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The power of worms in helping turf root density

Millions of worms are at the core of Worm Power’s success


February 8, 2017
By Turf and Rec Staff

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An agri-business product developed a dozen years ago has already proven to grow healthier crops and produce a larger yield, and is now making a name for itself in the turfgrass world, specifically at golf courses.

Dr. Tom Herlihy, who has more than 20 years of experience in organic waste management, founded Worm Power in 2005. As the name suggests, it is the power of worms that drives the business and represents its key “employees.”

Jeff Corcoran, superintendent at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., site of six PGA Tour major championships, has been using the vermicomposting product for a few years and swears by its propensity to increase root activity. He presented an account of his experiences with Worm Power in the fall at the 28th annual Professional Turfgrass Seminar in Waterloo, co-sponsored by Ontario Seed Company and Nutrite.

He presented a history of how the business came into being and spoke at length about how the product works. The Worm Power (1-0-3) product used in turf is manufactured at a facility in Avon, N.Y., a short distance from Rochester. There, water-extracted bovine manure mixed with silage is composted in oxygenated bins for at least 40 days at sustained temperatures exceeding 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The composted material is layered into beds where millions of “red wiggler” type worms begin their work, digesting it and producing castings that, along with the worm-worked original material, is harvested after six weeks and extracted as a liquid.

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Countless microbes in the worm castings and worm-worked material begin to consume nitrogen when the product is introduced to soil, producing a plant-favourable material that promotes growth and health. In addition to the microbes, Worm Power contains fulvic acid, humic acid, micronutrients and a trace of plant growth hormones.

The water extracted from the manure is stored in a lagoon at a nearby farm and is used to fertilize its crops.

Worm Power helped solve an ecological problem that had developed in that part of New York. Dairy farmers were unsure what to do with the immense quantities of manure their livestock generated. Typically, waste was put out on the field, but there were concerns about its impact on water quality.

All materials used in the production of Worm Power are stored under cover and blended with large agricultural equipment to a specific “recipe” at a rate of 33,000 pounds a day. Corcoran said consistent mixes produce consistent final products.

“That’s the big thing about Worm Power, is making sure the product is consistent every single day.”

The consistency is attributed to the fact the manure-producing cows consume the same feed each day, leading to a more uniform manure product.

Corcoran first visited the Worm Power facilities about eight years ago to learn more about the product. He said it performed well in trials conducted by Cornell University researchers in Ithaca, N.Y., adding he thought it could be used as an aerification amendment.

An extract of Worm Power, similar to a “tea,” was developed a few years later. The extract is like a tea bag seeped in water at a certain temperature. Originally a granular product, he said it is a stable material that he has tested up to 120 degrees and has frozen in a block of ice and then reheated and reused.

Corcoran said he started using the Worm Power product at Oak Hill’s east course, and noticed significantly longer turfgrass roots in July at a time of year when roots are traditionally much shorter.

He said he could clearly see the difference in root density and length with the use of Worm Power than that of control. The increase in both density and length helps promote drought tolerance.

Recommended Worm Power application rates for turf are:

  • Golf course tees and greens: a bi-weekly application throughout the season, starting two weeks after core aeration at a rate of eight ounces per 1,000 square feet as a soil spray.
  • Golf course fairways’ repair or renovation: apply monthly as a soil spray starting 45 days after emergence at a rate of 16 ounces per 1,000 square feet.
  • Sports turf: apply monthly through the growing season at a rate of 16 ounces per 1,000 square feet.
  • Commercial lawns: apply at the same rate and frequency as sports turf.

Among its benefits, he said, include improved stress tolerance–the turf can withstand the pressure from the pest itself–and improved vigour. When used on greens, they are firmer, drier and more playable, and the plant is more efficient.

In addition to increasing root density and depth, thatch is reduced with Worm Power use while water-holding capacity is increased.

Germination, soil structure and soil nutrient availability are improved. There is reduced transplant shock and timely nutrient release to prevent fertilizer burn. It is easy to spread, safe to handle and is odourless.

One part Worm Power can be used with eight parts sand and one part diatomaceous earth to form a divot mix, and can be mixed with sand in a 9:1 ratio for use in topdressing following core aeration.

The vermicomposting product is sold in North America by Aqua-Aid. –

1. Plant Nutrition:
Enhanced availability of plant nutrients: Unlocks the available nutrient potential in the soil and makes it plant available
A viable source of macro and micro-nutrients

2. Enhanced Efficiency of Water Use:
Increases water holding capacity of the soil, reducing irrigation frequency and increasing stress tolerance during harsh conditions
Surface runoff will not contaminate water supply

3. Soil Inoculation:
Delivers robust and diverse microbial populations
Enhances soil fertility, by fostering the development of complementary soil micro-organisms

4. The Role ofHumic Acid:
High content: More than 5% by weight
Makes nutrient delivery more efficient over an extended period

5. Effective Bio-Stimulant:
Accelerated root initiation, establishment and development
Encourages pore development in native soils and nutrient uptake

6. Soil Disease and Pest Suppression:
On-going tests show a potential mode of action interferes with pathogens’ access to plant roots
Foliar spray shows anecdotal evidence for mildew and fungal suppression, and reduction in insect damage