More Worm Hospitality: The Buffet

2004 is blowing into Eureka on the tail end of a windstorm that rattled the windows and threw still more rain against the roof. The lid to the worm bin turned up yesterday, so they are once again snug in their quarters and no worse for wear after whatever New Year’s Eve celebration they might have had last night. Back in Texas, it was considered good luck to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day; although Scott can’t stand them, he takes one every January 1 like medicine. Today I’m going to make black-eyed pea and lentil soup; maybe I’ll feed a spoonful to the worms.

Speaking of food, here is the third installment of my Earthworm Hospitality Guide: The Buffet.

You might not think that earthworms are finicky eaters. After all, they eat dirt. But a hostess has a responsibility to make sure her guests are well-fed and that their dietary preferences are, within reason, taken into account. The layer of mulch we talked about yesterday is an important first step, but there are a couple more suggestions for feeding your worms.

First, check the pH level of your soil. You can do this with a pH meter or a test kit from a nursery, or you can check with your county agricultural agent about having your soil tested at a laboratory. You might already know whether the soil in your neighborhood tends to be acid or alkaline. If everyone on your street grows rhododendrons, azaleas, and camellias, for example, acid soil is probably widespread. Worms like sweet (not acidic) soil, so you may need to add bone meal or lime to reduce the acidity. However, keep in mind that acid-loving plants like the ones I mentioned above need an acid soil to access nutrients and stay healthy. So you might consider sweetening the soil in your vegetable beds or wherever you plan annual flowers and bulbs, but leaving the larger landscape plants alone. If you do add bone meal or lime, scratch it gently into the soil and/or cover it with a layer of mulch. The worms will carry it deep underground where it will offer the maximum benefits to your plants. Follow instructions on the package for quantities.

Another delicious dish you can serve your earthworm guests comes in the form of particular plant roots that are considered a delicacy in the worm world. Clover, vetch, ryegrass, and fava will loosen the soil, suppress weeds, prevent erosion, and attract worms like crazy. These seeds are often sold as cover crop mixes and are intended to be planted in an unused areas of the garden, like a vegetable bed that’s getting a rest for the winter, or a new section of the garden that you want to fill with flowers next year. Typically cover crops are planted in the fall, but you can buy spring and summer mixes. Let the cover crops grow for one season and then cut them down with a string trimmer before they bloom, and either leave the vegetation on the ground or toss it onto the compost pile. The roots will decompose underground, leaving plenty of organic matter for worms to devour. Some gardeners plant permanent cover crops that don’t get cut down or tilled under—for example, clover works great in orchards, where the flowers attract bees, the dense vegetation suppresses weeds and holds in moisture, the roots fix nitrogen, and the worms set up camp for good.

There is an old saying among hostesses that guests, like fish, start to stink after three days, but this is certainly not the case with earthworms. Once you’ve invited them over, you’ll never want them to leave. Tune in tomorrow for Part Four: Making Your Guests Feel at Home.