Adding Composting Worms to a “Back to Eden” Garden?

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.

Hi Jay,

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!

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    • Ben
    • October 26, 2015

    My experience with woodchips is favourable for worms. I have to process a lot of
    green waste so it is important that it is not allowed to pile up and go anaerobic which
    is what would happen if it was placed straight on the ground. I use the windrow method
    of worm farming in my chook run because it is shaded by the plants i grow on the wire
    netting. The chook run is nice and long which allows me to spread green waste in
    different sections according to how quickly it is being processed by the worms which
    come from in from the surrounding garden. The bottom layer is a 300mm thick layer
    of wood chip and on top of that I put the green waste constantly and on top of that I
    put a thick layer of cardboard which is lifted up and put back when I put more green
    waste on. The cardboard functions as a cover to makes it nice and dark for the worms
    and stops the green waste volatilizing precious nitrogen into the atmosphere and also
    limits the smell and flies and keeps the neighbours happy 🙂

    • Mr-Yan
    • November 14, 2015

    I do raised beds with heavy mulch and tried two beds with your vermi-gardening mulch idea this year. For this I used a mix of shredded mulch and shredded fall leaves with chopped kitchen scraps and other green stuff put down before the mulch and leaves. This is over the soil that was created by a combination of straw bale and lasagna gardening a few years ago. While this is not a back to eden garden by the letter of the movie it has worked well for me and does much the same thing as the film shows.

    I have strong worm populations in these gardens. Each season I mix in more pre-composted organic matter also.

    One part I think the film glossed over was his chickens. Notice he pointed to the chicken pen and called it his soil factory. The mulch is there to hold the moisture, contain weed population, and soften the ground not build soil nutrients. Our soil factories are worm bins.

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