Most people know that earthworms are a component of healthy soil. As they work their way through the dirt, worms aerate the soil and increase the soil’s ability to hold nutrients. The castings excreted by earthworms are an excellent fertilizer. Worms can also make soil more hospitable to plants by helping sandy soil to retain water or by improving the drainage of heavy clay soil.
Gardeners who use raised beds or containers can also enjoy the benefits of worms even if they rely on bagged topsoil or potting soil. If you simply place your raised bed full of new soil over existing soil, you can help worms find their way to your plants by tilling the old and new soil together before planting. Amending the soil with a generous amount of compost will also attract worms. If you use a raised bed with a bottom barrier, you can “transplant” some worms into the bed from another part of your yard or purchase worms from an organic farm supply outlet. Container gardeners can get the benefits of worms in their pots and patio gardens by mixing a few cups of store-bought worm castings into the potting soil.
More adventurous home gardeners might try worm composting, also known as vermiculture. Basically, worm composting involves maintaining a bin of live worms and feeding them certain kinds of table-scraps and other materials like shredded newspaper to keep them happy and healthy. The worms eat your garbage, digest it, and then produce nutrient-rich castings for your garden! A word of caution: care must be taken to ensure ideal conditions for the worms to thrive and to minimize the chances of insect infestation of the worm bin.
For more information on worm composting, visit the Clemson Cooperative Extension website at Worm Composting.