As the title implies, I recently received an email from Jay W, wondering about the use of worms in a “Back to Eden” garden (I’m sure many readers will be familiar with the concept – but I have linked to the movie just in case). Jay’s email is too long to include here, but here is a blurb:
Can I put the worms in my chips and mulch it is 10 inches deep. 150 x 60 ft excluding orchard. I thought the worms would help composting my mulch and chips. With all the mulch and chips do I need to continue to feed them I have lots of Q’s.
This is a really interesting idea – and I’ll say right off the bat that there is some potential for making this work. But it’s important to note that you would definitely be developing more of a hybrid approach than actually adhering to the guidelines for the original method.
The challenge here is that wood chips have a very high C/N ratio and they were very resistant to breakdown. Even when they are rotting, they are NOT what you’d call an “ideal” food for composting worms. As I discussed in my last blog post, the best foods for these worms will be those that: A) are water-rich, B) support a robust community of microbes, and C) break down fairly readily (actually related to the “robust community of microbes” since this is why microbes are so easily able to colonize ).
If the wood chips were mixed with some form of aged manure before being laid down, or if they were periodically soaked with a liquid manure, my hunch is that they could support a population of composting worms (as long as you have a really deep bed of them and that the lower zones are already pretty well decomposed).
Even mixing the chips with something more absorbent (like shredded cardboard) would probably make a big difference – especially if you buried deposits of food wastes etc on a fairly regular basis (or used the liquid manure approach I just mentioned).
So I guess when it comes down to it, the answer would probably be, “no”, you can’t likely use composting worms to effectively accelerate the break down process with a traditional Back to Eden garden – but “yes”, they could likely work in a hybrid version containing absorbent materials and/or lower C:N materials.
Hope this helps a little!