Monday, July 6, 2009

Healthy Soil part 2: Worms!

We were inspired by this article about Will Allen and the amazing things he's doing with his organization Growing Power. So this week we are celebrating worms and their amazing ability to turn garbage into garden gold. First we'll talk about the different kinds of worms and then offer some resources for buying them.

Buying Worms:
The number or amount of worms you use will depend on the size of your household and the amount of garbage you want consumed. The rule of thumb is 2 lb. worms per 1 lb. garbage. For instance, if you produce 1 lb. organic and compostable garbage a day (or an average 7 lb. per week), you would use 2 lb. worms in the worm bed container. You can buy either “pit-run” or “breeder” worms. Breeders do lay cocoons quicker than the average pit-run worms, but they still take some time getting used to their new home before beginning to breed. Pit-run are cheaper, are usually younger, and will reproduce well soon after you get them . Because red worms are so popular for growers and fishermen, it’s easy to purchase them year-round. Try your hardware store, bait shop, or garden store — or maybe a gas station, if you’re in a rural fishing area.

Worm Words
Bait worms: Worms that fishermen use to catch fish.
Bed: The place where domesticated worms live.
Bedding: The soil of worms’ bed.
Bin: A container for worms.
Breeders: Worms that lay cocoons relatively quickly.
Castings: Dirt, etc. that has gone through a worm’s digestive tract and out its hind end. Very good stuff for your soil.
Pit-run worms: This term refers to worms of all ages and sizes, averaging 2,000 to a pound.
Vermicomposting: The process of using worms to decompose kitchen waste (or other organic materials, such as manure/straw bedding from the barn) into rich castings that make wonderful fertilizer for plants and gardens.

Worm Varieties:
The most common earthworms in the United States, western Asia, and Europe are in the Lumbricidae family, which has 220 species or types.
Garden Worms. These are the worms you find in your yard. Fishermen don’t like them because they turn white in water. They are usually sold along with a red wriggler to provide the buyer with some big worms. These are not the best kind for your compost bin.
Nightcrawler, African. Lumbricus terrestris, also known as the “rain worm, “dew worm,” or “orchard worm,” averages 5 inches long but can grow to as much as 1 foot long in adulthood. African nightcrawlers are adapted to warm weather and die quickly in cold water or cold air. They are slow breeders, reproducing only every 2 years. Don’t bother with them.
Nightcrawler, Native. Steelhead fishermen prefer these. You find them on lawns and golf courses after a heavy night rain. Native nightcrawlers are slow breeders too, but fishermen like the fact that they can handle cold temperatures and cold water. They require lots of soil for indoor growing and can’t tolerate temperatures over 50˚F. They don’t like having their bedding disturbed, so although they are good in your garden, they aren’t too useful in your kitchen- waste recycling bin.
Red Worms. These “red wrigglers” (also known as the “manure worm” or “red hybrid”) are the best for doing the job in your household compost bin. Two of the most commonly used red worms are Lumbricus rubellus and Eisenia foetida. Rubellus is the most likely of the two to be found living in your dirt, but the soil must contain lots of organic material for it to live there. This is a popular worm for growing in a worm bed because it is capable of consuming large quantities of garbage, reproduces quickly, and thrives in a worm bin. The red worm has alternating red and buff stripes. Adults are 11⁄2 to 3 inches long. The red worm produces young every 7 days. The worm reaches full maturity in 9 months, but it is capable of mating at 2 to 3 months. It lives up to 15 years. This worm is good for fishing because it stays active (doesn’t drown) and remains red in the water.
Sewer Worms. They can be found in manure piles and identified by the bright rings around their bodies. They grow quite large but are not good bait.

Uses for Earthworms: You can raise worms for bait or for vermicomposting. Some additional benefits of using worm castings in your garden are reduced insect damage and better texture. One gardener said she felt she’d hit upon a miracle when she started this. She no longer needs to use a rototiller, only a trowel!

Worm Info and Products:
The Worm Book, by Loren Nancarrow and Janet Hogan Taylor, is an amusing, informative, fascinating, and complete guide to gardening and composting with worms. Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof is an easy-to-read guide to raising worms that’s equally suited to urban and rural folks. Her company sells supplies to worm growers: Flowerfield Enterprises, LLC, 10332 Shaver Road, Kalamazoo, MI 49024; 269-327- 0108; Harnessing the Earthworm by Thomas J. Barrett (Bookworm Publishing Co.) gives in-depth, scientific facts on worms and how to grow them. Raising Earthworms for Profit by Earl B. Shields tells how to raise worms to sell. An older classic is Earthworms for Ecology and Profit by Ronald E. Gaddie Sr. and Donald E. Douglas. For online worm info and products, visit these websites
ATTRA’s info on vermicomposting is at attra-pub/vermicom.html. “Earthworms and Crop Management” at www.agcom.
“Earth Worms: The Agriculturist’s Friend” at publications/eap6.htm. Magic Worm Ranch sells redworms, nightcrawlers, vermicomposting kit, bins, books, etc.; 314-602-0736; 5750 Duda Road, House Springs, MO 63051;
Seeds West offers redworms from Frog Alley Farm; 505- 843-9713; 317-14th St. NW, Albuquerque, NM 87104;;
Shields Publications publishes and sells 22 books on earthworms, including Raising Earthworms by Earl B. Shields: 715-479-4810; fax 715-479-3905; PO Box 669, Eagle River, WI 54521;
Unco Industries offers advice to start in the worm business, worms, and worm products: 800-728-2415; 7802 Old Spring St., Racine, WI 53406: unco@vermi;
VermiCo: 541-476-9626; fax 207-470-5187; PO Box 2334, Grants Pass, OR 97528;
VermiTechnology Unlimited offers redworms, worm bins; 352-591-1111; fax 352-591-4550; PO Box 130, Orange Lake, FL 32681; vermi@vermitechnology. com;
Worm Digest sends quarterly issues for $12: Box 544, Eugene, OR 97440-9998;;
“Worms for Composting” by ATTRA’s Alice Beetz;

1 comment:

Dan Moore said...

Nice overview of worm composting. I have used worms to compost for years and am still learning. I'd also recommend the following websites, which I've found to be very useful (none of them are mine!): (large pdf file with tons of information about vermicomposting).

I'd also join a mailing list like the_worm_bin, a yahoo group, or the gardenweb forums. Pretty much every question you've ever thought of about worms has been asked and answered on these sites.

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