Home & Garden: Worship the worm

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Successful gardens, yards and compost piles can thank nature's greatest recyclers--worms!

by Annie Spiegelman, the Dirt Diva

Ecotonix (www.ecotonix.com), the green product developent company that brought us the award-winning Green Cycler, a kitchen pre-composter that shreds food scraps, has come up with something even more amusing for dirt-lovers: Worm Bombs! “With our Worm Bombs launch, we plan to continue building awareness about the importance of recycling food waste back into our gardens,” says Gail Loos, inventor of the Green Cycler and Worm Bombs. “Worms are the hardest workers in the soil and now gardeners can explode their worm population in order to increase soil fertility. With Worm Bombs, you can plant worms as easily as seeds. These cleverly packaged pods will hatch in about three weeks in your garden soil. Newly hatched worms are far more adaptable to their environment and will start to naturally enrich and rejuvenate soils immediately.”

OK, worm nerds. I know you’re wondering: Which species of worms?

Inside each Worm Bomb are six worm species: Aporrectodea caliginosa (grey worm), Dendrodaena veneta (European nightcrawler), Eisenia andrei (tiger worm), Eisenia fetida (red wiggler worm), Lumbrieus terrestries (common earthworm/nightcrawler) and Lumbricus rubellus (red marsh worm/European earthworm). Loos created multiple species, since each of these will thrive in differing conditions and at different soil depths. Each Worm Bomb contains more than 50 cocoons with five to 10 eggs inside. Up to 500 baby worms will hatch in just weeks.

Not a fan of bringing out-of-state worms to California? Soil scientist Stephen Andrews agrees. “I want my local worms wiggling their way through the pore space of my soil rather than having some imports invading and taking over,” Andrews says. “My approach—feed the soil, and the worms will come. Compost, compost, compost!” OK, Dirt Dude, but I’m still getting one!

Why should we worship the worm? Because they are eating machines. By tunneling through hard soil, worms help air and water enter, as they break down organic matter into nutrients that plants can use. In the process, they secrete slime, which contains nitrogen, one of the most important nutrients for healthy plants. After all that pigging-out, they produce pinhead-sized excrement called “casting,” which fertilizes your plants organically. One pound of red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) in a compost pile can eat nearly 65 pounds of food scraps in three to four months. They are busy working 24/7 in your yard for free!

It’s said that in the late 1800s, British scientist and brainiac Charles Darwin spent nearly 40 years studying earthworms. Obviously, this respected scholar and naturalist had way too much time on his hands. He SO would have benefited from Wikipedia. Maybe then he wouldn’t have bored his friends to tears for 40 years with his controversial theories of evolution, and signed copies of his painstakingly detailed but endearing tome, The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, with Observations of their Habits. A real page-turner …

Loos, who believes that every experienced gardener is a worm fan—or should be, came up with the Worm Bomb idea while traveling around the country telling the Green Cycler story. She realized three important facts:

  1. Most first-time or failed, wannabe composters neatly bottle up their leaves and food scraps in a big plastic bin on legs. Their all-too-common mistake is lack of contact with the ground. She preaches the importance of contact with the earth when composting. “Let the earth, bacteria, fungi and worms do the hard work; you simply add feed, moisture and movement.”
  2. Adult worms are difficult to ship, store and sell. Worm cocoons solve these problems. Further, worm hatchlings acclimate easily to where they hatch and they stay in their cocoons until conditions are right—i.e. the soil is warm and moist. And since they have not been raised in a manure bed, for example, they will thrive where planted. Adult worms are not as happy to change—much like humans!
  3. Many yards and gardens have been denuded of worms by over-application of chemicals and under-application of organic matter. The quickest solution to converting a lawn or garden from chemical reliance to organic growth is through the application and feeding of worms. Multiple field tests have shown that plots can be converted to organic in one growing season by adding one worm cocoon every square-foot. Of course, the worms must be fed with organic material and all chemicals avoided during the conversion. Worms can even convert a Superfund site.

“During development, we were drawing upon successful studies conducted by the EPA and leading universities since the early 1970s,” Loos says. “That’s when the idea of planting encapsulated worm cocoons was first proposed and tested. This idea has been used in commercial applications for 40-plus years. We are the first to add worm-nurturing bedding and a compostable (edible) ball to the mix, thus improving the overall rate of hatchling success.”

Loos likes to share a story from a teacher who has won major environmental education awards by teaching kids about vermiculture (worm farming): “The year before we got the worms, we just had a garden, and I remember some of the boys found bugs and worms and tried to squash them on the sidewalk,” says Mark Mailhot, an elementary school teacher at Montgomery Village School in Orangeville, Ontario. “The year after we got the worm bins, it was funny to see the same boys digging through the dirt, carefully pulling up worms and setting them aside until they had finished tilling, and then distributing them all over the garden. I could see they had developed an understanding that these little creatures were part of something bigger.”

You can find Worm Bombs locally at Sloat Garden Center (for locations, visit sloatgardens.com), or online at greencycler.com for $14.99 per bomb.

Tell Annie how your worms are doing at thedirtdiva@earthlink.net.

Get ready for the spectactular Indian Valley Organic Farm & Garden Spring Plant Sale 2015 on Saturday and Sunday, April 18 and 19, and Saturday, April 25; 10am–3pm. Shop for plants and enjoy free workshops and family-friendly activities. College of Marin, Indian Valley Campus, 1800 Ignacio Blvd., Novato. For more information about the farm, visit marin.edu/IVC/organic-farm.html.

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