Earthworm Hospitality Guide

Richard posted a question yesterday about building up the worm population in his garden soil. Yes, there are plenty of things you can do to attract worms and encourage them to start a family in your flower beds. Once you get me started on this subject, I do tend to ramble, so I think I’ll split this topic up over several days. Here, then, is the first installment of my Earthworm Hospitality Guide:

Part One: Invitations
First of all, there is no need to buy worms to add to your soil. A good hostess does not have to pay her guests to attend her parties. And bringing in strangers can be awkward for everyone involved, as any gardener who has ever bought ladybugs at the nursery knows. The little red-and-black guests have a tendency to dash off as soon as they arrive. How to explain such rudeness? Well, they’re looking for home—some faraway canyon or mountain where they were collected. You’re much better off putting out the kinds of flowers that will endear you to the ladybugs in your own neighborhood. The same is true of worms. Well, worms won’t fly away or even slither away, but they probably won’t enjoy the party as much as the worms that already live in your soil. The trick is to make your local worm population feel welcome.

Having said that, if you really can’t find any worms at all in your soil and you are determined to add some, make sure you are inviting the right sorts of guests. Don’t buy worms at the bait stand or the nursery. Instead, find a pasture or field that is full of worms, cut out a neat chunk—about a cubic foot if possible—of (worm-filled) soil, and lay it carefully in your own garden. A good hostess always gives careful consideration to her seating charts, and you should do the same: Lay your worm-filled soil in prime spots around the garden, where the soil is rich, damp, and unlikely to be disturbed in the near future.

If you do invite worms to your garden party in this way, you’ll be part of a fine old country tradition: About a hundred years ago, farmers in New Zealand impregnated their fields with worms using this method, and the production of ryegrass increased substantially, which meant the ewes had more to eat and there was twice as much wool to clip in winter. The worms fed the grass, the grass fed the ewes, and the ewes fed the farmer, who in turn fed the worms. Now that’s a host who knows how to keep everyone happy.

Tune in tomorrow for Part Two: Party Favors