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!
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.
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.
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.
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.