Plants cannot be strong without the soil medium in which they grow. I was made aware of this some years ago when I worked for about a year at a sprouting company. While there we sprouted some sunflower seeds. The sprouts grew tall and pretty and we tried to market them to restaurants that had salad bars. As it turned out, the sprouts would go bad and become slimy in the refrigerator in a 3 or 4 days. At the same time, I was traveling back and forth to a large city and noticed sunflower greens in a local health food store. They were white stemmed, had dark green leaves and were much healthier than the sprouts I had grown. I found that they were grown in soil rather than in a hydroponics solution. I was amazed to take them home and find that they lasted as much as 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Later when I studied with Ann Wigmore, I learned her method of growing in soil. She had a worm bin and let her worms compost all of the used wheatgrass, sunflower, and buckwheat mats. In all her simplicity, Ann Wigmore had great knowledge about nature and soil and its importance in supplying plants with the correct 'food' for them to build enzyme rich substances that would sustain their life as a healthy plant.
Last fall, a vermicomposter from Louisiana was trying to get me to introduce castings and worms to our customers who grow wheatgrass. He sent me samples to try and told me to use 20 percent worm castings mixed in with my growing soil, which I did. [I was amazed to find that I got about 20 to 25 percent more grass from the same tray.] I was growing barley and had been getting 36 ounces of grass per flat. After using the worm castings, I harvested 44 ounces of grass and the same amount of soil, sprinkled with azomite, and 3 cups barley seed). Actually, I did this same experiment about 3 times and got the same result each time. We are excited to finally be able to introduce these products to our website.
I went back to my stand-by, Edward Howell, to find out what he had to say about enzymes in the soil and how they relate to enzymes in the plant. (Enzyme Nutrition, by Edward Howell pp.157-159.)
Scientists are now measuring the value of a soil by the amounts of enzymes it contains. These enzyme values have a direct relationship to the quality of our nutrition and health. It is known that the operation of microorganisms in the soil is very important to the growth of plants. The world is commencing to awaken to the importance of enzymes in the life of the soil, that is to say, the biological activity of the soil. A plant, like an animal, needs enzymes to prosper.
In connection with the enrichment of the soil, the enzyme contributions of earthworms should not be ignored. Charles Darwin realized the part worms have played in building soil and wrote a treatise on the subject. In the act of burrowing through the earth, worms engulf the soil and extract usable materials as food. After passing through the length of the worm, the remainder is expelled in the form of casts which contain a valuable contribution of worm enzyme excretions. The earthworms, like all other animals, continually take in enzymes and eliminate them in their excretions, giving the soil an endowment of free enzymes. Soil rich in worm casts is sought after by some horticulturists for the cultivation of favored plants. It makes high-grade plant food.
Worms not only add enzymes to the soil but also loosen it, permitting water and air deeper access.
We must consume the best quality foods grown from healthy soils. As pointed out, use of castings increased yield up to 25 percent. Dr. Howell points out that the nutritional value of the entire crop is improved if grown in soil where there is significant worm activity.
Remember, worm castings are biologically safe and contain no pathogens. Answers about earthworms from the New Farm Answer Team:
1. Does the "manure" from earthworms have to meet the same criteria as other manures?
No. According to the NOSB Compost Task Force, earthworm castings are "finely divided organic material produced non-thermophilically due to interactions between aerobic microorganisms and earthworms, as organic material passes through the earthworm gut." It makes no sense that earthworm castings would have to meet the same requirements as manure.
By KK Fowlkes
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