Term Paper: Earthworm Castings

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Earthworm Castings

Earthworms are seen in a broad range of habitats across the world as they easily adapt to a lot of different types of soil as also lakes and streams. These worms are found to be advantageous to the soil in a number of ways, mainly because of the physical and chemical effects of their castings and burrows. Earthworm castings are the waste excreted by the worms after feeding and its constituents are mostly soil mixed with digested plant residues. These castings improve the texture of the soil structure by the process of breakdown of larger structural units into finer, granules of round shape. When plant materials and soil passes through the digestive system of an earthworm, its gizzard disintegrates the particles into tinier remains. These remains, when excreted, are again decomposed by other earthworms and microorganisms. (Earthworms: beneficial or pests?)

The process has a multiplier effect and earthworm casts can contribute up to half of the soil aggregates in some regions. The production of earthworm castings is found in abundant proportions during moist spring and fall seasons when these worms are found in the surface layer of the soil. At this time of the year, 20 casts per square foot of soil have been found going up to 40 pound of casts per 1000 square annually. During stages of extreme temperatures or moisture stress in summer and winter, these earthworms descend into the subsoil and pass through a resting stage known as aestivation. In irrigated regions, like golf course greens, this characteristic might be changed and earthworms might not go down during the summer months. Therefore, their activity might be considered as a problem needing management. (Earthworms: beneficial or pests?)

Enhancement of Soil fertility:

Earthworms play an important role in nutrient availability of the soil. During the process of their feeding, they deposit digested organic matter and other minerals along their burrows in the forms of casts, a valuable source of nutrients is made available to the root zone of the plant roots which grow through the burrows. Horticulture industry benefits immensely from this as comparative analyses of casts and its surrounding soil have revealed that the constituents of casts possess five times more nitrogen, seven times more phosphorus, 11 times more potassium, thrice more exchangeable magnesium and 1.5 more calcium. This is because of the fact that earthworms disintegrate nutrients from particles of both organic and mineral matter which would not otherwise be available to plants. The most common variety of earthworm, Lumbricus terrestris, a nightcrawler, leaves calcareous concretions mostly of pinhead size which might raise the pH of the soil. One more factor is the soil microbial activity inside the casts that helps speedier conversion of soluble nitrogen into microbial proteins lowering the leaching of available nitrogen. (Earthworms: beneficial or pests?)

Besides, the presence of earthworms' results in the speedier decomposition of organic matter and a rise in the availability of nitrogen leads to higher number of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. The availability of phosphorus also rises as the earthworms ingest phosphate rocks granules and the resultant movement down burrows of casts containing phosphorus. With the process of their burrowing, earthworms carve out passageway that crisscross throughout the soil which improves the porosity of the soil. Nearly, two-thirds of all pore space in some soils is due to earthworm burrows which enhances the moisture retention capacity of the soil which can go up to 400%. Due to the large diameter and low surface tension of majority of the burrows, they also act as drainage systems at the time of irrigation and heavy rainfall. This helps in better blending of soluble nutrients across the soil profile. Earthworms also help in the soil aeration. As they go beyond the topsoil and burrow deep downward into the subsoil, they might raise the soil-to-air ratio by eight to 30%. (Earthworms: beneficials or pests) worm casting which is also known as worm cast or vermicast is a biological active mound in which are contained thousands of bacteria, enzymes, remains of decomposed plant materials and animal manures which were not digested by the earthworm. The process of composting goes on following deposition of the worm casting. A very important component of the dark mass is known as humus which is a complex material formed at the time of breakdown of organic matter. One of the components humic acid gives binding sites for plant nutrients, like calcium, iron, potassium and phosphorus. These nutrients are stored within the molecule of humic acid in a form which is readily available to the plants. These are released to the plants when they need them. Earthworm castings have slow release nutrients which the plants are able to readily use. (Beautiful gardens begin with great compost)

Castings have within them the plant nutrients which are encased in mucus membranes which are secreted by the earthworms. These nutrients are released slowly instead of allowing immediate nutrient leaching. It has superb soil structure, porosity, aeration and water holding potential. It also has the properties of insulating the plant roots from extreme temperatures, lowering erosion and control of weeds. Soil containing earthworm castings constitute the best conceivable potting soil for greenhouse or houseplants, as also gardening and farming. Even the most delicate plants are not burnt and all the nutrients are water soluble rendering it as an immediate plant food. Besides, earthworm casting soil can also be used in trees, vegetables, shrubs, and flowers. The beneficial effects of earthworm castings are immediately seen. These make plants grow very fast as well as strong. Nematodes and diseases will not damage gardens or the plants when the soil is rich for them to grow fast. (Beautiful gardens begin with great compost)

Advantages of earthworm castings over chemical fertilizers:

Even though chemical fertilizers have a lot of nutrients listed, however the potential of plants to make use of the nutrients in an optimal manner is restricted. This is because the nutrients are not broken down in a ready form which the plants are able to use. Besides, chemical fertilizers do not have adequate organic matter which is important for the growth of the plant. On the other hand, vermicompost contains high degree of available nutrients lending an ideal blend which is available for long-term nutritional requirements. This permits plants to feed as required for weeks and months together. The castings of nutrients go on releasing the nutrient that is ideally appropriate for the growth and production of plants. Chemical fertilizers are very unbalanced and supply only synthetic nutrients, majority of which are rapidly lost into the soil when irrigation is done. The root system of the plants absorbs a particular quantity with a specific rapidity. (Advantages of Vermicompost)

Chemical fertilizers in majority of instances pose harm to soil microbiology and destroy much of the beneficial microbial and bacterial activity. This is known to be dangerous to the earthworms. In cases where application of chemical fertilizers makes the soil very acidic, then the number of earthworm will go down. Majority of the synthetic nutrients are also absorbed directly into the plants and food. Because of this, chemical fertilizes and pesticides sprinkled in farms and gardens are primarily responsible for ground water pollution. Vemicompost enhances the aeration of soil as they do not become a solid mass when mixed in soil. This helps in the rapid growth of the plant. Earthworm castings enhance the drainage capacity of the soil, lowering waterlogged soil and root rot. Besides, the water absorption capacity of the soil also goes up as vermicompost has absorbent organic matter which is able to hold the needed amounts of water required by the roots. (Advantages of Vermicompost)

Composition of worm castings:

Worm castings has a highly potent biological mixture of bacteria, enzymes, remains of plant matter and animal manure as also the cocoons of earthworm itself known as white damp. The castings have been found to be rich in water-plant nutrients that are water soluble and have in excess of 50% more humus compared to what is normally found in the top soil. Worm castings have a high mineral content that are indispensable for plant growth, like concentrated nitrates, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and calcium. Besides, it is also rich in nutrients like manganese, copper, zinc, cobalt, borax, iron, carbon and also nitrogen. The most interesting part is that these minerals are available to the plant in the most ready form, without the risk of plant burnout. On the contrary, animal manure and chemical fertilizers are required to be broken down in the soil before the plants are able to absorb them. (the tasteful garden)

With the passage of the organic matter through the food canal of the earthworm, a thin layer of oil is deposited on the castings which wipes away over a time of 2 months. Hence, even though the plant nutrients are available immediately to the plant, they are slowly released to last more number of days. The cocoons in the Worm Castings each has between 2 and 10 eggs which hatch in the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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