It’s raining, and you step out onto the porch to look at the garden getting a drink from the sky. In the dirt you find little worms popping up out of the soil! And there’s tons of them!
This is a VERY good sign. These wigglers take very good care of your soil. Their poop, usually called “castings” is super beneficial for soil. Plants LOVE the bioavailability and the microbiome that worms create, just by doing their thing.
People have lots of questions about these strange guests in their gardens. Here’s some common questions about earthworms, answered.
What can worms teach us?
Through worms we learn about composting, and biology. We can learn lots about recycling food waste and paper that would end up in the landfill into food for the garden. We are also given the opportunity to learn about the relationship between creatures and our soil, how they work together to grow beautiful plants, and why all of these things are so important. Raising worms is a great way to build a relationship between your family and the Earth. Let’s get our hands dirty, shall we?
Why are earthworms slimy?
Earthworms depend on moisture to move through the soil and protect their skin. They secrete a wet, slimy substance to help them lubricate their skin so they can slip through the dirt while they are munching
If earthworms are good for my soil, how do I attract them to my garden?
Earthworms love to eat. They eat any available organic matter in the soil. Anything from leaves, grass clippings, paper, or old produce is on the proverbial table. I find in general that soil that is mulched regularly with bark, pine needles, hay, straw, leaves, clippings, or compost tends to have a lot of earthworms.
The key to attracting them and then keeping them, is giving them something to eat and soil they can navigate to get to the goods. Earthworms don’t eat live plants, so you don’t have to worry about them munching on roots and stems of your prized garden plants. They much prefer to accelerate the decomposition process of things that are dead.
Worms don’t like really wet, compacted soil. If this sounds like your soil, you might have to consider mulching and mixing up your garden to entice more helpful worms.
Do earthworms lay eggs?
Yes they do! And here’s a bunch we found in our garden one day while pulling weeds. (see image, on the left).
Earthworms are simultaneous hermaphrodites. That means they have active sex organs for both male and female at the same time. When two earthworms mate, each earthworm is able to lay eggs, and each set of eggs get fertilized. Each egg hatches about five ½”-1” worms. If the conditions are not right for hatching, the eggs can sit dormant until the conditions are right again. How cool is that?
Can’t I make two earthworms by cutting one in half?
Contrary to popular belief, cutting an earthworm in half will not make two worms. Although an earthworm can regenerate a tail, the severed tail will die. It’s kind of like a lizard’s tail in that way.
Do worm castings need to be composted before I use them in the garden?
The castings come out of the worm ready for use in the garden! Castings are “ABC” – Already Been Chewed – and now the nutrients they contain are in a form that your plants can absorb directly from the castings!
Can I raise my own?
Of course. The practice of raising worms is called vermiculture, and using worms to eat your kitchen scraps, chemical-free lawn waste, and paper scraps is called vermicomposting.
Worms are raised either a single large bin (or bed in the ground), or a series of bins, buckets or boxes if you’re really fancy. It doesn’t have to be an intense operation – my dad raised worms for the castings and for fishing for many years, and he used an old broken refrigerator with some air holes in the sides, and the door served as the lid! That was some Florida back-country ingenuity!
Vermiculture is also an amazing teaching tool for kids!
We hope you learned a little about earthworms and how they help your garden! As always, if you have questions we’re here to help. Thanks! Marissa
Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply
I'm an over-educated, passionate, gardening and pet enthusiast, and I have found the perfect job! My writing is based on my studies in Biology and Health, and my experiences from gardening with my family as a child.
The great thing about gardening is that it is a life-long learning process. The many blunders and successes of my own gardening projects over the years have been invaluable to me. The late, great, J.C. Raulston once said, "If you're not killing plants, you're not stretching yourself as a gardener." Learn by doing, gain knowledge from the failures, but more importantly, relish the successes, (because they're delicious!) Thanks for reading!
Special thank you to Abby's Farms, where the photo on the left was taken. Shell's Feed & Garden Supply sponsors the chickens and chicken coops there. Visit their website here.