“Worms are more powerful than the African elephant, and more important to the economy than the cow.” –Charles Darwin
Earthworms have been working in the soil for as long as 120 million years! All over the world, they naturally recycle plant debris into nutrient rich soil. They are constantly burrowing deep into the ground, allowing air to get down to the roots of plants.
Weeding and digging in the garden with children is a lot more exciting when they uncover a small wiggling creature! This discovery does not have to be a scary one (worms don’t bite!) rather an opportunity to admire a species we often overlook. Try holding an earthworm in your hand or place it in your child’s hand. Questions you can ask are: What color is it? Check out the lines that run horizontally down the length of its body, separating it into rings, or segments. Does it have a slightly lighter colored band at one end? Can you tell which end has a mouth?
Without eyes, ears, arms, legs, or a nose worms are primitive and depend on its skin to not only absorb oxygen, but sense light. Sensing light is especially important because their skin is extra sensitive to ultraviolet rays, so exposure to sunlight can be harmful. Garden worms and night crawlers, which live in deep burrows, prefer cooler temperatures. Red worms, commonly referred to as red wigglers, are happy at 55-75 ⁰F.
Worms are not only effective in the garden but can be a great help with composting. Worms, particularly red wigglers, are great at recycling organic material in a process called Vermicomposting! When in a closed container, they will eat your trash (food waste) and produce a great fertilizer for your garden.
Create a worm bin at home! Contained with relatively little maintenance, vermicomposting is a useful and fun way to experience worms, and it can be used all year round! Here is what you will need:
- A flat-bottomed container, at least 8 in. deep, with a lid! (A lid is crucial to keeping it dark inside-also for this reason use a dark, plastic container)
- Old newspaper, fallen leaves and soil, or any combination of these materials for bedding
- Spray bottle, or mister (optional)
- Worms! Experts recommend using red wrigglers (native to Europe). You can order them online or pick them up at a local bait shop
- Worm diet (see below)
Prepare their home!
- Small holes at the bottom of the bin are necessary for drainage. These should not be more than ¼ in. across, and spaced evenly. Be sure to lift the container on a tray or platform to allow drainage.
- Small holes around the sides are necessary for ventilation. Worms need air! A plastic mesh or wire screening can be added over the holes to prevent worms from escaping.
- Fill the bin half way with bedding. Moisten throughout with a spray bottle mister or other method so long as the bedding is not soggy.
- Add worms!
- Cover with a lid and place in a shady spot or cool basement where curious critters cannot reach it.
- Feed your worms a healthy worm diet!
Good Worm Food
Bad Worm Food
Crushed egg shells
Bury food deep into the bedding. Especially if your container is outdoors, this will keep fruit flies from laying eggs and reproducing in your compost bin.
Depending on how big the container, it helps to keep track of which area you are placing food. Also, marking this on a calendar will help you to gauge how much food the worms are eating.
Check on your worms periodically. Mist or water accordingly if you see that the top dries out. The bedding will be replaced in three to six months by rich crumbly worm castings. You can choose to separate the worms from the compost or keep them along with the material you will be using. Either way, refresh the bedding in the bin for future worms. Use the fresh compost in your garden or start an indoor herb garden. Your plants will love the improved soil!