Saturday, September 1, 2018

Adding Worms to the Garden

I recently got an email from a woman who had just moved to a home with soil "that is dust when dry and soggy/spongy when wet and devoid of all discernible  living organisms."  She was looking to give the space some love and turn this soil into a garden to grow flowers, trees and vegetables.  Her question to me was if red worms can be added to the soil directly.  The short answer is yes, red worms can be added directly to the soil.  The more complex answer is directed to the home that you will be putting them into.  The soil was described as dusty and devoid of life and that doesn't sound very hospitable for your new friends.  The red worms will only stay if you encourage them to want to stay.  Making sure the the area you add the worms to is actually ready to support worms.  

If you have an area that you are planning to garden in you can start adding some of the basic building blocks of life very easily.  The first step needs to be growing microbes.  The microbes are mostly made of water so the area will need to be moist.  You could start this project when it starts to rain so you are not using city water to get it moist.  Given that city water has residual chlorine in it intended to kill microbes so that us humans don't get sick, it is pretty much the opposite of what you are trying to do.  I would cover the soil with at least 4 to 6 inches of mulch.  The best type of mulch is is by far leaves but straw will do in a pinch.  Save the leaves when they fall in autumn for your composting and gardening needs throughout the year.  It would be best if you could mulch the leaves first.  I like to rake the leaves on to the lawn and 'vacuum' them up with the lawn mower.  I also have a leaf blower that has a mulching option.  I have even heard of people putting the leaves into their green waste can and using a weed wacker to kinda blend them up in the bin.  That option sounds a little messy but whatever your method the point is to get the leaves into smaller pieces. 

Just covering the soil and having the rain perk through the leaves will begin the process of adding life into the soil.  We want this to really get going so the next thing I would do is to make it inviting to the larger creatures that feed on the microbes, like worms and others.  You could take your kitchen scraps and either bury them in the soil or just spread them out on top of the soil and cover with the 4 to 6 inches of leaf mulch.  The kitchen scraps will not only add organic matter to the soil it will add carbon and nitrogen as well as many other nutrients that plants will need to be healthy.  Keeping the kitchen scraps covered is the key to not having any odors or other nuisances like flies.  After doing this for a few weeks you could add the worms.  Red worms generally live in the top 4 to 6 inches of soil so they will go up and down as the temperatures change and the food supply is added to the garden.  You can continue to spread your kitchen scraps to the garden even after you plant.  It happens to me that I will have surplus food that my worm army at my home cannot handle so I will spread it in my garden covering it with lots of mulch.  When I go back just 4 or 5 days later it is gone and all that is left is beautiful rich soil and worms eating the mulch.
Worm castings is another way to boost the microbes in the soil and to quote a horticulturalist friend of mine Steve Zine, you want to use as much castings as you can afford.  I am lucky to run in circles with many people that know a lot about soil and gardening.  Every time I would go to Steve and ask him about some problem I have in my garden he would tease me and tell me 'See if you can find some good quality worm castings'.  Of course he knew I grew worms and had plenty of good quality castings, the point was that even I could use more of them.  It is currently September and the summer growing season is coming to an end but now is the perfect time to use them.  Fresh worm castings are full of those microbes you are trying to inoculate your soil with.  If you add them to the soil, cover them with that mulch, and allow the winter rains to peculate the castings into the soil it will bring life to the soil.  I have seen castings added to the top of hard clayey soil in the fall turn the soil into beautiful loose soil by spring.  I know it sounds like magic but it is the microbes bringing life to the soil.

You don't want to stop the magic so you want to use castings when you prepare the soil for planting, use them when you plant and also use them around the established plants.  Remember that city water with the residual chlorine killing the microbes? You will need to keep adding microbes to the soil to keep the plants and soil healthy.  Mulching and using your kitchen scraps will encourage worms to live in the soil so they will be constantly be adding fresh microbe rich castings.   
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Brenda says...

Worm Fancy is the greatest place to get your worms in the Sacramento area. They have the best customer service!

Doug and Tammy, Yuba City

Tammy and I would just like to thank you for your professionalism and patience in answering all our questions about vermiculture. We are very interested in the difference it will make in our garden this year. Even our son will be using the new Worm Factory 360 in his science fair project that compares plants with and without worm castings. We're already noticing the better health with it. Our time with you was pleasant and we will be sure to return! Thank you again and we'll keep you posted. composted. :D

Scott R. from Sacramento

I picked my worms today and it sure looks like a lot more than 2 pounds worth. I ordered a pound from another vendor and you gave me 5 times more than they did.