich crumbly soil-like material. These are worm castings! To harvest, move all of the bedding and castings to one side of the bin. Put fresh bedding and food on the empty side of the bin. Give the worms a few days to move on over to the new side. You can then harvest the old side of the bin. Dig the castings into garden beds or sprinkle them on top of your soil.

For those organic gardeners and divas who don’t have the time, space or guts to build and maintain your own worm bin, products like TerraCycle Worm Poop can become your new best friend. It’s all natural, eco-friendly plant food made from organic garbage.

Fertilize your yard with worm poop each season and I guarantee your flowers will stay healthy all year long. Try it! It’s fun.

About the Author:

Master gardener and author Annie Spiegelman attracts a whole new generation of women, girlfriends & moms to the joy of working in nature. With a spirited tone mixed with effervescence, The Dirt Diva will influence you to make an ethical commitment to the environment in your own backyard. For more tips on how you can keep your flowers healthy all year long while building a better future, one shovel full of compost at a time, go to


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