Whether your soil is red “Georgia clay”, coastal sandy, or foothills rocky… the reality is that your growing capacity will be severely limited until you get it in good shape. Now some people are just blessed to live in rich loamy soil that it seems like almost anything grows in but for the rest of us, it often takes a lot of hard work and dedication to improve that soil.
So the question is… how do you do it?
“We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot.” – Leonardo Da Vinci
Well that answer is dramatically different depending on whether you’re trying to do this for your backyard homestead, or for 300 acres of farmland… but the key is about getting organics and key minerals into the soil. There are a lot of articles out there dedicated to permaculture, so we’ll leave the large scale transformation to those experts and focus instead on the backyard scenario.
There are lots of things you can do in a smaller backyard space, and one of the key ways is vermicomposting! Now that’s a big word, but all we’re talking about is composting using those tiny little plant saviors (worms) that you often find in your yard under rocks or in the mulch of your flower beds. These guys are phenomenal at breaking down organic waste into small components that are great for plants. They also create air pockets and aerate the soil making it easier for plant roots to grow and develop. Wherever you find lots of worms… you typically find great growing conditions.
Usually you see people doing vermicomposting (worm composting) inside with large bins that house the worms inside, and that’s all well and good, but who wants to constantly be carting compost to and from the garden and sorting out the worms when the bin gets full? Oh, and then as soon as the barometric pressure drops during a storm… that neatly hidden worm bin under the sink now becomes worm carnage all over the kitchen floor the next morning.
The other common solution is to create an outside compost bin or pile. This is certainly a great option and one we still use during the cold Midwest winters. It’s convenient to just throw the scraps in during the coldest part of the winter while you wait for the snow to melt and to coin that old Ronco commercial… you can just “set it and forget about it”. While this version also offers an attractive low maintenance solution to the “worms all over the kitchen floor” problem, it still creates a scenario where you’re constantly carting compost over to the garden area where you need it. Plus… let’s face it… there are times and/or places when you just don’t want a huge pile of rotting compost hanging around that might attract raccoons and other uninvited wildlife. You also run into the challenge of only having compost on the surface of your garden and still need to work it into the soil to get it active in the system. If you’re a “no-till” person, then that’s probably something you’re not keen on doing. So what do you do?
We’ve tried it several ways and we really like the outdoor worm tower approach, but with the spin on it of putting it DIRECTLY into your garden. Sure you can put these things anywhere from directly in your yard to putting them in your flower beds and the result will be great in those places too, but the point of this article is about improving your garden soil. In the video above, we show you how we built our DIY worm tower in a less than an hour using commonly available items.
We like this approach because it takes advantage of the worms already in your garden (you can always add some to the tower if you want to speed up the process) and it gets the decaying plant matter down deeper in the soil through as the worms pass in and out of the tower and leave their castings (worm poop) behind. It also eliminates the movement of large quantities of compost from one location to the other by moving the action to the garden itself. While we didn’t do it in this video, you can also paint the outside of the tower black (or any other color) to help it blend in more. This is particularly useful if you have neighbors who will look down their nose at you for anything that “doesn’t fit with the neighborhood”. C’mon… we all know those people.
While you’re at it, you don’t have to do just one of these towers, you can build as many as you want all at the same time and put them in different places in your garden. You’ll also find that eventually the pipe will fill up with food scraps if the worm activity isn’t keeping pace with how much food waste your family produces (more common with larger families), so having multiple towers helps you rotate some.
Either way, you’ll need to keep tabs on the process and move the towers to new spots as the rich compost builds up at the bottom, but you’ll have the makings of glorious soil for your garden at that point!
Let us know how it turns out!