How to Encourage More Earthworms to Your Garden and Why

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Earthworms are essential for good gardening–especially for organic gardening.  Their castings provide natural fertilizer; and gardens rich with earthworms have fewer problems with garden pests.  In addition, as earthworms move throughout the garden, they increase its aeration.  For years, I have used newspaper to help attract earthworms to my garden.  In the fall, I always cover my garden with newspapers and add grass clippings and leaves on top of that.  I just discovered an article from Mother Earth News that offers more specifics about gardening with earthworms.

“Vermicompost, or compost made mostly by earthworms, is seven times richer in plant nutrients compared to compost created mostly by fungi and bacteria, and recent studies suggest that small amounts mixed into soil suppress diseases, slugs and insects. Numerous studies have shown that when only 10 percent of the volume of potting soil used to grow seedlings is vermicompost, a huge range of plants simply grow better — from carrots to tomatoes to zinnias. It’s easy to entice earthworms to work their magic right in your garden, or you can make vermicompost in enclosed bins, or both! In addition to improving soil chemically with their castings (a mixture of manure and slime emitted through the worms’ skin), earthworms improve it physically by opening airways and drainage holes as they travel.

Maintain permanent pathways that are mowed or mulched, so there is always a layer of decomposing litter at the surface. Night crawlers build semipermanent burrows, where they stockpile food gathered at night. Providing safe year-round habitat is essential to keeping populations high.

Use the spaces between widely spaced squash or melons as night crawler condos. Place wet newspapers or cardboard over the surface (they love the shelter), sprinkle raw oatmeal over the newspapers (they love the food), and top with 2 inches of coarse, moist compost. Repeat the layers and top off with grass clippings, straw or another attractive mulch. If you build it, they will come.

Conduct composting projects in your garden, especially slow heaps that will basically sit there until they are done. Night crawlers often build deep, elaborate burrows beneath piles of slow compost.

Try straw bale beds  or simply let a pile of old hay rot atop an infertile spot. The biggest, most energetic night crawlers I’ve ever seen grew into giants beneath a bale of decomposing hay….

Sweet Summer Setups

Earthworm castings are rich in plant nutrients and growth-enhancing humic acids, which the worms distribute as they move through moist soil. I like to keep a worm bin going indoors in winter, but in the summer it’s simpler to make worm compost outdoors. …

To encourage earthworms to congregate in one place, dig a hole about 16 inches deep and equally wide, and refill it with veggie and fruit trimmings from your kitchen and garden, topped with 2 inches of soil. Cover with boards or an old tarp and forget about it for a month or two. Dig up your buried treasure in the fall, and transfer some of the worms to an indoor bin. Move the rest to spots in your garden near compost piles, grassy pathways or deeply mulched beds. They will know what to do!

Whichever worm projects you decide to try, this time of year you should have no trouble recruiting willing worm workers from your own garden. Just poke around beneath mulches, compost piles, or clumps of grassy weeds (a favorite earthworm hangout). After you have collected a few dozen earthworms, give them a job. You’ll be doing your part to fulfill the earthworms’ destinies, because every last one of them was born to spend its life turning decaying organic matter into rich, fertile soil….

Food. Earthworms in new bins respond best to grain-based foods at first, probably because they decompose so quickly. Leftover cornmeal, oatmeal, old bread or cooked rice, buried in small caches just beneath the surface, make wonderful starter foods because they will rot within days, and earthworms prefer food that is active with working fungi and bacteria. Used coffee grounds (with filters) can simply be dumped on top. When feeding worms kitchen waste, wait until the buried food disappears to add more.”

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