Repopulating new garden with worms?

lovestogardenNovember 1, 2011

In the spring, we took out an old, large in-ground swimming pool and filled it with dirt, compacting it too much in the process. After lots of digging, we've settled for adequate drainage.

Would it be a good investment to add more worms to the raised beds now, or ever? In the spring we added composted manure and compost along with all resident worms. I see them around, but not as many as in our well established veggie gardens.

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Look at this soil to determine the amount of organic matter in it and compare that with you established garden. Earthworms need organic matter to live on so, to a point, the more you have in your soil the more earthworms you will have.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2011 at 10:19AM
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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)

The added worms will die.

As suggested, mix in organic matter -- compost -- and they will come.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2011 at 1:14PM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

Yep, it's going to take a little time for the new soil to settle in, physically, chemically and biologically. If the conditions are right they will come. Give it some time.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2011 at 3:43PM
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yolos - z 7b/8a Ga.

I live on 5 acres of hard packed Georgia clay. I have been adding small amounts of compost to my vegetable garden every year for the last two years. I have never seen a single worm in my vegetable garden or on my 5 acres except in one small bed that we plant annuals in every year. I assume the worms came from the annual plant pots that were purchased and planted. Where are my worms going to come from. Crawl out of the adjoining woods ???

    Bookmark   November 2, 2011 at 5:20PM
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In the spring, when we finished leveling, I made the raised beds using about 1/3 or more organic matter: landfill compost, the composted horse manure (no smell--lots of straw), and my compost and worms around new plantings. It's a 900 sq ft. area.

Are you saying that any worms added now or even in the spring won't make it? I had emailed Jim's worm farm, advertised on this forum, and he suggests putting in super reds.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2011 at 7:04PM
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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)

As has been said, the worms won't survive if they lack appropriate conditions.

You do have some worms. But so few that you don't see them.

When you add lots of organic matter (at least 2 inches) to the soil every time you plant, the existing worms begin to thrive and *multiply.*

    Bookmark   November 3, 2011 at 12:21AM
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From my reading of other's experiences, I'm beginning to understand that it's not nearly as easy to populate an area in the real world with live worms as it is to populate that same area with coccoons.

Apparently as the coccoons hatch, the tiny worms are immediately acclimated to the new location/conditions, and they thrive.

Whereas live worms transplanted tend to be shocked, to make coccoons assuming they can find local mates, and then die. So the process works to some extent, but it's slower and more risky than planting coccoons like VermiPods or perhaps getting some coccoons from a Vermiculturist.


Here is a link that might be useful: VermiPod Introduction

    Bookmark   November 3, 2011 at 6:28AM
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Small amounts of organic matter (compost) to a soil that has very little or none is not going to do anything for either the soil or to get earthworms into the soil. Optimal levels of organic matter in soil is in the 5 to 8 percent range and it can take a lot of organic matter to get there. However, some studies I ahve seen indicate earthworms can live in soils with only about 2 percent organic matter, still a lot.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2011 at 6:33AM
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Thanks everyone! Since we put in the garden last spring, I've added at least 5 inches or more organic matter to each raised bed. Today, weather permitting, I hope to spread just under 3 cubic yards of aged manure/straw mixture, and some extra straw across the approximately 900 sq ft.

Do yo think that's a good amount to add? I will be collecting more coffee grounds this winter and wonder if it's better to put those right onto the beds, or to compost them first.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2011 at 10:23AM
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Anyone planning to add earthworms to their garden should bear in mind that earthworms are not all ecologically equivalent. There are three loose categories of earthworms: epigeic, endogeic, and anecic.

1) Epigeic worms spend their lives above the soil surface, in the humus layer. They will not till your soil for you but they will break down your mulch if they can keep from dehydrating (doubtful in most full-sun gardens). These critters are of limited usefulness in the garden but are extremely prized by vermicomposters and fishermen because they can be easily farmed. Almost every worm sold at bait stores will be of an epigeic species. There are some wild-caught, non-epigeic bait worms out there (especially around Sopchoppy FL) but the vast majority are farmed.

2) Endogeic worms live in the soil and rarely or never surface. They're great for improving soil tilth and nutrient cycling but they are not encountered very frequently because they don't come up to the surface.

3) Anecic worms dig permanent burrows that go from the surface to as deep as 6 feet. They pull leaves and other food from the surface and consume it deeper in the burrow. Some even have middens that they stock with leaves. They deposit castings on the surface that contain mineral soil and broken down organic matter. These are the critters you want to have-- they are the biggest mixers in the soil. Unless you buy Diplocardia mississippiensis harvested around Sopchoppy FL, chances are your bait-shop worms are NOT anecic worms. The most commonly encountered anecic worm for most of us in N. America is the non-native Common Nightcrawler (see note below), Lumbricus terrestris. It's pink on bottom, darker on top (yes, worms have a top and bottom), and can be seen at night under damp cardboard or on the sidewalk after a heavy rain.
You can collect them by putting out wet cardboard in a forest or old field and checking it at night. Or get more active about it by using a car battery and two long electrodes driven into the soil to coax them up, or go grunting like the folks at my link below.

Note--Some bait stores sell "European Nightcrawlers"-- these are NOT L. terrestris! They are Eisenia hortensis and are an epigeic species.

Here is a link that might be useful: worm grunting

    Bookmark   November 3, 2011 at 10:01PM
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Worms are plentiful in the dark partially composted horse manure + bedding that we've spread in fall over the empty beds. During mild weather I saw 100s of worms under the burlap top layer & didn't peek often.

We had one of the coldest, long springs on record, so I didn't plant tomatoes there until just after Father's Day. By then fewer worms were visible, but the soil was very loose. I assume that when the food (manure + bedding) volume was reduced the worms moved on to a nearby compost pile where there was more food, but perhaps some perished due to lack of food. I've seen it happen again & again. More worms in fall with the manure & less in spring, but still worms reside where I have compost piles here & there in the gardens or just under the mulch layer.

Every time I move a pot or bucket setting on the ground there are worms underneath even on my gravel driveway. You might try gathering some that way.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 1:41AM
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Earthworms also need air in the soil they live in. When soils are water saturated, and cannot hold enough air, the earhtworms will surface, the soil under the pot may be too water saturated and not have enough air.
Adding organic matter to clay soils not only provides a food source for the earthworms but opens that clay soil so air is present and they can breath. Adding earthworms to soils lacking adequate food sources and that are too compacted to permit air infiltration is not going to do much to increase the numbers.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 6:32AM
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Kimmsar, soil god, how many inches of organic matter would you incorporate into a 7 in raised bed this fall? What about coffee grounds?

Phytolacca--when we were kids, we used to push our garden fork into the ground and twang it several times to bring up nightcrawlers! Is that what the murmmers are bringing up? Thanks for the info--I'll do more research for when the garden soil is more appealing.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 1:20PM
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I have pure clay soil too. The kind that is as hard as a brick and gets deep cracks every Summer. I finally found something that is making a WORLD of difference. I started shredding newspapers last Fall and burying them. You know how hard our pink soil is, I could only dig down 4 inches then. In Spring, I could dig down 6 inches in the veggie rows where the newspaper was. This Fall, I can dig down 8 inches and my spade goes in like it's mashed potatoes now!
It's very odd too. I found millions of oval eggs this Fall and have never seen them before. They are worm eggs! I found their picture online. Another odd thing was how much my soil weighs this Fall. You know how unbelievable heavy clay soil is? It's not now! When I get a spade of dirt, it feels like it's half the weight it used to be. Like whip cream is- airy feeling.

What I did was lay down 15 foot strips of 3 foot plastic weed barrier every 4 feet in my garden that is 125 feet by 15 feet wide. That left me 12 inches of soil between each of the plastic rows. I amended only the 12 inch x 15 foot rows of exposed dirt and planted there. I only walk on the plastic.

The change is astronomical. The dirt is turning from pink to brown and it's workable now! The worms are everywhere in those rows. I feel guilty digging now between slicing worms in half and disturbing the eggs LOL!

And it was free:) I brought home newspapers from work and would rip them in 1 inch strips- a whole section at a time. I would shove the spade in and lift and put the strips under that clump and leave an inch of newspaper hanging out above ground. My thought was that it might wick moisture on down if I let a little exposed.

Try it. It might not be a powerhouse in nutrients but it makes a great home for worms. Happy worms means a bountiful garden and nice dark soil:) I've read that clay soil needs 15% organic matter to become good so I'm going to keep adding newspapers every Spring and Fall.

Just don't use glossy ads/paper!


    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 1:48PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

phytolacca - that is really useful to explain. So often here no distinction is made between the red wigglers you get in a compost heap full of decaying organic matter and the big fat earth worms which live in the soil. Many people think that if they buy red wigglers they can dump them in the garden and they will in some way help.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 2:17PM
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Worms love my old decaying wood chip pile. They've been eating, living and multiplying in it for years with no additional help. I used some of this material to introduce worms into a decaying weed pile that I want to get eaten up a little quicker. The fungi from the chips should also help.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 7:39PM
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yolos - z 7b/8a Ga.

Lori - thanks for the suggestion. I will have to try it. I have had so many diseases in my 2 year old veg garden, early blight & anthrocose (sp) on tomatoes, powdery mildew on squash, wire stem on broccoli, something on the cucs, etc. I scrapped the top 4 inches of soil out of the garden trying to get rid of the pathogens. Now building 12 in raised beds. But I still have hard as rock clay in the bottom. Need something to help break up the clay so will have drainage and a path for worms to come into the beds. So will try the newspaper, also decomposing (3 yrs) wood chips, and all the leaves, grass etc I can get my hands on. Maybe the worms will come.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 10:06PM
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A good healthy soil needs between 5 and 9 percent organic matter, so how much organic matter you would need to inorporate into a 7 inch raised bed is how much is needed to get the level of OM in that bed to that 5 to 8 percent range. How much is already in the soil? If there is none then you will need more then if the soil already contains 3 percent organic matter.
Using just one source of carbon, newspaper, might help the soil some but would not be a real organic method of improving the soil since you would not be adding plant food as well. Just like you your Soil Food Web relies on a balanced diet.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2011 at 6:53AM
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You may want to try a Worm Tower in a corner of your planting bed. You can populate with composting worms or wait for them to show up. I've never had to buy worms, but have had plentiful supply of horse manure, which is full of red wrigglers. The link below has a video. If you google key words "Worm Tower", there are many such videos.

Here is a link that might be useful: Worm Tower

    Bookmark   November 5, 2011 at 2:33PM
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yolos - z 7b/8a Ga.

Borderbarb - That Worm Tower looks like something I could use to introduce worms to my raised beds. I have a couple of questions.
- Should I put the tower in now or wait for spring.
- The lady said to use compost worms. Do Compost Worms have a more specific name.

Thank you so much.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2011 at 7:27PM
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