Worms are the cheapest laborers that you will find to help you in your efforts to improve the composition and fertility of your garden's soil. They are efficient and excellent at converting your kitchen and other organic waste into a perfect plant food. Worm castings, the nice term for worm poop, are a great organic plant fertilizer.
"That's what organic gardening always comes back to:
feeding the soil and the rest takes care of itself"1
Worms are the organic farmer and gardener's best friend. "Through their feeding and burrowing activities, worms can affect the decomposition of organic litter, modify soil microbial communities, and alter the structure and porosity of the soil, thereby profoundly influencing the availability of nitrogen in the soil".2
By converting organic matter such as kitchen waste, lawn clippings, newspaper, cardboard, dried leaves and animal manure into castings, worms dramatically reduce the amount of time needed to break down organic waste and return nutrients to the soil from months and years to a matter of days.
"Earthworms are intimately involved in the cycling of C & N in soil"5
Without the help of worms, "Under normal conditions, the majority of organic material is decayed in three or four years, releasing its nitrogen into the available N forms".3 A redworm
(Eisenia foetida) consumes about their body weight per day in organic waste. One-thousand redworms roughly equal one pound. One pound or one-thousand redworms can convert three to four pounds of organic matter into castings each week!
The publication entitled, "Earthworm Castings as Plant Growth Media,"4 noted that many of the nutrients in waste materials (including nitrogen, potassium, calcium, and magnesium), when processed by worms, are changed into forms more readily taken up by plants.
Seedling emergence of tomatoes, cabbage and radish was much better in vermicompost/peat mixtures than in the thermophilically-composted animal wastes, and as good and usually better than commercial plant growth medium.
In addition several ornamentals planted in vermicompost mixtures flowered much earlier.
Even five percent vermicompost in the vermicompost/commercial mixture had profound effect on plant growth.4
ANSWERS TO COMMON QUESTIONS:
How many worms do I need?
A household of four to six people generate about six pounds of food waste a week. That will sustain a colony of two pounds of worms or about two-thousand worms.
Where can they live? Just because you don't have a lot of land (or any at all for that matter). Apartment dwellers can even get on involved with recycling their kitchen waste. We have maintained a small worm bed in our basement. You can either purchase a ready-to-use "Worm Factory" and be up and running in minutes (click here for options), or you can use the following link for complete plans to build your own.
Cheap & Easy Worm Bin Plans
Will they live in the ground if I turn them loose? It is where they are from so, yes.
However, to give them a fighting chance, they need decent soil in order to thrive. Sandy desert soil is not. Bottom land that is saturated with water is not.
If I don't want to build a worm bin and do turn them loose, where should I do it?
Think like a worm, and you will find a nice home for them. The bottom of compost heaps are great locations and there is generally plenty for them to eat and the composition of the soil is easy for them to move about in. If they are happy they will stay. If conditions in your yard are nasty, they aren't dumb, they will head for the neighbors.
Because worms are living creatures, we can only fill orders to locations within the continental United States. Please include a street address where someone can accept them (they will die sitting in hot or freezing mail boxes). Your order will be placed at the farm to reserve your place in the queue and based upon supply and demand, orders are usually filled within one to two weeks.
Worms are shipped using U.S. Priority Mail on Mondays and Tuesdays. According to the post office, you should generally receive them 2 to 3 days after they are mailed. Please note that shipping is suspended for postal and major holidays when the mail delivery speeds are slowest.
Earthworms by John
National Agricultural Library document, NRI Competitive
grant program 950.2870
Using Manure as a Nitrogen Fertilizer, J.Gerwing &
R.Gelderman, 8/97, South Dakota State University
Castings as Plant Growing Media, R.Sherman, 6/97, North Carolina
National Agricultural Library document # S592.7.A1S6,
T.B. Parkin & E.C. Berry
Suppressive effects of a commercial earthworm compost on
some root infecting pathogens of cabbage & tomato, M. Szczech,
Biological Agriculture & Horticulture, 1993, v10 (1)
Earthworm by John Mertus - http://www.infoplease.com/t/sci/earthworms/
Composting with Redworms - http://whatcom.wsu.edu/ag/compost/Redwormsedit.htm
Build a Worm Compost Bin - http://whatcom.wsu.edu/ag/compost/wormbins.htm
U.C. Davis Earthworm Information Page