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Boosting Earthworm Populations and Fertilizing With Worm Castings E-mail
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Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 11 September 2005

by S. Zorba Frankel

I want to improve my garden’s soil. Should I buy worms to put in my garden? Should I dump redworms in there along with the worm compost?

Earthworms are renowned for their abilities to improve soil. Their work adds to the fertility of agricultural soils and garden beds alike. They have a great number of talents, just some of which include:
  • drilling burrows that allow heavy rains to drain downward quickly, thus preventing surface flows that wash away topsoil,
  • aerating the soil, which promotes aerobic life in root zones and much deeper,
  • excreting a time-release capsule of fertilizer that’s consdered to be the finest available,
  • mixing mineral particles and organic matter into the soil,
  • giving birds something to do in the early morning (they’d sleep in otherwise, and act listless all day).

Transplanting soil-dwelling worms into a new location, however, may not be the answer. It has been done, particularly on a large scale, when inoculating pastures with worms by bringing in blocks of soil containing the appropriate species. For the home gardener to purchase the right earthworms would mean first having your worms identified by an oligochaetologist — a scientist who studies earthworms! Then, you’d search long and hard for a source for your particular soil dwelling species! (Of course, you can always transport several buckets of soil from an earthworm-rich bed, to a location where you’d like to have earthworms. If you try this, you can improve your chances of success by watering the soil and covering with a mulch.)

In fact, it’s easy to create earthworm-friendly conditions in your garden. Though you may not see earthworms now, your soil probably contains some earthworm cocoons. To encourage cocoons to hatch and existing earthworms to reproduce faster, add compost and/or vermicompost frequently, and keep a layer of mulch on the soil’s surface. You’ll begin to see a great improvement in your soil’s overall fertility, and you’ll find earthworms in your soil within months, if not weeks. Organic matter provides the nutrients for microbial life, which, in turn, provides food for earthworms.

Most of the worms we use in vermicomposting are not soil-dwellers, so don’t add them to your garden beds. It’s fine if some redworms end up there. If you’ve mulched your beds well or mixed in lots of organic matter, and the beds are moist, then composting worms may live a while. Otherwise, they’ll soon die and return their nutrients back to the soil.

Using Vermicompost and Castings in Your Garden
Vermicompost is a mix of worm castings and organic matter that’s decomposed via aerobic organisms. Castings are the portion of vermicompost that has come out the back end of the worm. Castings are a good fertilizer and will “stretch” farther if mixed into the soil, a potting mix or other compost, rather than used straight. They should also be kept moist, because castings tend to repel water once they’ve dried out. For that reason, try to mix castings and vermicompost into the soil, rather than letting them remain at the surface.

To make a terrific potting soil, mix 15% worm castings (or 25% vermicompost) with 20% coconut fiber (coir) 10% vermiculite or perlite, 30% topsoil and 25% compost. When moving starts outdoors, mix a heaping tablespoon of castings (or two to three tablespoons vermicompost) into the soil at the bottom of the transplant hole. Before planting a row, mix vermicompost or castings right into the top few inches of soil to give your vegetables and blooms a boost! And...let Worm Digest know how your garden grows!
Last Updated ( Sunday, 18 September 2005 )
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