“A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.”William Shakespeare on the earthworm’s transformative power
Recently I thought about getting one of those worm farms and doing what is called vermiculture. I have decided that instead of buying a bin with worms, I would let the earthworms that are already in my soil improve the soil directly in my garden.
Recycling with Earthworms
Vermicomposting is a process that relies on earthworms and microorganisms to help stabilize active organic materials and convert them to a valuable soil amendment and source of plant nutrients. In many ways, the process is easier than composting. Earthworms will consume most organic materials, including food preparation residuals and leftovers, scrap paper, animal manure, agricultural crop residues, organic byproducts from industries, and yard trimmings.
Up to 60 percent of what Americans discard are organic materials. Instead of disposing of food scraps and yard wastes in landfills even from high-rise apartments, the materials can be made into vermicompost. When vermicompost is added to soil, it boosts the nutrients available to plants and enhances soil structure and drainage. Vermicompost increases plant growth and suppresses plant disease and insect pest damage.
Vermiculture, at its heart, is very simple. Put organic materials on the surface of materials where red worms live and let them do their thing. You can purchase earthworms, but I haven’t done that. Instead, I have a system in which I feed the earthworms that are already growing in my garden soil!
Here’s How I Started My Version of Vermiculture
Last summer I covered one of my smaller garden beds with grass clippings and then during December, I dug what remained of the grass clippings into the soil. After digging the soil, I started putting my kitchen scraps into the garden and allowed my chickens to pick those scraps and eat what they wanted. What the chickens didn’t eat along with their manures were left for the earthworms that were already present in the soil. Around the first of February, after we had several days of above-normal temperatures for that time in the winter, I dug the remaining scraps into the soil. This digging also introduced more air into the soil as well. Even though it was winter, I found numerous earthworms growing in the soil, mixing their excrement into it and making their own air pockets.
In Situ Vermiculture: Food for the Soil, Food for my Chickens
The chickens came running when I started digging in the garden bed and decided that the earthworms should be their food. They started pulling worms out of each clod of soil that I loosened. I didn’t figure that the birds would eat all of them, so I let them. I am sure that there are a lot more worms where those came from and earthworms are protein-rich. Therefore, by eating the earthworms, the chickens cut down on the cost of their feed anyway. With the cost of feed lately, I’ll take any help I can get! (I dug in the garden this morning and sure enough, there were still plenty of worms left!)
This experience that I have with this situ vermiculture bed is one of the things that I love about organic gardening. I’m working with nature rather than against it. We, humans, are at the top of the food chain and the chickens are just below us. The earthworms are below the chickens and the micro-organisms that decompose the food scraps are even lower than the earthworms. When I’m working with nature, the items that I don’t eat become food for those at the bottom of the food chain, and nutrients aren’t used up. Instead, they are passed up the chain as food for the next organism in the process. We simply must insert ourselves into the life cycle and consider no organic material as waste, but something for some other organism to consume.
When the gardening season comes along, I will benefit from sharing with those worms and the chickens because I will benefit from the plants that will grow next year on the improved soil. In addition, I will be able to benefit even sooner from the eggs produced by those chickens that ate those earthworms!
Do you want to grow a garden this year? Have you thought about how you’re going to improve the soil? Have you thought about raising worms? Do you have any experience with vermiculture? If you have any comments or questions, please share them below!
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