March 11, 2009

Adding Red Worms to Soil

This question comes from Jerry:

Have an organic farm, am thinking of adding the worms
directly to the soil. Any imput on that. Have used worm castings, but
trying to do so on 10 acres is daunting.

Hi Jerry,
Red Worms can survive in soil IF it is properly prepared ahead of time. In other words, you can’t simply dump them in regular soil and expect them to improve it (well you certainly can, but you’ll end up disappointed – haha). It is important to remember that they are not soil worms – yes, they are part of a bigger group referred to as ‘earthworms’, but don’t be fooled by this.

The ideal habitat for Red Worms (and other composting species) is rich organic matter – a combination of nitrogen-rich materials and carbon-rich materials, with plenty of moisture and microbes.

My suggestion would be to create vermicomposting trenches that run the length of each row of crops. I had a great deal of success using these last year in my gardens. You don’t even have to make them super deep or fancy (although deep trenches may be required if summer temperatures are extreme in your region).

Simply making rows of waste materials (like food waste, manure, shredded cardboard etc) alongside your plant rows, then inoculating with Red Worms would help to fertilize your plants. That being said, it is definitely better if these systems are in-ground though, since (apart from the protection from extreme weather) the plant roots will be able to directly access the compost being produced, rather than waiting for nutrients to percolate down through the soil.

You will certainly need a lot of worms (at least 1/2 lb per foot of trench) and a lot of waste if you want to hit the ground running, but advantage here is that your population will continue to grow (not the case if you simply add them to the soil). You could start with a lot fewer worms and build up your numbers over time, but you would likely have to sacrifice one growing season in order to do so. If you are using organic manure as the feedstock for the worms this probably wouldn’t matter since it would provide excellent fertilizer value on its own.

Anyway – I hope this helps answer your question, Jerry!

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