Welcome back to the fourth and final installment of the Earthworm Hospitality Guide. I’ll wrap this up with a few common-sense suggestions for keeping earthworms happy and making them feel at home:
First, don’t till. Don’t double-dig. This may seem counter-intuitive, but trust me, that happy underground community of worms, mites, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and other tiny critters does not want to be disturbed by the tines of your spading fork. I have a friend who tills his vegetable garden twice a year; he once told me that there are practically no worms left in his soil. He learned a tough lesson: nothing will send your new friends running for the door faster. If you have heavy clay soil, you may need to dig new beds once, but only once. After that, just pile mulch on top and leave it at that. If you want to learn more about no-till, no-dig gardening methods, check out the Lasagna Gardening books.
Second, when you mow the lawn, set the blade a little higher and leave the grass clippings on the grass to decompose. Don’t serve your worm guests chemical lawn fertilizers, some of which are touted for their ability to remove pesky worms from nice clean golf courses. Ask your nursery to recommend an organic lawn food or try one of the lawn products from Gardens Alive. If you have access to a good source of weed-free compost or manure, rake it lightly into your lawn twice a year as a special treat, once in spring and again in fall. (This is a great use for worm castings if you keep a worm bin, by the way. You can even mix castings with water and douse your lawn with them.)
And finally, avoid chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, all of which work against the kind of healthy, organic ambiance you’re trying to create. Worms thrive in a balanced ecosystem that includes a wide range of insects and soil microbes. In other words, they won’t be happy unless you let them invite all their friends. If you’re not sure how to kick the chemical habit, give the nice folks at Gardens Alive a call and they’ll suggest some healthy alternatives.
Richard, all my best to you and your worms, and thanks for asking. May you have a long and happy life together.