Biological products can make a difference in assisting a turf maintenance or nutrition program. Ted Miller, product manager for AQUA-AID, explains how to use Worm Power Turf effectively to build healthy roots.
What exactly is Worm Power Turf?
Worm Power Turf is a vermicomposted liquid fertilizer. It’s made strictly from our own OMRI-listed vermicompost, which is produced on site in our facility, and water, which are the only two ingredients in Worm Power Turf. This sets it apart from a lot of other vermicompost products, and we refer to our product as a liquid extract. You’ll hear in the industry, the jargon is compost tea. For us, we view that as kind of a pejorative.
With other teas and products like it, the big goal seems to be that if billions of microbes are a good thing, then trillions are better. So people want microbial blooms in their products. In our opinion, that’s really not the important thing. The numbers aren’t important. The important thing is the broad spectrum of colonies that we achieve, and the viability of those colonies once they hit the soil.
How does it work?
What the liquid really is, is a vector for thousands of microbial communities that will essentially colonize the root zone of any plant they’re applied to. They have a particularly beneficial effect on turf, in that it creates very strong root systems without any undue top growth. That’s really been one of the things that’s been a boon to golf course superintendents. It doesn’t do them any good to have a good root system, but then have to go out and double their labor costs by mowing twice as much as they used to. It’s really an effective tool in terms of solely focusing on the increased root mass and increased development that helps promote a stronger plant, but not overly vigorous growth.
These benefits accrue to the soil through our product, but really, these benefits come from the worm. But why not just use compost? After the composting process, you have achieved a level of microbial inoculation that is specific to the high temperature ranges that occur in composting, what we call thermophilic microbes that operate above 120 degrees. Worms, however, live in the rhizosphere of the plant, and all the microbes that are both in the worm and on the worm, the same are imparted to the vermicompost. Those are the microbes are the ones that live and thrive in the middle temperature ranges, the mesophilic microbial communities. Once our product goes into the soil, those are in an environment that they’re able to thrive.
What kinds of rates are effective?
The most effective application rates that we’ve gotten, is 5 gallons of Worm Power Turf per acre per month. Whether it be greens or fairways or tees, if you’re going to do that, the application rate breaks down to two things: Either 8 ounces every two weeks, or 16 ounces every four weeks. Really, which way the superintendent chooses to do it is dependent on a couple of different factors. The effectiveness of our product for thatch reduction is more clearly visible when you do the 16-ounce rate every four weeks. At the same time, if what they’re really after is increased root mass and density, then we’ve found that 8 ounces every two weeks will promote better root development than 16 ounces every four weeks will. Both are effective rates, and certainly outperform other applications and any control in testing.
Can it be mixed with other products?
We’ve had great success when it’s being mixed with surfactants, especially with the notion that the material is supposed to work in the root zone. Anything that helps with that soil penetration is fantastic. We’re seeing great results with a number of AQUA-AID products tank-mixed with Worm Power Turf. There’s also work that’s been done with NC State. One of our early recommendations was not to tank-mix with fungicides. That becomes a labor issue for superintendents, if it requires another pass. Over multiple facilities throughout the US over the past two years, Agronomic programs have mixed fungicides with Worm Power and have seen zero negative effect ... this real-world research along with the statistical counts we have proven thru university research in multiple trials ... we are confident that Worm Power Turf can be mixed with any products that have to be incorporated into a soil-drench program.
What should superintendents keep in mind when using it?
In the summer of 2015, I was responsible for traveling to golf courses in our course trials, and interestingly, as I was following up with them, I heard, “I’m not seeing anything. Nothing’s happening.” And I knew why they were saying that, because they weren’t looking below the surface. Anyone who tries this, if they don’t do a cup cut and pull some plugs, they’re not going to see what’s happening. Look below the surface and you’ll find the benefits. Don’t think you’re going to see it manifest itself in a physical plant response above the surface. The top growth is not going to change a lot. You’ll find that the top growth responds over time by being more drought-tolerant and standing up to traffic better and things like that, but you just don’t get that visible response on the top growth.
The main thing is that you want it to be used as a soil spray. It can be effective as a foliar application, but it works in the root zone. We want it working in the soil.
Watch the root zone. That’s where you’re going to see the benefits, and over time you’ll realize the benefits of a healthier root zone. Don’t expect to see a growth explosion right under your eyes. Get a cup cutter out there and start taking some cuts, you’ll see the benefits pretty quickly.
About the Author
Kyle Brown is a Canton, Ohio-based golf and agronomics writer.