Question:Once you get the garden soil layered & prepared, do you purchase worms to get a good start of them to begin with, or do they just appear from the surrounding soil to enrich your vegetable garden?
2 years ago, I purchased several hundred dollars' worth of worm castings with worm eggs in them to place in my garden and compost piles just to speed my soil improvement process along since the soil was brand new and needed a bit of worm help. What I have learned since may help you decide how to go about this yourself.
I am quite passionate about my worms :) since they are such a central key to successful gardening. There are several ways to go about growing a worm supply for your garden depending on how much time you have to get started.
Worms are everywhere there is moist soil and plant roots or decomposing plant matter. Pile some wet leaves under a tree and wait a week or so. Worms will most likely show up at the bottom of the pile as long as the moisture level is sufficient to their liking. To cultivate your first batch of worms dig a hole in a shady spot of your garden or yard, toss in some fruit and kitchen scraps, cover the scraps with an inch or two of the soil you dug out of the hole and wait a week or two. Then with a shovel or digging fork, turn the pile a bit to see if there is a population of worms happening. In most cases there will be.
Worms multiply fairly rapidly if fed properly and taken care of. A worm cultivation spot, as a hole in the ground, is one of the most ideal ways to cultivate worms. It is best if it is in the shade and under a tree or bush (where many worms already reside around their roots), but if covered with lots of straw or hay and/or soil they can be cultivated in the middle of your garden itself. This is ideal since this is where you want them to live eventually anyway.
I used the pathways of my garden and simply buried my kitchen scraps along with some additional worms/castings from my former worm cultivating spots/bins and some leaves, garden cuttings, straw, alfalfa, gravel, twigs, etc. in holes in the isle ways and covered them with a few inches of soil and pathway bark.
The next garden compost hole was made close to the first one and I kept adding the new holes so that the worms from the former scraps would migrate over to the new scraps when the first was finished. Many of the worms would find their way to the roots of my garden plants from these underground holes bringing nutrition and friendly bacteria with them.
This process is also a great way to prepare a new garden bed during the season prior to actually planting in that bed.
Starting a Worm Cultivation Bin
It is possible to start a worm cultivation bin, made of wood or just a hole in the ground, with specific scraps of food that worms love and which will draw the red wrigglers from your neighbors all around. As they multiply from your food, they will spread back out and eventually (over the span of a few years) spread into all of your neighbors yards again, improving the quality of their soil and plants
They go where the food is that they like. Worms love melons, fruit, raw eggs, avocados, fish and other sea creatures, leaves, seaweed, dried grass, raw milk or whey, nettles, powdered herbs and SumaRaj tea grounds (the adaptogenic herbs in the tea makes them multiply rapidly).
The Layering Process
Layer an inch or two of scraps with an inch or so of garden soil as you build up a worm cultivation hole or bin. This layering process increases the microbial and mineral presence in the final soil product. It also speeds the decomposition of foodstuffs the worms are consuming. Another advantage to layering with soil is that the top layer of soil prevent gnats and odors from developing.
I like to place gravel or lava rock and small tree branches or fruit tree cuttings into the bottom of my worm cultivation hole or bin. Worms love to hang out around gravel and wood. They require clay minerals like the Silica Rich and Liquid Gold and biological additives like raw milk whey, honey, or molasses to proliferate rapidly.
The twigs are there more for the fungi which feed off of the carbonaceous woody fiber. This adds a beneficial component to the soil in significant ways. Fungi improve root growth and overall plant health.
By layering your garden bed first with gravel or rock, then with twigs and branches, then with a layer of seaweeds, fruit and other forms of worm food, then a single pocket of the worms (from the bottom of the 2 lb. bag), followed by your upper soil composition, the worms will multiply throughout the year and provide a source of nourishment to the roots of your plants.
The sharpness of the rock is also not a problem for the worms. Once the soil is in place the rocks will not be moving and the worms love to tunnel between the rocks in the cavities provided by the uneven edges. They add beneficial bacteria to the rock surfaces which in turn assist in breaking down small amounts of the rock surface. The minerals derived from this process result in bioavailable minerals for your plants.
Acid or Alkaline Environments
Worms work in both acid and alkaline environments. Their job is to balance the soil medium to the unique needs of a plant's roots, so in some cases this will mean creating an acidic environment for a certain plant like blueberries which require such. They know how to use the decomposing material to the benefit of the plants above.
A combination of deciduous leaves and evergreen needles work well in a compost bin. The tree leaves to avoid will be the walnut having known anti-parasite properties, though with time, soil bacteria will break down even these.
Citrus peels begin to deteriorate rather quickly in a compost bin developing a moldy skin soon thereafter. This mold is what converts plant matter into nutritious soil. I have never found citrus to impact the microbial life or worms in any way, especially if sufficient soil is layered in between the food stock. This keeps the mold under the soil where it does its best work converting the peels to nutrition for your future plants.
Worms and fungi transport minerals and other nutrients across surprising distances to feed the needs of the nearby plants. Worms can travel 3-12 feet in any direction and fungi mycelia web structures can stretch for miles.
If You Have Enough Time You Can Grow Your Own
My own compost/worm castings have been grown in this manner, so they make an excellent inoculant for a new worm bin or garden bed of both friendly bacteria and worms. You can also grow your own if desired and if you have enough time to wait the 3-6 months for them to multiply to sufficient quantities for your purposes. Just bury as many of the food stock/compost mentioned in a damp hole in the ground that is placed in the shade near a bush or tree and cover with straw and dirt. Keep at an average level of moisture, neither dry nor soaked.
Let the worms mature the compost for 1-3 months as you feed the growing colonies with additional food from time to time and you will have an excellent worm nest. It takes about 3 months or less for the worms to double. As long as they have food and moisture they will continue to multiply.
When you are ready to harvest the worm castings for your garden dig a hole next to the first hole and the worms will move to the fresh food. Then you can spread the worm castings from the first hole over your garden, onto your potted plants, or use it in a compost tea for a foliar spray. The now empty first hole will contain a rich biological inoculate (and a number of starter worms) for fresh compost to begin a new worm cultivator spot. If you leave some of the composted soil at the bottom the worms will live there until the new food is sufficiently decomposed by the bacteria for them to be enticed to go up into the food to do their job.
Bacteria, Nutrients and Humus Matter in the Soil
The worms provide the biology (friendly bacteria) needed by the soil and plants. They also balance the nutrient levels in the soil to match the needs of each plant. Your garden soil around your plants requires soft humus matter within the soil fabric itself for worms to survive there in any great amount. This is done with leaves, garden clippings and dried grass on top of, or mixed in with, the soil during the winter especially, or any time of year if necessary. This becomes a constant supply of food and friendly bacteria for the worms that will be hanging out around the roots of your plants.
Worm Colonies or Nests
If you decide to plant colonies of worms in different spots around your garden it is best to dig a small hole a few inches deep, say 6-12 inches, and fill with almost finished worm bin material loaded with worms still feasting on the mostly decomposed scraps. This approach is preferable to spreading a thin layer of composted material across the garden if the goal is to cultivate mature worms within the garden near your plant roots.
Worms do not like for their biological habitat to undergo radical changes in pH or bacterial composition as it will often result in the disappearance of the mature colonies, leaving only the eggs to hatch in the new environment with an adapted biological constitution to match the new environment.
If, on the other hand, you merely want to inoculate the garden with mineral and bacteria nutrition for your plants and soil, and not attempt to cultivate a worm nest, then spreading or sprinkling a thin layer of worm castings across the garden soil will do wonders for the health and life of your garden.
I would suggest 2 lbs. of worms and castings will be sufficient for sprinkling a small amount over the surface of 50-100 square feet of garden bed, apply weekly biological spray applications to both your garden and your house plants for an entire growing season in addition to sufficient stock of live worms and eggs to quick start a garden bed or compost bin.
Application rate for soil and foliar spray inoculant is 1-3 handfuls of worm castings for 5 gallons of water or compost tea. Strain the mix through a paint strainer or cloth before adding to your sprayer. Otherwise skip the strainer and simply pour the mix on your garden beds and plant roots. Depending on how much of the castings are sprinkled on the surface you may have close to 25-50 spray applications.
In combination with Silica Rich and Liquid Gold you should see dynamic results in your new garden bed this year.
All the best of health and success,
Enjoy the goodness of Nature.
Dynamic Gardening Part 1 - Vermicomposting
Worms in Your Soil are the Prime Indicator of Soil Health
Dynamic Gardening Part 2 – Soil Composition
The Importance of the Soil's Biological Terrain, Soil Composition and Humus Soil Depth on Plant Growth
Dynamic Gardening Part 3 – Build Your Soil
How to Build Your Soil for Maximum Plant Health & Production
Dynamic Gardening Part 4 – Worm Castings
Worm Castings & Red Wrigglers – Your Garden's Best Friends
Let the Natural Balance of Whole Earthen Resources Do the Work For You!
How to achieve mineral balance and the best sources to draw from to ensure ideal mineral ratios in the body overall