Question from Abbie:
Hi. I have an indoor garden/greenhouse where turtles and frogs roam
freely through a small vegetable garden. I need worms for the soil.
When I planted this spring I realized that I have no worms in my soil
and it is hard and compacted so I would like to add worms. Any
recommendations or thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
You are certainly not alone in wondering about this topic. It is widely known that earthworms can mix and enrich the soil, so naturally a LOT of people feel the urge to stock their own soil with gobs of worms.
Unfortunately, this is a “chicken/egg” problem that most people get backwards.
Earthworms don’t magically turn any soil into black gold. In fact, if you try to stock worms in lifeless soil, you’ll likely end up with a lot of dead worms and/or a mass migration of the wigglers in an attempt to find ‘greener pastures’ (assuming conditions are favorable for such migration).
This is even worse if you try to stock composting worms in regular soil. Sadly, there are still a fair number of composting worm vendors who are not only more than willing to sell their worms to the soil-enrichment crowd, but who actually make claims about the benefits of adding composting species to garden soil.
The REAL “secret” for rich garden soil, though, is organic matter! If you mix in lots of manure, grass clippings, fall leaves – or any number of other biodegradable, usually carbon-rich, materials – it will greatly help to loosen up the soil and kick-start beneficial microbial activity.
And here’s the kicker…by doing this you are in effect creating a “worm-friendly” environment. In a lot of cases, at least if you give it enough time, native worms will start moving into the soil and increasing in number. But if you DO want to speed up the process, you can also stock some worms as well.
Rather than actually purchasing them, my recommendation would be to visit some local forests and other areas with rich deposits of organic matter to see what sorts of earthworms you can find there. These will likely be well-suited for your soil as well (again, once enriched with plenty of organic matter).
The “magic” results will come from the combination of the organic matter + beneficial decomposer microbes + earthworms (and plenty of other critters).
Getting back to composting worms…
I don’t mean to imply that they can’t be used in the garden at all. This is definitely NOT the case! I have greatly enriched my own garden soil over the years with vermicomposting trenches, windrows, modified “worm towers”, and various other vermi-gardening methods. The key is simply to provide the worms with a very rich habitat to live in.
Anyway – hope this helps, Abbie!