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How Earthworms Boost Garden Production

They make many people cringe and little boys love to taunt little girls with them, but earthworms are endlessly useful. Without them, our soil would not be as amenable to growing crops as it is. Depending on where you live, you probably have earthworms in your soil already, but you can further improve its quality by growing and making use of earthworms. They are a natural way to increase your garden’s yield, and you can grow them yourself!

Earthworm Biology

Earthworms are members of the class of animals called Oligochaeta. Common names include earthworm, rainworm, night crawler, and angleworm. Earthworms are a very simple animal with a segmented body and uncomplicated circulatory and digestive systems. They can regenerate parts of themselves. Earthworms eat organic matter in the soil as they move throughout it. They can live in leaf litter, compost, topsoil, or in deep burrows below the topsoil.

Grow Your Garden With Earthworms

Your soil is enriched by the presence of earthworms. With more earthworms, it can become an even better environment in which to grow vegetables. Earthworms play several roles in the formation of good soil: biological, chemical, and physical.

  • Biological. Because they consume organic matter, earthworms help compost to create rich humus. They eat larger pieces of organic matter, such as leaf litter. This results in the breaking down of large pieces of matter into smaller pieces. They can take compostable materials and turn them into wonderful soil.
  • Chemical. Earthworm casts are a natural way to fertilize plants and gardens. When earthworms ingest small particles of soil, they are digested into a paste and excreted. The excreted matter is called casts and provides plants with nutrients in an accessible form. In other words, worm poop feeds the plants in your garden.
  • Physical. Because earthworms burrow through the soil in your garden, they act as a natural aerator. The channels and holes that they produce by their movements keep the soil open and loose, which allows air flow and good drainage.

Soil without earthworms simply cannot support plants and vegetables to the same extent that soil with these creatures can. For the best possible garden, encouraging and growing earthworms is crucial.

Discover Amazing Butterflies, Moths, Spiders, Dragonflies, and Other Insects!

Encouraging Earthworms

At a minimum, you should create an environment in your garden that encourages earthworms to move in and take up residence. Earthworms need organic matter, moist and loose soil, temperatures between fifty and seventy degrees Fahrenheit, and a pH between six and seven. Composting your garden is the best way to reach these conditions. When your garden is rich with compost, you provide the worms with food. The compost also helps to keep moisture in and keeps temperatures at a consistent level. You can purchase a pH testing kit to find out what your soil’s pH level is and to find out how to alter it. Once you attract earthworms to your garden, they will be there for years to come and will keep the soil conditions right for themselves and for growing your vegetables.

Growing Your Own Earthworms

Encouraging earthworms to move into your garden can take time and effort. You need to create the compost and turn it into the soil before they will come around. To speed up the process, you can raise your own earthworms and transplant them directly into your garden. Growing earthworms is a very doable project. You will need to create a home for them, select worms to start your farm, and then harvest them for your garden.

Creating an Earthworm Farm

  • Find them a home. A traditional way to create a home for worms is to bury a refrigerator. This keeps them contained, but be sure that it does not have Freon, which is a toxic substance, before you bury one. Also, remove the door so no one gets trapped in it. You can also use a bucket for a small-scale worm farm, a wooden box, or a plastic kiddie swimming pool.
  • Consider drainage. If you plan to keep the farm out in the elements, make sure it has drainage holes so you don’t flood and drown your worms. Keep the worms from escaping by making the holes with nails and keeping the nails in place. The water will get out, but the worms will not.
  • Fill the container. Use at least medium-quality soil. It does not have to be top of the line, but you don’t want soil that has too much sand or clay either. A loose, medium soil with some sand and clay will work.
  • Add food. The worms will need something to eat. Mix organic materials into the soil for the worms’ meals. This could be leaf litter, grass clippings, or kitchen scraps. Avoid potato peels, as they will grow. Also avoid eggshells, manure, and meats. These can raise the temperature of the soil too high.
  • Keep it mixed. Stir your earthworm soil and food mixture well so that the worms can eat anywhere in their home. This will keep them from overcrowding in one area.
  • Create a top. You need to place something over the top of your farm to keep in moisture and keep out the light. A layer of leaves, grass clippings, or a piece of cardboard will work well.

Turn household food waste, yard clippings, and more into free compost and mulch that’s chock-full of nutrients.

Finding Worms to Stock the Farm

You could dig up some worms to place in your new farm and hope they grow and reproduce, but a better way to get your farm started is to purchase stock. The initial investment in starter worms is usually pretty low. You should be able to find a worm farm in your local area. Most commonly used worms include red wigglers and European nightcrawlers. When you find a worm farm from which to purchase your supply, talk with the owner about what kind you should buy and how many you will need for the size of worm home you have created.

Growing Your Worms

Once you have your worms started in their new home, they don’t require a whole lot of maintenance. Keep their soil moist without overwatering it, and keep them well fed with yard waste and kitchen scraps. To help them chomp through it more quickly, chop up food waste into little pieces, or even consider pulsing it in the blender for a minute. It is important not to overfeed them. Start with a small amount. If it is gone 24 hours later, try adding a larger amount. If some remains after 24 hours, it was too much. Left to their own devices, your worms will multiply and make more worms. You need not be careful about selecting male or female worms for ensuring reproduction as worms are hermaphroditic.

Harvesting Worms

If you plan to keep producing worms for a long period of time, you should harvest them about once a month. This keeps the population at a reasonable level so that overcrowding does not occur. Harvesting is simple. Spread some of the earthworm dirt mixture on a table, board, or other flat surface and hand pick the worms. If the worms are intended for your garden, simply transfer them there.

Other Uses for Your Worms

When you have enough earthworms for your garden, you can use the rest for several different purposes. You can use them to create more compost for the garden. You can use them for fishing. You can even sell them to others. Advertise that you have nightcrawlers for sale, and your fishing neighbors will come with money in hand.

Growing earthworms is a great way to create an optimal vegetable garden. Worms are your friends when it comes to maintaining rich, organic soil that is packed with nutrients. Keeping a worm farm is not only good for your garden, it can even be extra income. When you get the kids involved, it also becomes a fun homeschooling project.

©2012 Off the Grid News

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15 comments

  1. In many locations across the US over the years, I’ve seen a huge increase in earth worms simply by covering the ground with cardboard. I go to places where i can get cardboard that has covered mattresses, lay it out either during the fall or even along paths in the garden while it is growing, or over the entire garden before planting, then cut holes to put the plants in. Worms are everywhere in no time, and the cardboard helps keep down weeds. I put stones or a line of soil around the edges to keep the cardboard from blowing away; usually don’t have any trouble with that once the cardboard is saturated with water and plants are growing.

  2. Please do not use non-native earthworms. Google ‘invasive earthworms’ to see the potential damage.

  3. I have found a couple other ideas for earthworm use too. Feeding chickens and ducks, great food. And making a system for small livestock. If you have rabbits and chickens, bury a tub or wooden box under your rabbit hutch and around it build a chicken run. Put your worms and dirt on the container underneath the hutch and release your chickens into the run. The rabbit droppings feed the chickens and the worms and the chickens eat the worms too. And I believe the worms help compost in the chicken manure, not sure though.

    • I too just started feeding my chickens earthworms. They love the protein and the scratching around. I usually will give them a bucket of soil and let them hunt for the worms, they go crazy and have a good time-
      also you can make a large pen, put it on wheels and move it around your yard. your chickens will eat different bugs and pick at the grass- make sure it has a little shade and the chickens have other water and food if they need it. Usually add 1-2 chickens in pen (approx 3 x 5 size) at a time to give them something fun to do in your yard or different location.
      keep moving it daily as the grass can be ruined if in one place for over a day.- experiment.

  4. The comments about using cardboard as a garden cover and using only native earthworms were enlightening. I remember my grandfather talking about ‘salting’ his garden and apparently it was once common practice at least in some areas. Could you tell me what the purpose of this might have been? I assume he was talking about using ordinary table salt. Not sure if it was used as a ‘cleaning type agent’ or as a nutrient. Would this not have affected the earthworm population negatively? I have heard using Ebsom salt adds needed magnesium to the soil but I don’t think that was what grandfather used. Would Ebsom salt added to the garden affect the worm population in any way? I know when he would go fishing he had us kids look for worms under rocks or after any good rain they would be all over the top of the ground especially after dark. We took a flashlight out and a bucket to put the worms in then he tore up newspaper in little pieces to feed them and mixed it into the soil.

    • HI
      i added Epsom salts to my hot pepper plants. first i was told to take a teaspoon and mix it in warm water and spray on flowers when they just openeed, this became a little crazy. So i added it in my soil and i have many times the normal yield. Not sure if this works on other plants, but the hot peppers love it.
      I will have to dig up the soil and see if the earthworms are bothered by it. good question.

      I also use an old screen (window) folded in half above my compost pile cover 4 x 4 – allowing a little light in and easy to remove and fold up when not needed.

      I also added fish bones to my compost pile it can be a little messy, best not to turn the soil, (keep pets out) leave it be and in 3 months you have great soil for tomatoes. (my compost pile consists of fish bones, egg shells, citrus, all vegetable matter mostly organic, 1 bag of organic soil, coffee grounds, my organic chicken droppings, hay, tea bags and water it 2 x a week. sometimes add a few sticks and twigs from yard, nothing has any chemicals or spray) when looks good (dark black soil in color) use soil for tomatoes and herb plants, and start the same process again next year. so far so good.

  5. I love my earthworms and spread them around to other pots in the yard
    also add the nutritious new soil to other pots and plants in your yard
    not to mention if you have excessive worms, chickens love scratching around in the soil for their finds

  6. Earthworms. Fabulous creatures. The worm castings will add so much nutrients to your soil you won’t believe it. There was a gentleman from California, I wish I could remember his name, that had a large robust garden when everyone else was experiencing poor crop harvest. His secret? Worms. He used the same garden area year after year after year without having to rotate his crops. All because of worms.

    Take a look in the library for books on worm growing. Quite fun and very easy. Plus worms double in population approximately every month. So, if you start out with just 100 worms, you should have 200 the next month and 400 worms the month after that so on and so on.

    Easy to feed. Cardboard, coffee grounds, old bread, leaves, grass clippings, manure (Not chicken or dogs and cats) and a variety of other things you might be currently throwing out. They love it! read some books on them.

    Back in time the Egyptians would behead you if caught harming a earthworm. They new how valuable they were to their crops.

    Here’s another interesting thing about earthworms, they can eat their own weight per day. Now it takes approximately 1000 worms to make a pound. I used them to mitigate horse manure. A horse, or at least the ones I worked with, dropped about 7 – 10 pounds of manure a day. If you had 10 pounds of worms they would eat it and make some of the worlds best fertilizer you could ever imagine.

    Just keep in mind, you need to make sure the manure is not fresh. It will cook your worms. You know how hot fresh manure can get. Also don’t feed them manure from horses or cows if you just “wormed” them. That will kill em.

    Worms. One of the best creatures the good Lord gave us. Treat them with respect and your garden will flourish. By the way, one little teaspoon of worm castings is enough to feed a potted plant for a month.

    Read about them there little worms. They are terrific!

    Mike

  7. can I use old coffee leftovers and pour it into my compost, or is the acid from the coffee pot to strong to grow worms?

  8. “cfrederick says:
    I remember my grandfather talking about ‘salting’ his garden and apparently it was once common practice at least in some areas. Could you tell me what the purpose of this might have been? I assume he was talking about using ordinary table salt.”

    CFredrick, this is just a guess – but when old guys talk about “salting” something, I think first about the old term “Salting the mine” which means to put a little here, a little there. If he was talking about worms, that is my best guess.

    Knowing how happy SLUGS are when you put table salt on them, it just seems counter-intuitive to actually put salt in with earthworms.

    I may be totally wrong, and look forward to clarification from OffTheGrid.com writer Mary Ellen!

  9. What about OVER-WINTERING the worms in Edmonton, AB 53 degrees N, agricultural zone 5. The UAss Dept of Geo-Engineering and the USAF tankers spraying Chemtrails allowed us a very mild winter in 2012, but only THEY know what they’ll stick us with next year and following………

    There was very little frost in the ground. Maybe need to heap compost on top and around the farm container?

    Plz reply to: [email protected]

    TYVVM

  10. I built a house in Vanc. BC. And I built a 3-bin composter to turn it over, from #1 to 2, then to #3 as the compost built.

    After 2 years, the grass around the bin for 10 or 12 feet was like putting-green rich and lush. WORM POWER!

  11. Bruce – I’m with you on the salt. I have never heard of adding salt to soil, unless referring to the old phrase, “salting the earth,” which of course means making it impossible to grow anything.

    Epsom salts are chemically different from sodium chloride salt and can add valuable magnesium to the soil. Perhaps, rather than table salt or sodium chloride, this salt is really just some other mineral that adds nutrients, much like the Epsom salts.

    Now if you want to kill your earthworms, by all means sprinkle them liberally with salt!

  12. wyvonnia dillard

    Bruce, your grandpa was talking about Epsom salts not common table salt. My daddy used to sprinkle Epsom salts before he plowed the garden. Also he grew the biggest elephant ears & cannas I’ve ever seen (we had an outside drain) & he just flushed some Epsom salts thru the sink drain to “water” them. good luck

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