Earthworm Soil Conditioner: Improve Your Soil

Earthworms are great soil conditioners. You can raise your own very easily.

The nutritional value of soil is hard to tell just by looking at it. The darker the soils the more probable that more organic matter is there. Did you know that the richest soil around is made up mostly of earthworm castings, which is the earthworms manure? The earthworms waste products add valuable nutrients to any soil. The concentrations of nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, and phosphates are all higher in soil that has earthworms. The movement of the earthworms through the soil loosens it up and makes it valuable to all gardeners and to many others. The enriched soil is naturally processed by the earthworms. It was Charles Darwin who suggested that all the fertile areas of the Earth have passed through the body of an earthworm.

As the earthworm passes through the soil it eats, decomposes, and deposits the castings. The earthworm neutralizes the material by the secretions of calcium carbonate from glands near the earthworm's gizzard. The gizzard breaks the material down to a very fine texture and then it is digested by the earthworm. Continuing on through the earthworm's digestive tract, there are hormones, enzymes etc. that continue to breakdown the material. When it passes out in the form of castings, it is a rich and high quality humus material. These casts are not only high in nutrients but also high in beneficial bacteria for the soil.

If you have a lawn and you use insecticide, you may want to think about this first. Try using a natural form of insect control because the insecticide will make the earthworms burrow very deep into the soil, unable to help your lawn. If you do not use insecticide, the beneficial earthworms will stay toward the top of your lawn where soil aerification is needed. The earthworms consume thatch also.

Most gardeners have a compost pile where they throw all of their vegetable scraps and dried leaves etc. It takes some time for all that to break down into usable organic matter. If you put earthworms in the pile the decomposition will take place much faster. To have plenty of earthworms be sure the pile is moist at all times or the earthworms will die.

If you see earthworms in your container plants, you may want to take a few out and put them in your compost or garden soil. They will not hurt your plant except when they start to multiply they will clog up the drainage holes.

Earthworms multiply at a fast rate. In about two months the amount of earthworms you have can be doubled. Red worms are the common type of worm used in compost piles. You can start a mini worm farm very easy. All you need is a container that will hold some bedding material and has good drainage. Don't keep the bedding material too wet. It is the same for your compost pile; not too wet, just moist.



Bedding material can be shredded newspaper and soil, or peat moss and manure. You can use cardboard, packing paper, paper bags, xerographic paper and many others. Do not use the glossy paper from magazines. The ink used in these glossy pages are oil based and you do not want to fed that to your worms. If you use manure be sure it is not in the "hot" stage as that can kill your earthworms. Aged rabbit manure is good and also aged chicken manure. When you clean out the chicken house or the rabbit hutches, take that (which will be hay or straw and manure) and add some soil to it. Let it sit for awhile then moisten the mixture and add the worms. They will love it.

Get worms at a bait shop or by mail order. Place the earthworms on top of the moistened mixture and soon they will dig in and make themselves at home. Remember, do not let the mixture dry out. Keep it moist. For a few weeks let the earthworms feed on the organic matter in the bedding. Keep adding some manure every now and then. You will see the manure disappear. That is the time to add more manure for the worms. To fatten up your worms you can add ground up grain. Sprinkle the grain on top of the pile and moisten it. Do not mix it with the soil (worm castings) as this makes the soil get sour. Leave the grain on top and the earthworms will eat it there. Every month turn the pile of organic matter you are producing. This will keep the mixture loose.

Earthworms like to eat vegetable matter. They also like coffee grounds and fruit rinds. Go easy on the citrus rinds as they are acid and can be harmful to the earthworms. Chop rinds and shred paper before feeding it to your worms. When you are adding kitchen vegetable scraps you may find that the earthworm bedding starts to get to wet. This is from the moisture in the fruit or vegetables. If the bedding material does get too wet, just add some dry material to the bedding mixture.

Harvesting worms is not hard. There are different ways to do it. Rake most of the bedding to one end of the container and at the other end of the container put some new, fresh food (vegetable scraps etc.) Wait for a few days and the earthworms will make their way down to the good food. Then all you have to do is get the compost from the opposite end of the worms. Most of the worms will be at one end, so you can harvest the worms from there. Another way to harvest worms is to put small piles of your organic matter, with the worms in it, out on a surface that is well lit. The earthworms like the dark so they will head for the bottom of the piles. There you can harvest your worms.

If you want to get into the earthworm business, learn what worms need and talk to someone who has been in the business.. There is the Hybrid Red Wiggler, the African Red Worm and others. You can sell the bedding and/or the worms. Adding the castings and the worms to your garden at the same time is okay as long as you keep the soil moist. Remember the earthworms must have the moisture to stay alive and work for you.

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