Adventures in Gardening: Worming Your Way

by David Soper

Sometimes it pays to take a look at alternative gardening methods of third-world countries. The use of drip irrigation is an example of an idea that wasn't invented here.

Countries like India and Cuba can't afford to import expensive petrochemical-based fertilizers. Their solution is to look to worms. They have extensive governmental vermiculture (worm use) projects underway. And why not? Worms are a very economical way to convert waste into a usable product. In one recent experiment in India, a group of 1,000 farmers are now using vermicompost in their orchards and have reduced the use of the use of chemical fertilizers by an astounding 90%.

We all know the value of worms in our gardens and most of us are pretty happy to find them when we are digging in our beds. Worms promote bacterial growth (good), aerate compacted soil and help organic material decompose. Further, since they are 60% protein, when they die, they add still more to the soil.

Just so you know, there are over 3,000 kinds of worms. For our purposes, though, there are really only two types of interest to us. Conveniently, they have divided their worlds into two environments. Eisenia foetida may be more familiar to you as red worms, red wigglers, manure rooms, fish worms, dung brand- ings or even apple pomice worms. These are the "humus formers." they live near or on the surface in highly organic places like manure piles. Their diet consists of 90% fresh organic matter and 10% soil.

The second group, the kind you are most likely to encounter in your garden, are "humus feeders." These are deep-burrowing (as much as three feet vertically) creatures whose digging habits make our soils more porous. They leave humus behind them as and when they go.

Humus feeders or Lumbricus terrestis (night crawlers) need large areas in which to live. In contrast to the red wigglers, who are quite happy living on top of each other, night crawlers don't encounter their own kind all that frequently.

Here's some trivia for your next party. When I was a kid, I was told when worms surface after a rain it was to avoid drowning. Not true! Moisture is essential to their survival. What they really are doing, is looking for a sex partner and a convenient flat place to mate. The wet surface is a big draw since they need moisture for mobility and that's where they can find similarly inclined worms. One writer described it as "nature's singles bar."

But, I digress. Next week, I'll tell you why these worms are important to home gardeners and how you, too, can harness their power for your own use.

That's all for now. Good luck and great gardening.

David Soper, The Garden Guy, writes and lectures on gardening topics. Check out his books at

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