6 ways to encourage worms in your garden

A garden filled with earthworms is a healthy garden. Find out the ways you can encourage worms to come and work for you in your garden. You can even use them to make compost!

6 ways to encourage worms in your garden

Worms work for you

Earthworms spend their lives turning organic matter into nutrient-rich soil. The more earthworms you have, the less work you will need to do digging in organic matter, because the worms will do it for you.

  • Earthworms work best in soil that is above 7°C, and they're more numerous in warm climates than in cold ones.
  • Earthworms are natural plows, burrowing tunnels that help aerate the soil and make it easier for water to penetrate.
  • The nightcrawler — so called for its evening feeding habits — operates at fewer than 15 centimetres under the surface but has been known to dig down to two metres. In winter, it tunnels below the frozen section of the soil and helps break up the compacted layers.

Not all earthworms are alike

  • Of the thousands of species of earthworms, the grey-brown nightcrawler (Lumbricus terrestris) grows 10 to 20 centimetres long and is the most common type in North America.
  • Another familiar species is the shorter redworm or red wiggler (Eisenia foetida), which is used for composting in worm bins.
  • Many gardens host a half dozen species of earthworms.

1. Keep them fed

Earthworms need nitrogen in their diet and will appreciate a supply of compost as much as your plants do.

  • Avoid using synthetic nitrogen fertilizers because the salts can be poisonous to earthworms.
  • Mulches, compost heaps and manure piles make ideal worm habitats.

2. Cultivate gently

  • To avoid cutting up worms with your tiller, work in the middle of the day, when they burrow deep into the ground.
  • When digging and planting, use a garden fork, not a spade. If you gently fork up your soil one day, many of the worms will leave the area by the next day, which is when you can cultivate more vigorously without injuring as many worms.

3. Attract earthworms with mulch

  • Mulch provides earthworms with food and keeps soil from becoming either too hot and dry, or too soggy and cold.
  • Earthworms need even moisture because they breathe through their skins. Those worms found struggling on pavement after heavy rains are trying to avoid suffocation.

4. Composting with worms

Composting with worms — called vermiculture — is a perfect solution for gardeners with limited space.

  • A shallow plastic or wood box measuring 60 centimetres square can comfortably handle the kitchen wastes of two people and can be placed in your kitchen or garage.
  • The container should be free of any chemicals and well ventilated; leave the lid ajar to allow air to circulate and drill holes in the sides and bottom.

5. Placing your redworms

  • Place several hundred redworms in the box along with a bed of damp shredded newspapers or leaves lightly sprinkled with cornmeal.
  • You can get redworms from bait shops.
  • Begin feeding the worms 200 to 500 grams (one to two cups) of vegetable scraps at a time, and keep them moist but not soggy.

6. Harvest worm castings

  • Harvest worm castings every two to three months and fill the bin with a fresh supply of bedding.
  • To save the worms while harvesting, dump the pile onto newspaper under a bright light; the worms will burrow towards the bottom.
  • Scoop away worm castings until you reach the worms, then combine what's left with fresh materials.

From tilling your soil to creating compost, gardens and worms are a great match.

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