Keep Your Worms Happy

two hands holding dirt with worms in it

Earthworms are great for your garden. They eat dead plant materials, produce nutrient-filled castings, and aerate the ground as they crawl through it, allowing water to flow and roots to flourish. In a compost bin, they can accelerate the breakdown organic substances into fertile soil.

There are thousands of types of earthworms, and they all like the same type of moist, rich dirt. Regardless of what type of earthworms you’re caring for, here are some pointers to keep them happy.

Build a Home

Even more important than giving them earth to inhabit is providing worms with food. Decomposing material is their favorite lunch, so they find soil with compost mixed in especially appealing. Attract worms to your yard and gardens (or support the ones already there) by incorporating organic materials like compost and manure to your dirt.

Your compost system is also a good place to integrate worms directly, as are any ground level or raised garden beds. To cultivate worms on their own, churning out castings you can spread around later (or just multiplying your fish bait), you can build a basic, portable, and easy-to-maintain enclosure.

Step 1 - Build a Box

The box can be small enough to take fishing with you, or large enough that it will remain stationary in a corner of your yard. Having a lid helps protect the worms from threats like predators and harsh weather, and gives them the darkness they prefer.

Step 2 - Provide Drainage

Drill holes throughout the bottom of your box so water can run out. Although worms appreciate damp soil, they don’t want to be submerged, so drainage is important. Also drill holes in the sides to provide adequate airflow. Use a small bit, though, to make sure your holes are too skinny for worms to fit through.

puppy watching man drill

Step 3 - Fill with Bedding

Layer the inside of the box with a combination of garden soil and dead leaves. Start with a layer of soil at the bottom, then add a thick layer of leaves, and keep alternating dirt and leaves until the box is full. The dirt gives the worms a place to burrow, while the leaves provide a steady source of food.

Step 4 - Soak with Water

Thoroughly soak the mixture and let the water drain out the bottom. Repeat this process a few times to make sure everything is adequately moistened.

Step 5 - Add Worms

If you are collecting worms from around your yard, use caution when pulling them from the ground. Clear the dirt from above them and allow them to relax once you start pulling them out. They'll break in half if you tug too aggressively.

Alternately, you can order worms online, or pick some up in the fishing department at your local store.

Add your lively, plump, healthy worms to their new home, and sprinkle them with a light stream of water. Then put the lid on and allow them time to burrow to the bottom.

Always place a heavy rock on the lid to discourage raccoons and other critters that would love to feast on your squiggly friends. You can also store your worms inside a shed for protection.

leaves and dirt

Step 6 - Replace Bedding

Worms contaminate their space with feces and need a constant supply of food, so for maximum vermicultural health, pull your worms out of the box every three to five days and replace the bedding inside the box. During these transitions, you may want to add a new worm or two to your garden beds, tackle kit, or compost heap.

A typical garden variety worm takes about three months to start generating offspring. During their lifespan of around two to five years, they'll make two or three cocoons every week, each of which will produce about three hatchlings in approximately 11 weeks.

Those hatchlings will themselves take three months to start producing more, so if you begin your cycle with young worms, you should hit a tipping point in six to nine months, at which point your worm population will be expanding healthily enough to hold up to aggressive redistribution. If you start with mature worms, you should reach this point by six months in.

Special Care

Worms don't like extreme weather, so protect them from cold and heat. Although they will likely survive temps ranging from just above freezing to around 90 degrees, they are happiest between 50 and 70 degrees. Be sure to keep the soil moist but not soggy so they don't dry out. During extreme heat, or whenever your worms look a little lifeless, pull them out and put them in a bucket of cool water for about 30 minutes.

To give your earthworm population the best environment to flourish once incorporated in your gardens, make sure your soil is organically rich and pH balanced.

Worms are great for grassy areas, too, just expect some short term yellowing from their castings as they work their way deeper into the soil.