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Introducing Worms to a Newly Created Garden

Many gardens today are newly created, often this means that the topsoil, turf, shrubs and trees etc have all been brought in and an almost instant garden created, even if this is not the case and the garden has been created from an already existing but neglected plot then this will have usually involved a great deal of mechanical work and suffered through the use of chemicals whether its sprays or so called “composts”.

Worms do not like disturbance, therefore if the soil has been imported or mechanically dug and moved on site many of the worms will have moved or been killed off, the end result being a nice looking garden (but unhealthy) and no worms!

Do we need worms, are they that important?

The answer is undoubtedly a resounding yes. Worms create the very soil that the plants live in, they do this by digesting all the organic matter left on the surface through dead plants, leaves etc (without them doing this the planet would now be miles deep in decaying vegetation!). As this matter is digested it is then deposited back as “casts” (actually worm poo!) this, when added to the ground up rocks and stones gives us soil.

This soil when it has not been interfered with my man is naturally rich in nutrients and all the micro life that plants need to grow and flourish, it also gives the plants the ability to fight of insect and disease attack, a good reason for the worms existence, if that was not enough, the worm has also been designed to burrow around in the soil, particularly in the vicinity of plant roots, creating tunnels that allow moisture and air into the soil for plants to use, a pretty convincing argument for their existence.

If there are no worms in the newly created garden then the plants will not have the benefit of the worms existence and will certainly need the intervention by man in the form of adding nutrients, sprays, digging etc. think of how a typical modern wheat field is managed.

Can we just then add worms?

Yes we can but it does have to be done with some thought and preparation, if you just toss on a few handfuls of worms and hope for the best it is likely to fail. We often hear that the soil is compacted and the customer hopes that the worms will break this up along with getting rid of the rubble and concrete also buried! unfortunately worms will not do this,  any potential site for adding worms to will need to have any compaction broken up, rubbish including rubble etc must be removed the  worms need food, this is the organic matter they would find naturally, in a new garden it must be provided by incorporating it into the soil BEFORE adding worms, it can be in the form of well rotted manure, garden compost or leaf mould or similar materials of a non chemical nature, we recommend this should then be left for a year to settle down and mature, during this period, where possible, a good layer of mulch and or compost should be put on the surface making sure the soil is damp and retains this moisture, then consider adding worms.

Flower and shrub beds

Wherever possible, a “no dig” policy should be established, worms do not like to be disturbed, in shrub and flower beds this is not usually difficult and any subsequent digging to plant would not be a problem, for the worms to thrive it is essential that the mulching continues. Sprays and chemicals are all detrimental to worms and should be avoided.

Vegetable plot

This is not always so easy, we still have this traditional need to dig but if this is kept to a minimum then the worms will be fine, the more worms the less need to dig except maybe when actually planting. The incorporation of organic compost and manures (old) is still essential, not only for the worms but for the health of the plot and its plants, again, chemical sprays and liquids must be avoided.

“Planting” Worms

When the plots are ready to receive the worms, they must be added by planting, if they are just spread on the surface, many if not most will be lost, the birds will have a field day! Worms are reluctant to burrow down into unknown territories, they don’t know what they might meet so they tend to stay on the surface and head for any dark or damp spots possibly where you do not want them.

If they are on the surface too long the ultra violet light in daylight and sun can severely damage and eventually kill them therefore it is essential they are “planted”. To do this, calculate the area in square meters or yards, work on 3 or 4 holes per yard/meter, dig out a trowel depth hole, add a bit of water and compost, pop in a pinch or so of worms, roughly dividing up the weight or quantity of worms purchased by the number of holes dug, always then cover over the hole with the soil.

Worm colonies are recommended for several reasons, they do not have to be planted immediately on arrival, they make the number of holes to be dug much less (one per 1 or 2 square metres) thereby saving time and effort, the worms are not suddenly introduced to a new environment that they are unfamiliar with, the colony container gives them a safe and secure environment until they are happy to venture forth, job done!

What quantity and species should be planted?

Sadly there are very few species of worms available commercially, many are not available simply because there is no demand, the ones that are available are Lumbricus terrestris, our largest worm, Eisenia hortensis a soil dwelling/compost dwelling worm, Eisenia foetida and Eisenia andrii both being mainly compost worms, all of these worms will live in soil but the “composting” worms will need good volumes of organic matter (which should be incorporated in to soils anyway) to thrive.

The quantity of worms required is not an exact science, as a rough guide you should be aiming for the following:

Introducing Lumbricus terrestris – this would be around 5 worms per square metre minimum, this is a guide only and the quantities can be varied according to budget, however, it should be noted that too few are likely to fail, these are the deep burrowing worms.

Introducing Eisenia hortensis, Eisenia foetida and Eisenia andreii (usually supplied as a mix) these should be planted at around 10 – 20 per square metre as a minimum, there are roughly 1000 per kilo for pricing purposes.

The quantities are governed by surface area NOT depth.

I hope this has been useful, please feel free to copy and download for your own private use. Strictly no commercial use or reproduction without our express, written permission.

Related Products

  • Worm Colonies – easy to use box of earthworms suitable for adding to a newly created garden.
  • Loose Earthworms – earthworms suitable for adding to a newly created garden.
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Should worms be in a lawn?

” My front lawn has been reseeded recently and is not growing properly, could this be due to too much rain or lack of sunlight? could the soil be too compact? I don’t notice any worm casts, so I thought about introducing earthworms into the soil. “

This is not a question simply answered, a lot depends on what the soil was like prior to planting the seed, assuming the soil is up to supporting the growth of grass seed (it would have to be pretty poor not to do so!) and has been prepared properly then you have to look at the conditions, too cold, too wet, too hot and too dry will affect the germination rate, if the light levels are pretty poor such as in a heavily shaded area or under trees then germination could be slow and patchy, add to this that birds may have been feasting then you may have problems, lack of worms at this point will not affect the germination rate so until any problems have been put right it is unlikely that adding earthworms will help much to get things going.

The adding of earthworms to gardens is not something that is readily thought about, unfortunately it is often considered after a lot of work has already been done, adding earthworms should be planned in at a very early stage, taking the lawn as an example, even before adding worms the conditions they need should be carefully prepared, contrary to beliefs worms do need quite a good soil to live in, if the soil is hard, compacted, sandy, very dry etc worms will not suddenly turn it into good soil, they will leave! when the soil is good worms will work and turn this good soil into excellent soil and all plants, including grass will benefit from this. The action of worms in the soil creates burrows where oxygen and water get into the soil around the plants roots, when a worm feeds it leaves behind worm casts, sometimes these are left on the surface, these casts are a bundle of goodness, not necessarily fertilizers but all the other things that plants need to thrive, all this has to be in place before seeding, so the answer to the question “Should worms be in a lawn” is certainly yes! (as long as you don’t mind a few casts on the surface)

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Worms – are they really that important?

The most important workers of the soil are worms, scientific research has shown that a realistic population of earthworms in the soil has a positive effect on plant growth with an increase in crop production of 10% to 25%  compared to soils with no worms, not to mention the positive effect that they have on the plants ability to fight disease and bug attack.

During the growing season, particularly in vegetable gardens, the worms will have been badly disturbed even damaged by the practice of digging over the plot, soils are becoming more and more depleted in worms to the point we sometimes struggle to find any, if this is the case in your garden then it is important to replace them.

As we head into autumn/winter and the busy harvesting period begins to slow we start to think about preparing the veg and flower beds for next year, adding organic matter such as compost, old manure etc is usually high on the list, this is an ideal time to also add those important worms, over the next few months they are the ones that will be working hard to break down and incorporate this organic matter into the soil and whilst they are doing this they are creating a network of tunnels allowing oxygen and moisture deep into the soil, as the worms feed, what goes in must come out, the wonderful casts often referred to as “Black Gold” and with good reason,  they are jam packed with beneficial (to the plants) micro organisms – bacteria, fungii and a host of other benefits, this is worms working hard to prepare your plot!

I was thus led to conclude that all the vegetable mould over the whole country has passed many times through, and will again pass many times through, the intestinal canals of worms. Hence the term “animal mould” would be in some respects more than that commonly used of “vegetable mould” “

Charles Darwin.

That is why worms are so important they make the soil (vegetable mould)!

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How many??

Posted in Feb 2009, afcbpaul asks about the number of worms in a wormery.

“OK I am very new to this, but I am a grass care professional and I would like vermicompost to make compost tea.

I have access to large amounts of horse manure, and I know that will make good worm feed once it has completed the first hot composting.

But what I would like to know is:
1.Is it better to have fewer large worms in my wormery or many more smaller ones?”

The more worms you have the quicker the waste will be composted, also if you have a mix of sizes, you will have worms of breeding size that will be busy laying eggs, increasing the population and there will also be juveniles and babies that like all creatures will be feeding and growing. Have a look at our advice sheet,  “Establishing Your Wormery

Nigel.

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Reusing Old Bin Contents

Previously posted on our forum the following post form March 2009 asks is there any use for old composting bin contents.

“Hi,

I have two worm bins, one of which is fine and healthy, but the other unfortunately needs to be started afresh. It’s about two thirds full, the contents are dark brown but not smelly, but very wet – well, sodden really. I didn’t drain it often enough, I didn’t put in enough paper and the whole thing became wet and therefore anaerobic and that’s why my old worms died. The fault and associated guilt are all mine, and I promise not to let it happen again! My question is, can I reuse the contents? It’s surely full of microorganisms which I can’t quite bring myself to just get rid of, and I also don’t have a garden to just tip it out onto to start again. I don’t propose, obviously, to just chuck it all into a new worm environment – I thought I could drain it, then mix in paper/cardboard until it’s dry enough to store in an old compost bag or bucket, then start the bin anew and just add the old stuff a little at a time over a long period. I’m also wondering whether it could be of use to feed or mulch very hungry plants that need a lot of moisture like courgettes or potatoes (more of a gardening question I know, but if you don’t ask you don’t get), or whether I should treat it as poisonous and find some discreet place to get rid of it. I’d very much appreciate any ideas or advice.

Many thanks,
MentalMariner”

From the details it does sound as if the “compost” was heading towards being anaerobic, if it was fully anaerobic it would have an unpleasant smell about it, heading to being anaerobic could well have killed off the worms particularly if your wormery is of a design with a clamp down lid designed to prevent worms from leaving whatever the conditions! if not then it is more likely the deteriorating conditions would have caused the worms to leave, end result is no worms and dubious compost.
If the compost is truly anaerobic the micro-organisms (and gasses) will be harmful to worms and would do your plants no favours either, best disposed of the best way you can. If it does not smell then treating it as you suggest and feeding back to a new worm system should cause them no problems, use your nose for a decision!
See our advice sheet about Liquid Feed From a Wormery for more about aerobic and anaerobic conditions.

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Composting worms a danger to UK’s indigenous species?

A question posed by  customer has lead me to clarify an issue which may be of concern to many people.

Posted by Doggymix in March 2010, and still relevant today, the question was regarding the introduction of foreign species;

“A friend recently told me that Tiger worms and other composting worms can cause problems for the UK’s indigenous common garden species. Is that correct? I see you clarify exactly what a Tiger worm is but are the worms you guys advise indigenous to the UK? I’m just about to set up my wormery and could do with being able to tackle such questions at the allotment!”

You may think that the following post is what you would expect from the company selling the worms but I assure you this is correct!

I was surprised to read about your friends comments, all the worms sold by Worms Direct and all other companies in the UK (that I am aware of) are all indiginous species and have lived together since time began! Tiger worms are indiginous, Dendrobaena are indiginous, Lumbricus terrestris are indiginous and all can be found living together all over the northern hemisphere! I suspect that your friends identification of worms has got muddled somewhere along the way or the information she/he has is incorrect, this does highlight the dangers of repeating incorrect information, anyhow – no problems.
If you or your friend need further clarification, please come back but preferably with latin names of the worms in question as it is usually using common names that causes confusion. I hope this has answered your question and put your mind at rest,

Regards, Nigel.