If your yard is anything like mine, I could almost guarantee that you have been finding a bunch of earthworms this year in your garden.
I’ve always used the number of earthworms found to guide me in helping to determine how healthy my soil is. Earthworms are very important in the eco-system in that they can recycle compostable items by ingesting them and then turning them into a beneficial natural fertilizer for your soil.
With all our rainy weather, the earthworms seem to be hanging out more above ground than below. I, along with many others, have always believed that earthworms come to the surface to avoid drowning underground. However, I recently have learned that when it rains, the oxygen in the soil is depleted making it so that worms must surface to breathe. They also can travel quicker against the slippery ground while on top of it, as opposed to below it.
While they can’t drown, they can dry out, which makes them not want to come above ground on hot days. I am sure to teach the students that I bring my worm presentations to that if we see a worm trying to cross our driveway on a hot sunny day, that we should take it upon ourselves to pick it up and help it to the other side — which could in turn save their life.
I myself keep a small worm bin where I can better utilize the compost that they produce, also known as worm castings, which you may have noticed being sold in garden centers. You can make yourself a worm farm as well. All you need is a container that has a lid that you can attach, such as a Rubbermaid storage container. Those seem to work perfect. The size you need will depend on how many worms that you are wanting to keep. In my office at work I have a “Can-O-Worms” tub, which is layered with four trays to keep worms in various places. However, the Rubbermaid containers are more practical for at home use.
Be sure to drill some holes in the top for air flow, because earthworms need oxygen too. Begin filling your container about half full of an organic type of potting soil. Many potting soils these days are full of synthetic fertilizers, but there are plain potting soils still out there if you’re willing to read some of the labeling.
Look through your kitchen produce drawer or on your countertop for foods that are past their prime. Just be sure not to add meat, diary, oils or fish. Those will end up making your container smell foul. Slice your carrot tops off, use your potato peels, etc. and add them to your bin. Now you will want to fill your bin with more potting soil so that you leave at least a quarter of it empty so that there will be some headspace for airflow.
Now is the most exciting part — adding your worms. Composting worms are typically known as Red Wigglers. They break down food fast and you have compost quicker. I use nightcrawlers that I purchase from the bait shop. You could easily add worms that are found in your yard as well. For some reason the idea of rescuing them from the bait shop makes me feel like adopting a puppy at the shelter. But it is clearly up to you. Add your worms, and then be sure that you press your lid onto your container tightly. Rarely do I ever have worms escape. Most tend to go straight to the bottom of the container.
You will want to monitor the amount of food that you give them so that you are not placing in more food than what they can get to in time. If you keep the food scraps covered you should not have an issue with any smells or gnats. As the worms process the food scraps you will notice how the soil takes on a granular look. Once your entire container looks like this, it will be time to harvest your worm castings.
Pluck your worms out and place in a clean container and then scoop out the remaining soil. Replace the potting soil into your container and start the process all over again. Worms make an amazing pet. They don’t mind if you go on vacation, they don’t bother you to play ball with them for endless hours, but they do enhance your garden without even realizing it.
If you need more information on starting your own worm bin you can contact me at work at 326-0014 or drop in at the Solid Waste District of La Porte County Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sacha Burns is an organic gardener and owner of Sunkissed Organics in Pinola. She may be reached at email@example.com.