The snow may still be falling, but if you have dreams of spring garden grandeur and a bountiful fall harvest it’s time to bring those garden plans to the forefront of your mind.
Along with testing your soil for nutrient content, correcting alkalinity or acidity, and working to improve your soil texture, studies show that increasing the number of earthworms in your soil is directly related to the increased productivity of your plants.
There are of course many ways to use worms such as Vermicomposting, and we’ll be doing that later in the season as well, so stay tuned for that post. But this article is about increasing the earthworm population of your garden.
How Many Worms Does My Garden Need?
The presence of worms in your garden is a good indicator of your soil's overall health, so this is a check I perform each year. Since this year's garden will be going in on our new homestead in beds I’ve never planted before I see it as a required ‘getting to know you, step. Especially since taking an earthworm census to measure your soil's worm population is a relatively easy one.
Choose a patch of garden soil that is roughly one square foot, then dig out the top six inches and place it in a shallow pan.
Go through the soil bit by bit, end to end, and count how many worms you find.
Making Your Own Worm Farm
If you find that your soil is lacking a worm population this is a simple early spring project to get your garden heading in the right direction. Earthworms are not picky pets and they make fine temporary roommates. All they need is a little space, darkness, moisture (but not too much), and some organic matter. When looking for worms, I always head to my local bait shop and simply grab 3 or 4 containers of bait worms. Make sure to grab basic plain old red worms. I ran into an issue this year when I opened the bait fridge and found ‘Chartreuse Worms” worms that have been dyed bright green, no thanks. And “Scented Worms” worms that have been infused with fragrance to make them more appealing to fish. One, if you need scented or colored worms, perhaps consider learning better fishing skills. Two, the last thing I want in the garden I took care to order non-GMO Heirloom seeds for is any added chemicals. If your bait shop doesn’t have plain old regular red worms they can also be ordered them online from places like Brothers Worm Farm (not an affiliate link)
Paper pulp egg carton or paper cup carrier (unbleached)
Large bucket, tub, or tote that has a lid
Coffee grounds, used tea bags, small organic kitchen scraps
A small amount of your garden soil
In your bucket or tub, place your egg carton or cup holder in the bottom to provide drainage. Worms like for things to be moist, but not wet, this will provide a space for excess water to drain.
Take a few copies of your local newspaper (thank you Durango Herald) and finely rip, shred or tear into a bowl. This is approximately two copies of the Herald, or ten sheets, torn into strips. Then cover your shreds with water, collected rainwater is best, but in the absence of that use water from the same source, your garden will be watered from, and allow the paper to soak for a few minutes.
Begin to remove your shredded newspaper from the water in handfuls allowing excess water to run off or wring out the paper if it is still holding too much water. Add the moist paper shreds to your bucket layering them with coffee grounds, handfuls of your garden dirt, and very finely diced organic kitchen scraps.
Once your bucket is fully layered with your worm bedding and kitchen scraps gently ad in your red worms and cover the bucket. If you are using the lid that came with the bucket, be sure to drill holes in the lid to provide airflow. Or, you can loosely cover the bucket with plastic wrap that has been vented. And, your project is complete!
Maintaining Your Worm Farm
Continue to add in kitchen scraps in small amounts each week and regularly turn the compost for the best decomposition. The beauty of this is that as long as you provide a moist comfortable environment, your worms will begin to reproduce within 7-10 days. I start this project each year around the same time I plant my indoor starters and when I prep my garden beds I have a lovely colony of worms the beginnings of some fresh vermicompost to introduce into the soil when I do my spring garden bed prep.
If you notice worms trying to escape, observe a foul odor or begin to find dead worms these could be signs that there isn't enough air and you've got anaerobic conditions starting. Stir up the compost, add a small amount of dolomite lime, and leave the lid off for a bit. You can also add more dry materials, like a small amount of sawdust, peat moss, or shredded leaves.
Let us know in the comments how you use worms in your garden beds and until next time,