Worms, as slimy as they are, have always been regarded as an important part of every garden. Worms facilitate decomposition of organic matte r nd they help to aerate the soil. The organisms are a free farm help mostly because when they eat, they leave behind castings that are an important form of fertilizer.
Essentially, worms are great for agricultural purposes. They are worth their weight in gold in the garden soil and compost bin. They work for free and eat things no other living creature would eat. Let’s learn more about these valuable garden helpers so we can gain a new perspective on just how important worms are to food production.
Earthworms are AWESOME!
Earthworms are called earthworms because… well they live in the earth and are rarely seen above soil level. The body of an earthworm is made up of ring-like segments that are covered with stiff bristles that enable it to move around.
Earthworms can be found anywhere there is moist soil and dead plant material, and are usually found in abundance in tropical regions. These valuable creatures do not live in desert regions or regions that have frozen land masses.
There are over 6,000 known species of earthworms in existence. All of them are slimy invertebrates that improve soil structure. The most common types seen in gardens and compost bins are night crawlers, which crawl above ground after dark, and rain worms, which venture above ground after a rain.
What Do Earthworms Eat?
Earthworms are suckers for dead plant matter such as leaves and grass. They are able to secrete compounds from their guts that counteract a plant’s natural defenses and allow them to eat a third of their bodyweight in a day without having a blocked digestive tract.
They also feed on the fungus and bacteria growing on fallen leaves, waste materials from fruits and vegetables that are thrown in the compost bins and organic matter from anything including dead animals.
Earthworms are not picky eaters and would eat just about anything as long as it’s dead or dying.
When earthworms are done eating, they leave behind an organic form of fertilizer in the form of castings called vermicast, vermicompost or even worm poo. They often excrete while eating and their waste creates an optimally rich source of nutrients for the soil.
The earthworm’s digestive system is a tube running straight from the mouth, located at the tip of the front end of the body, to the rear of the body, where digested material (castings) is passed to the outside.
Are Worms Essential For Composting?
Worms speed up the composting process and increase the nutrient value of the finished product by leaving behind their own castings in the compost. They break down organic matter quickly and efficiently, turning waste items like leaves and grass clippings into nutrient-rich compost that plants can use.
The digestive system of an earthworm contains a gizzard which uses stones to completely grind the food eaten by the earthworm. After the food moves through the entire digestive system, it’s eliminated as black castings which looks very much like potting soil. The castings have a fluffy texture and are packed with nutrients needed for healthy plant growth.
While earthworms are not exclusively essential for composting, they are an added advantage as the make the decomposition process occur faster and increase the nutritional value of the finished product.
Difference between Earthworms and Red Wigglers
The term earthworm is generally used to describe any organism with a long, segmented ring-like body that lives and browses in the soil. There is a common type of earthworm with a reddish-brown body that is usually seen burrowing in and out of the soil. Red wigglers, also known as red worms are another common species usually more aggressive and are mostly used as fishing bait.
Earthworms are usually longer and reddish-brown in color, while red wigglers are reddish-purple and often have yellowish marks at their tails.
Red wigglers can survive in nearly any environment as they are highly adaptable. They can thrive in any temperature ranging from hot to extremely freezing. Earthworms, on the other hand, can survive only in warm and moist atmosphere and will burrow deeper into the ground the weather conditions become too adverse.
Red wigglers are better for composting than earthworms. They tend to take their food on the surface of the compost, while earthworms are deep burrowers and are usually prone to suffocation since compost is not as easy to maneuver as the soil. Earthworms require more work if they are used in the compost bins because the gardener would have to keep plowing to keep them alive. Red wigglers stick to the surface and are easier to work with.
How to Attract Worms to COMPOST?
Worms are so helpful that they are often retailed in local garden supply centers or stores where farmers can buy them for the compost bin or garden. However, this is not necessary as worms will often find their own into a ground level compost pile or garden. If your compost bin is above the ground level, usually the case with compost tumblers, it’s advisable to add a few worms yourself.
While rats are repelled by coffee grounds in the compost bin (an advantage), worms seem to have a deep love for this beverage item. By adding a layer of used coffee grounds to the compost pile, you are ensuring a good population of earthworms. Add the coffee grounds on the bottom layer of the compost pile and also on top of soil in the garden.
Worms are not fans of meat products, oil or dairy products, so avoid putting them in your compost pile. Also, these items are known to cause a terrible odor as they decompose, so you might want to exclude them from you compost. Also, avoid adding orange rinds and other citrus fruits, which are too acidic for the earthworms, and don’t include onions and broccoli in the mix, the strong odor seems to repel the earthworms.
A wide variety of organic matter seems to be the most attractive food source for worms. Include brown and green vegetation with a liberal sprinkling of coffee grounds for a healthy worm population.
Why you SHOULD have Worm Bin?
Instead of creating an actual compost pile, a worm bin can be set up for the sole purpose of producing worm castings for garden use.
All you need is a box, moist newspaper strips, and worms. Worms need moisture, air, food, darkness, and warm (but not hot) temperatures. The newspaper strips provide bedding material for the worms and will hold potentially hold moisture. They also contain air spaces essential to the worm’s survival, so never place sheets of newspaper in the bin.
Use a container for the bin that can accommodate the amount of food scraps to be composted, and where the bin will be located. The container should be shallow, no more than 6 inches deep, and have a loose fitting lid.
After 3-6 months, you will notice less bedding and food scraps and more compost. These are signs that the worm bin is ready to be emptied and the compost harvested. Don’t wait too long after this stage to harvest the compost because the worm castings are concentrated in the bin and create an unhealthy environment for the worms to live in.
Use the compost as soon as it’s harvested or it can be stored for future use. This nutrient rich compost is ideal for mixing with potting soil and growing plants in containers, or for use as a side dressing for established garden plants.
Why it’s GREAT to have Worms in your Garden!
Worms have long, ring-like bodies that enable them create perfect tunnels in the garden soil as they travel around. These tunnels help to keep the soil drained and increase underground aeration. They also loosen the soil so tender plant roots can spread out easily without breaking as they search for food and moisture.
Essentially, earthworms are a milder version of a plow turning out the soil to promote aeration and improve structure. As they move around, they bring down the top layer of organic matter and mix it into the lower level of soil. The plants roots have easy access to the organic matter without being disturbed by garden tools.
Also, earthworms are quick multipliers and reproduce at a speedy rate. 500,000 worms create 50 tons of castings in a short amount of time. It’s not unusual for that many worms to be living in an acre of ground, especially if there is plenty of organic matter on the acre. With the right food and environment, the worms will come, stay and lay eggs. An adult earthworm can lay up to four cocoons of eggs per week, with each cocoon containing around 20 eggs. With the potential of 80 new earthworms per adult worm per weeks, you can see how quickly these hard working garden helpers can multiply.
The Benefit of Worms (We need worms more than you think!)
Earthworms improve soil structure in the garden and can transform barren, compacted soil into fertile, loose soil which can support plant life. This is ideal for not only gardens, but for soil everywhere.
Barren plots of land can be seen in every city that are going to waste because they can’t support plant life. These plots are filled with scrap building material, trash and other debris, plus they often have a lot of foot traffic that would ultimately create major soil compaction problems.
Earthworms break up the underlying hardpan, which is a dense soil that is inhospitable to plant roots. The worms can burrow down as deep as 6 feet below the soil surface and change those unused, barren plots of land into fertile green spaces that are good for the eco-system.
Green spaces improve air quality, increase community pride and can be used to grow food. The improved soil structure created by worms is less likely to erode when heavy rains or winds occur.
The underground tunnels created by worms improve drainage and prevent stagnant water. When water drains slowly from the land, it creates a stagnant environment which hosts a variety of potential diseases. Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water, multiplying rapidly and carrying with them painful bites and various diseases.
Soggy soil will not support plant life either. The underground tunnels allow for water to penetrate the soil to provide moisture to plant roots, while promoting drainage so the water does not get trapped in the soil.
The castings left behind by the worms are rich in plant nutrients, containing up to 10 times the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium they have ingested. When the worms die, they leave behind nitrogen and protein to feed the soil.
The more fertile the soil, the more plant life it can support. The more plants being grown on a plot of land, the more food will be produced.
While food-producing plants are the goal of gardens, the living greenery also helps to cool the planet and improve air quality. One pound of earthworms can consume one pound of organic matter each day. These hard workers literally eat their weight in food every day. And what goes in come right out. The out-castings of worms benefits the garden soil, plant life, food production and ultimately the entire eco-system.