Worms are not pretty, or smart, or talented. They eat, they dig, and they multiply. While most people hold some sort of disdain or apathy for these slimy creatures they are miracle workers out in nature. The ideal garden, that produces bright and bountiful plants and trees, requires the help of earthworms. Earthworms are essential because they help the soil release more nutrients to the burrowing roots of the plants. They plow through soft soil - forging underground tunnels, and if they cannot push their way through, then they will eat through the harder sections of dirt. These passageways loosen the ground and allow for water and air to travel more easily and reach the plants that are receiving limited nutrients.
There are a few simple ways to promote the life of worms in your backyard garden. The first step is determining whether or not your backyard is already teeming with these slimy friends. Even in cold weather you can dig up a section of earth and find young worms and even some eggs. In the warmer spring months, and especially after heavy rains, earthworms are easiest to notice. They often surface due to the water levels in the soil and will tunnel once again later in the day when the soil is sturdier.
Earthworms feed off of leaf litter, of all forms and usually stay in cooler shady areas to protect themselves and their watery bodies from the heat of the sun. Placing piles of mulch and dead leaves near earthworm hotbeds helps them grow and in turn helps spread the fertilizer and nutrients found in your backyard. They will eat the leaves and then excrete ‘castings’, that are extremely mineral rich, back into the soil to help promote plant growth.
There are some territories that are less likely to inherently be the home of earthworms. If you search your garden and find little or no earthworms then the solution is to import your own. There are several ways to go about this, but the most efficient one is to find a local store that sells starter worms. Wranglers go out at night and dig in the most fertile and worm-rich areas they can find to harvest these critters for local farmers and fishers. This practice requires that your yard has soil suitable enough to sustain earthworms. If it does not, then collecting the castings becomes the most essential part of the process.
While the aeration system that is a byproduct of the earthworms digging is a fantastic perk, the main upside to bedding earthworms is their nutrient-filled castings that get left in the soil. Instead of releasing worms into the garden, many gardeners recommend creating an earthworm bin. Worm bins are used to house earthworms in order to collect their castings to be spread as fertilizer. Building a worm bin is quick and easy. Start with a large container with substantial depth, and then add extremely rich soil or manure. Poke holes so that air can flow through, and make sure to have a cover to keep out the flies and the sun. Of course the worms must be fed, chop some soft vegetables and give them water. This worm bin easily doubles as a composter for those trying to recycle. After about two months collect all the worms and use the soil in your garden, moving the worms to a new bin to start the process all over again.
Releasing worms into the garden is a completely different process than having a worm bin hidden in the basement, and they each require completely different species of earthworms. Nightcrawlers are the worms to use when importing earthworms straight into the backyard. They need to be able to dig as deep as they would like, and typically enjoy going down at least five feet. They prefer soil that is stagnant, working best in untilled areas of the garden. If a worm bin suits your needs more effectively, redworms are your best option. They do much less burrowing and thrive better indoors. The same feeding techniques should be used for both (chopped vegetables, water and dead leaves).
When you are ready to transplant the worms into your garden, make sure you plant them into the earth not just spread them on the surface. Plant about ten worms every square meter, digging down about the length of your shovel or trowel and then dump a handful. Soon the worms will spread out and venture forth to fertilize the whole garden. Make no mistake; all gardens need worms to achieve maximum prosperity. These plant helpers provide plants with coveted benefits, and must be utilized by any serious gardener.