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Using Worms in the Garden

I often get asked about putting Earthworms or Red Wigglers into the garden. Earthworms (nightcrawlers) are wonderful in the garden. Give them some leaf litter to live underneath and they will constantly digest your garden soil, aerating it to relieve soil compaction and adding lots of trace minerals and other plant nutrients in the form of their famous Worm Castings. Appreciation of these worms is one of the big reasons I use shredded leaves as the mulch of choice in my raised beds. Almost every time I move some of the mulch to one side, I’ll see earthworms scurrying away to hide.

But allowing such worms outside a good garden gets tricky. There is a strong consensus in the scientific community that many of the nation’s earthworms are not native to the Americas, but came to our shores from Europe and Asia in the soil accompanying transported plants; and “The Worm Book” notes, in huge numbers when the ships of early settlers used soil for ballast and let it loose in The New World. These practices apparently re-introduced earthworms to areas where they had thrived in prehistoric times, but had been wiped out during The Little Ice Age.

I mention this because it leads us to consider using a native worm in your garden. As opposed to buying worms and placing them into your garden. Since nightcrawlers are likely to be more native to your area, consider them in your raised beds and gardens. The best method to gather them is after a rain on a cooler evening or night when they have surfaced and can be collected without digging.

Although I am a big fan of the Red Wiggler, the local Nightcrawler is your best bet when looking for ways to help your garden soil. The Worms help to increase the amount of air and water that gets into the soil. They break down organic matter, like leaves and grass into things that plants can use. When they eat, they leave behind their castings which are a very valuable type of fertilizer for your plants that will last longer than the chemical fertilizers.

So the next time it rains at your house, give your property a look over and see if you can locate a few native worms to collect to place into your garden. You will be surprised at the benefits you will see in your plants. If you want to keep them there or attract more, just place a few veggie scraps below the soil (to reduce unwanted pest) and cover with some leaf litter. When you go back to that area, (give it a week or so) you will have plenty of worms to use!