Question from Jeff:
I live in Topeka KS – Just built three raised bed planters and filled them with top soil from the pasture. Suprisingly the soil is a bit tight and no signs of worms. The veg are doing OK so far but I’d like to get some worms in there and start feed them to loosen and richen the soil– Wigglers, Nightcrawlers, what do you recommend?
This is certainly a topic I have covered on the site in the past – but it’s also probably one of the most common questions/misconceptions overall. So it’s absolutely worth revisiting.
First and foremost, composting worms such as Red Worms and European Nightcrawlers are NOT soil-working worms. Sadly, some (disreputable, in my opinion) worm suppliers have no qualms claiming otherwise – but it’s absolutely not the case. There are some semi-composting species, such as “Jumpers” (Amythas sp) and Lumbricus rubellus, that are much better suited for a soil environment – but I don’t really recommend purchasing them since there is academic research suggesting that they can pose a threat to native ecosystems (especially L. rubellus) in some regions.
You can check out my “Do Composting Worms Pose a Threat as Invasive Species?” article if you’re interested in learning more.
All that being said, the good news is that composting worms CAN be used in your gardens to help boost plant growth. But for best results you’ll want to set up some form of integrated (vermicomposting) system. For an overview of some of these you may want to have a look at this article I posted on my other website:
In terms of boosting native soil worm populations, the secret doesn’t lie in introducing loads of worms (at least not initially). You are MUCH better off to work on improving the soil habitat instead. Probably the best way to do this is to incorporate large amounts of organic matter – such as rich compost, manure etc – into your soil, and perhaps to add a thick layer of biodegradable mulch over top as well.
During my years of using outdoor (integrated) vermicomposting systems, not only has the quality of the soil, and overall fertility of my yard increased considerably, but so too has the population of native soil worms!
Hope this helps.