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How to Raise Worms for the Garden Organically

Updated on December 5, 2012
red worm egg sacs
red worm egg sacs | Source

Worms Will Improve Your Garden

Earthworms are good for the garden and will enrich your soil through castings. All you have to do is provide worms, food, and water, and you are on the way to a successful garden. This is another good way to dispose of organic kitchen waste, too, instead of adding to our landfills. Worms also reduce the acidity of one’s soil and complete the composting process of adding nutrients to the soil.

Where Can I Buy Worms If I Require Them?

This question can be answered by how big your household is and how much organic waste that you generate. Generally, you can support two pounds of worms for every pound of organic waste. The kind of worm that you will be using for your garden is a red worm. They are used for growers and are easy to find year round at the garden store and certain companies on the internet sell them, too. The best red worm to get is the pit-run, as they are young, cheaper, and will reproduce well. All worms need to get used to their new habitat. If you get the more expensive breeder, they will still need time to get used to their new environment.

red wigglers
red wigglers | Source

Red Manure or the Red Wriggler Worms Are the Ticket for the Garden

These worms will thrive in a worm bed, reproduce quickly, and will dispose of a lot of organic matter. This worm has alternating red and buff colored stripes, and adults are one and a half to three inches in length. Adults produce young every seven days, are capable of mating in two to three months, and reaches full maturity in nine months.

Worms Produce Fertilizer

Worms eat dirt and organic matter, combine this with digestive juices, and excrete castings, which is a mix of both organic and inorganic material. Castings will both improve soil structure and its ability to hold moisture.

sample of a plastic worm bin
sample of a plastic worm bin | Source

To Get Started, You’ll Need a Worm Bin

You can use metal or plastic for longevity. Wood will rot eventually, so I don’t advocate that, as it will cost you a lot of valuable time to maintain it. If you choose to use it, keep away from aromatic woods, like redwood or cedar. Just be certain that your container was not used to hold pesticides, or it will kill your worms. Scrub your plastic container well. If you reside in a milder climate, you can build and/or keep your container outside.

The best container is 8-12 inches deep. The width of your bin depends on the amount of organic matter. An average family of four will require about a 4 x 4 x 8 foot bin, as an example.

Worm Beddings

These provide moisture to the bin and give you an area to bury the organic material. The lighter the bedding, the easier the worms can navigate around the box. Add a handful of soil to the bedding, which will help the worms break down the food in their gizzards. I also like to add pulverized eggshells for calcium.

Shredded newspaper is wonderful for bedding, as well as recycling. Tear it into lengthwise strips 1-3 inches wide. Wider strips will dry out too fast.

Manure also works well. The odor will decrease once the worms are introduced, and a peat moss addition will make it light. I wouldn’t use peat alone, as it is very acidic and has no nutritional value.

Don’t use any kind of used cat litter as bedding. The urine will kill the worms and the odor is horrific. Plus, if breathed by a pregnant woman, it will cause brain damage to the baby.

Worm Food

Let the organic matter build up for a few days and feed the worms once or twice a week. Don’t always put it in the same place. A nine-day rotation works about the best. Dig a shallow hole, put the organic matter in, and cover with an inch of bedding. Organic matter includes vegetable and fruit peelings, coffee grounds, tea leaves, ground corn cobs, a little mown grass, etc. You can also include pasta, rotten leftovers that were forgotten in the refrigerator, and chopped up meat. If you mix the meat with a little sawdust, it won’t smell as bad. Meat is very rich in nitrogen, if you eat it. Don’t try to feed the worms metal or plastic.

Basic Worm Care

When feeding, notice if the bedding is retaining moisture and any changes. As the worms eat their food and bedding, you’ll see more castings. This is what you want for your houseplants, window boxes, and garden.

Harvesting Castings

Move the old bedding and castings to one side of the bin, then replace the empty area with new bedding. The worms will move over there, and you can just carry off your compost to use as you wish.

Using the Castings

Place the castings on your houseplants about a quarter inch deep, once every two months.

Use plenty of water occasionally to rinse off the salt that is produced in the castings. It might still contain some bedding, but contains less salt. Experiment with different potting mixes, use worm castings, vermiculite or perlite, or garden soil for additional body. To feed potted plants or transplants, make a tea from the castings by soaking in water. Water your plants with the tea, or place the castings in holes where you want to transplant trees or vegetables. You can also dig holes for some of the worms throughout the garden. Cover the worms with soil, manure, weeds, etc. Keep the worm holes covered and watered. The worms will turn the materials into castings and move throughout the garden. Your worms will reduce insect damage AND give the soil a better texture. Periodically add vegetation to the holes to keep the worms fed, and have a happy worm adventure!

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    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Good to see you beingwell. Worms are so easy to raise. Once one gets going they practically tend themselves, as long as we provide just a little of what they require.

    • beingwell profile image

      beingwell 4 years ago from Bangkok

      Great hub! A lot of gardeners will get a lot from this one. Voted up, aviannovice.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      If it is that cold, they might not be surviving, Peg. I take it that you don't heat a portable bin? This is an outside bin?

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 4 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      This is great information to have now that I've started composting. I have found some worms when I dig in the garden and have been transferring them over to the compost bin. They must be escaping since I haven't seen much of them lately. Maybe they're hibernating since it is so cold.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      What prompted me to write that, Hyphen, was my own terrible, hard dirt in the back yard of this rental. I tried to grow flowers in it, but it just didn't work. It is way too hard. Thanks for the kudos!

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 4 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      Our compost pile attracts worms naturally but I suppose more urban environments might need help. We often rescue worms from the sidewalk and my son places them in the compost pile. He loves doing that. Thanks for a wonderful tutorial on worm farming. Never thought I would say something like that!

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Yes, Mama Kim, you can, very easily. Good luck, and if you play your cards right and recycle, too, if you have that where you live, it will cut your trash by 75%. I only toss out a small bag once a month.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Billy, I will watch for it when I get out of work. There's so much organic waste that we can easier dispose of that will do so much for us. My mother had a compost and a new surprise would come up every year.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, rbm. Those worms and larvae sure make short things of food, and the soil is so good.

    • Mama Kim 8 profile image

      Sasha Kim 4 years ago

      My garden has been growing and I've been thinking about raising worms for it... with your hub I think I can do it ^_^ Thanks for all the great information! Voting this up and useful!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I missed this one; great article and something we do here in our yard for the garden. I actually stopped by to mention that I will be highlighting you in my hub on Saturday. Hope you enjoy it!

    • rbm profile image

      rbm 4 years ago

      We also have lots of worms in our compost, as well as black soldier fly larvae. It's amazing how fast the worms and larvae eat our kitchen waste! The compost pile is visibly dwindling within just a matter of days, and turns into beautiful soil at the bottom very quickly. Great hub, voted useful.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, moonlake. The American Robins love to get worms, and many other birds will forage in leaves for assorted bugs, too. Enjoy your fishing!

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      We catch night crawlers in our yard at night for fishing. I'm always happy to see worms in our garden. The birds have been digging in the fall leaves lately and we think their after the worms under the leaves. Interesting hub voted uP!

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      That's a very smart move, Kathy. Fishing worms will survive in compost quite well and breed, but manure worms can't be used for fishing as they will die.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Joyce. If you have one, you should have more. A good sign for worms is dark, rich soil that is easy to dig through.

    • writer20 profile image

      Joyce Haragsim 4 years ago from Southern Nevada

      Good hub. I felt excited when I found one worm in our flower bed, thinking there must be more. But I was wrong, they maybe there hiding deeper than I dig.

      Voted up useful and interesting, Joyce.

    • kathyinmn profile image

      Kathy 4 years ago from Jordan MN

      very good article. I found it interesting. I use to throw my unused worms into my compost bin when I was done fishing. The large worms ate the compost quickly and when I went fishing again I had a bunch of worms that was easy to get to.