It’s easy to forget the worms in our garden – after all, out of sight, out of mind, right? But worms are quite literally the foundation to a healthy, thriving garden. So let’s burrow down into the detail of how to encourage these magnificent creatures in our gardens!
Why Worms are Wonderful
Worms can absorb oxygen through their skin, can eat their own bodyweight in soil in just one day and, despite having no eyes, navigate by sensing light and vibrations in the soil.
Earthworms are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female organs. However, that doesn’t mean you can cut them in half to make two worms! That’s a myth. So please, treat them with the care and respect they deserve!
There are many types of earthworm, ranging in colour from pink to grey to red, and more besides. Some types live close to the soil surface, breaking down leaf litter and other plant debris to recycle nutrients back into the soil.
Others are found throughout the soil, eating it as they pass through. Their movement mixes up the soil while creating a network of burrows that help water and air to move through the soil and, in doing so, improve conditions for plant roots.
And then there are composting worms, like the super-hungry tiger worm. These worms love nutrient-rich organic matter, so dig down in any healthy-functioning compost heap and you’ll likely find some. Composting worms speed decomposition and, again, do a fantastic job of converting organic matter back into available plant food.
Worm casts are among the very best plant food, forming a fine-textured natural fertiliser absolutely loaded with nutrients, microbes and beneficial bacteria. And the worms themselves provide natural food for animals higher up the food chain, including birds, frogs and toads. Many of these creatures are hugely beneficial to gardeners, making significant dents into populations of pests such as snails, slugs and weevils too.
How to Help Worms
Love your soil, and the worms in it, and everything else will follow! The simplest way to boost the worm population is to keep your soil covered at all times. This is one reason why vegetable growing areas are one of the very best places in the garden for worms – all that organic matter works to create ideal conditions for worms as well as your plants.
The worms in your soil will gradually incorporate any organic matter you lay on the surface. And the more you add, the more worms you’ll get. Add this organic matter whenever the ground is bare, usually in the autumn after most of the season’s crops are done, but also during the summer as a top-up mulch that locks in soil moisture and continues to feed the soil and its worms.
Digging disturbs the soil, ripping at its fabric and destroying much of the good work of all those earthworms. So, wherever possible, don’t do it! Just lay your organic matter on top of the soil and let the worms dig it in for you. This is absolutely the best way to build long-term soil structure and a vibrant matrix of soil life that together supports the optimal growth of your plants.
Of course, you can’t avoid digging entirely – for example when lifting potatoes or digging larger planting holes. So how do you avoid hurting the worms when you have to dig? Just use a fork instead of a spade whenever possible. It’s a simple swap that will significantly reduce the risk of accidentally slicing one in half.
Improve Soil Conditions for Worms
Natural surfaces encourage living soils. If you have areas of paving or other artificial surfaces you can create areas rich in worms in other parts of your garden. Don’t worry about the types of worms you have, just their general concentration. If you can’t find any, it may be that your soil is very dry. Worms like moist soil, so thoroughly water the ground before applying mulches then check soil moisture periodically and water if it does get very dry.
Compost is a fantastic environment for worms, and a great way to nourish your worms once it’s spread out on garden beds. There’s no time like the present to start a new compost heap, and don’t forget to collect fallen leaves in autumn to make leaf compost, or leafmould.
How do you know when your compost is ready? Use the worms in your compost bin or heap as a guide! The fully decomposed material should sit below the line of active worms, so dig this out then carefully return the worms and all the non-decomposed material above them to continue breaking down.
And then there are lawns. Lawns left to grow a little longer offer better conditions down at the ground. Then when you do cut the grass, don’t collect the clippings, just let them fall to the ground where they’ll return their goodness to the soil – and feed the worms!
Worms are sensitive souls, so ditch the weedkillers, artificial pesticides and other unnatural chemical-laden products, which could harm them and other wildlife. Wherever possible, work with nature, opting for natural, organic means of weed and pest control.
Worms are the unsung heroes of any productive garden. I just love ’em! Tell me why you love your worms, and what you plan to do to help them. Whatever you do, they’ll always return the favour!