• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education skip experiences global resources cider press projects digital market permies.com private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Anne Miller
  • Pearl Sutton
  • Nicole Alderman
stewards:
  • Mike Haasl
  • r ranson
  • paul wheaton
master gardeners:
  • jordan barton
  • John F Dean
  • Rob Lineberger
  • Carla Burke
  • Jay Angler
gardeners:
  • Greg Martin
  • Ash Jackson
  • Jordan Holland

Worm towns...14 reasons why...and why not...and observations

 
pollinator
Posts: 1507
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, suburban, nearish coast, 50x50, full sun, 40" year-round even distribution
142
kids purity trees urban writing
  • Likes 6
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator


I dont' actually have 14 reasons yet, but I want a rich discussion on worm towns.  I searched permies for "worm town" and all that came up was threads I'd started or threads from the Better World book.  SO...

(first--my super-quick defnition: a 3'-deep hole you backfill with leaves, twigs,m composting food if you have it, and dirt you dug out of it.  You make a bunch in a lawn and it helps the soil quality underneath; I make them anywhere I can.

1. exercise.  I honestly just dig worm towns because it's a workout these days.  I prefer that to riding my bike.  A bike is simple, but a shovel is even simpler.  And as much as I like building up leg strength and lung strength, the stamina I most want is that for farm work, so doing the work I want to be stronger at is the best way to get stronger at it.  It can be aerobic, anaerobic (if I really try--OK, I actually said that just because I couldn't resist in the context of composty stuffs), or chill, depending on the day.  If I have to leave a partway finished hole, I just put branches around it so no one falls in.

2. All of the things Paul and Shawn say in the book--the worms can survive over winter, it's a way to store carbon in the ground, they will (I don't have x-ray vision but I believe it) spread out laterally and turn dirt into good soil.  

3. Therapeutic.  I like digging.  It's actually my favorite activity.  When I have a primal urge to garden and be in touch with the Earth and nature, it's one of the main things I want to do.  So, even if it's not as directly helpful to the garden as I hope and imagine, it will still be warming me once.  Plowing and tilling are somehow attractive, even if I get that they may be very bad for the soil long-term, but digging one time, I get to get my fix of digging.  It's so satisfying.

4.  Waste reclamation--in the urban areas, all those bags of leaves...and I very much doubt we have herbicides on them, especially in places where clearly no one would ever be arsed to spray anything, I feel safe putting that in the ground.  (There's plenty of space for it, when you subtract the rocks.

5. rocks.  Someone was posting that they needed some.  I hear they're having a sale in New Hampshire--we'll pay you to haul away all you can handle.
Seriously, though, they are useful for rock piles, surrounding young trees you don't want the grim lawnmower to reap, banging things sometimes, and they're mostly under ground.  They do take a lot of the fun out of digging, but then you have them, and you may as well use them.

6. I get to see what's going on underground and observe.  Every hole is unique.  I get to observe a bit of the quality of the soil, how deep the tree roots are or aren't going, whether there's a worm or two already down deep underground or not,

7. Water infiltration.  A swale may be a poor choice for the cold climate (Paul's argued this, Ben Falk is pro-swale in VT, jury's out I guess), but even so a worm town can open up some space in otherwise water-deflecting dirt that's just letting everything flow down from parking lot A to parking lot B and thence to the drain into the brook.  Some of that water can now sink into the hole of loose soil and leaves.

8. It's one of the few things I _can_ do in the food forest I live near.  There's nothing to do.  No work. I want to feel useful and get some progress.  I may have done some in other places.   I have a friend, let's say, who may or may not have dug one in the side yard of the apartment building here under the mulch where nothing is growing.  (10x50 region of mulch).  Hypothetically.

9. It's the only thing I can do _now_ that will really get under the 3' frost mark for winter--daikons are expensivish and I'd have to send away for them, and even with Weirdvember weather I don't think they'd get down to below 3 feet in the time we have left before the next frost.  My shovel can.

I gotta run for now but I'm sure I have a few more.  ANyone else?

Has anyone else found worms down about 2'? roots? what is going on in your soil depths that's striking or informative?
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
pollinator
Posts: 1507
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, suburban, nearish coast, 50x50, full sun, 40" year-round even distribution
142
kids purity trees urban writing
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
PS and along with observations of the hole, has anyone seen long-term impacts of this? any negative effects that would be worth tweaks? any surprises??
 
pollinator
Posts: 11802
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
1051
cat forest garden fish trees chicken fiber arts wood heat greening the desert
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
How does one make a Worm Town that doesn't look like a big ugly hole in the lawn?

 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
pollinator
Posts: 1507
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, suburban, nearish coast, 50x50, full sun, 40" year-round even distribution
142
kids purity trees urban writing
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Post hole digger.  And I would think removing turf first and replace turf after.   Didnt quite work at my parents' house but it I'd been able to follow up soon after I might have been able to save the turf piece from wandering off.  Not sure where it went.
 
gardener
Posts: 3054
Location: Central Texas zone 8a
710
cattle chicken bee sheep
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I often thought  about digging extra holes when planting something like a peach tree. Space them around the tree so the roots hit them 1,2 3 years later. Gradually filling them with kitchen scraps till they are full.

Cows have been the reason why i have not but i am currently fencing in a food forest terrace area. I may give it a try.
 
master pollinator
Posts: 461
201
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I fear I don't have anything much to say about worm towns just yet other than I first read about the idea in Paul and Shawn's book and immediately thought, "Hey that's neat.  I want to try that."  Alas, I have not yet tried it and now my ground is frozen and covered in white so this will have to wait until spring.  

I do know the area I want to try it in.  The soil there is just generally weak.  Most of the rest of my property can be lush with weeds if nothing else, but not this area.  Even the weeds struggle here.  I believe this is probably due to all the 18 yard dump trucks that drove over it dumping fill dirt in the zone which was later used to build the hill around my earth sheltered studio.  (Yeah, I know trucking in a hill to build an earth sheltered building is not really Permie, but I really wanted one and the deed is now done.)  My guess is that the soil is well compacted with an unhealthy layer of bland fill dirt on top.  Worm towns sound like a great solution for this zone.

Perhaps I'll landscape them with rocks.  I really like rocks and moving heavy rocks around without power equipment, kinda like Joshua likes digging holes.  Unfortunately my property is rock deficient, so yeah, I've had them trucked in like the dirt...
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
pollinator
Posts: 1507
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, suburban, nearish coast, 50x50, full sun, 40" year-round even distribution
142
kids purity trees urban writing
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Come to new England where the rocks are!

I think you can dig even if it's frosty on the surface, how many days of frost have you had?

Reason 10--I can even permaculture in the winter! (Sometimes)



David Huang wrote:I fear I don't have anything much to say about worm towns just yet other than I first read about the idea in Paul and Shawn's book and immediately thought, "Hey that's neat.  I want to try that."  Alas, I have not yet tried it and now my ground is frozen and covered in white so this will have to wait until spring.  

I do know the area I want to try it in.  The soil there is just generally weak.  Most of the rest of my property can be lush with weeds if nothing else, but not this area.  Even the weeds struggle here.  I believe this is probably due to all the 18 yard dump trucks that drove over it dumping fill dirt in the zone which was later used to build the hill around my earth sheltered studio.  (Yeah, I know trucking in a hill to build an earth sheltered building is not really Permie, but I really wanted one and the deed is now done.)  My guess is that the soil is well compacted with an unhealthy layer of bland fill dirt on top.  Worm towns sound like a great solution for this zone.

Perhaps I'll landscape them with rocks.  I really like rocks and moving heavy rocks around without power equipment, kinda like Joshua likes digging holes.  Unfortunately my property is rock deficient, so yeah, I've had them trucked in like the dirt...

 
David Huang
master pollinator
Posts: 461
201
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I probably could break though the frost level of the ground, but I think I'll enjoy the job much more in the early spring when I'm really hankering to get outside and do something.  I'm kinda doubting the worms are looking to move in right now either.

If I did ever move I would look for property with rocks, and some sort of hills/elevation changes.  I'm pretty happy with what I've made here though!  :)  
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
pollinator
Posts: 1507
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, suburban, nearish coast, 50x50, full sun, 40" year-round even distribution
142
kids purity trees urban writing
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Reason 11-- you want to swale but Paul told you not to.  
It seems like the best way of making a swale-like thing that won't be a frost pocket.  It allows a bit more infiltration right where the soil is looseend already, then over time as the worms expand sideways.  It's not as impactful as a swale, perhaps, but if a swale isn't an option then a worm town is. Also, a half-finished swale can be a problem, it needs to be sown to something right away or it'll start eroding and being more a problem than a solution.  But a worm town really isn't going to erode, even if the top (turf) is off it temporarily, it's just a tiny spot of land.  I've gotten pretty good at narrowing the pit to just a foot diameter.

12 -- you don't need a yeoman's plow or even a broadfork

13 it's invisible--unlike the swale, you can do it in the park, you can do it in the dark, you can do it anywhere.  

Wow, I can't believe I've come up with 13 reasons to, just one more to go.

--
for winter swaling, you may need to borrow a worm from an indoor pot, I just happen to have some in some indoor soil that's for transplanting our banana tree.

The other interesting observation in my week--when looking for a worm to populate Worm Town 2 I found none under the leaves, under the mulch pile (3 feet deep), neither the edge nor the centre...but under a big trunk of rotting tree there was one.  I plopped it in the worm town, hope it'll like it enough to stay and multiply.  
 
steward
Posts: 32852
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
hugelkultur trees chicken wofati bee woodworking
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I wrote about this something like ten years ago.  And several people tried it with great success.  

Here's a thread:

https://permies.com/t/3841/lawn-amazing-introducing-earthworm-towns

And from that thread, three pics in a row - before, during and after:







 
paul wheaton
steward
Posts: 32852
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
hugelkultur trees chicken wofati bee woodworking
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I suppose I should start writing another book - to be published in about three years:  permaculture lawns.  There are a lot of permies pushing for zero lawns.   And while they have really good points, I think zero is a bit too far.   At the same time, I think a mowable meadow, or a permaculture lawn would be something where we nurture the soil, the life in the soil and the diversity of plants where we walk.  We could even modify the wheaton eco scale to be more of a permaculture lawn scale.  Keep the bits about dandelions, and then add in oodles of information about what a permaculture lawn at each of the levels would look like.   At level 1 would be a magnificent monocrop.   At level 7 it would have magnificent diversity full of food and herbs and no longer need to be watered.  And the cornerstone would be the worm towns.

 
paul wheaton
steward
Posts: 32852
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
hugelkultur trees chicken wofati bee woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Tyler Ludens wrote:How does one make a Worm Town that doesn't look like a big ugly hole in the lawn?



First, make the hole.  

Next fill it in with what you took out of the hole, plus goodies that worms will like.   So you end up with a bit of a mound in your lawn.  In time it will be less of a mound.

 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
pollinator
Posts: 1507
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, suburban, nearish coast, 50x50, full sun, 40" year-round even distribution
142
kids purity trees urban writing
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Yes, this!  Thank you Paul!  and now hopefully a search for "worm town" will lead to this thread and this picture.  

If you spring for X-ray vision and can show a cross section of underground too that would be great.  But if the grass is green I guess that's all most people really care about.  

paul wheaton wrote:I wrote about this something like ten years ago.  And several people tried it with great success.  

Here's a thread:

https://permies.com/t/3841/lawn-amazing-introducing-earthworm-towns

And from that thread, three pics in a row - before, during and after:







 
gardener
Posts: 3215
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
366
forest garden trees urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Lovely ideas here.
Has anyone tried this with just wood?
I'm thinking bundles of sticks filling  "post holes".
Less for soil building, more for water infiltration.
Might be a good end life for untreated lumber scraps as well.
I use nitrogen rich stuff  near food producing plants as top dressing, but filling a hole  does seem like a good investment.
 
Posts: 58
7
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
My yard used to be pine needles, roots, rocks. Some of the pine trees were cut down to protect the house over 20 years ago. Little grew. Only a few spikes of grasses. After years of compost trenching, including leaves, compost added from  piles made in the back yard, my 40 sq foot front yard produced 20 butternut squash, hundreds of cherry tomatoes, about 50 cukes and more. The biggest surprise was the large worms near the surface! I have plenty of red wrigglers in the trenches, but the diversity keeps growing, including the varieties of bees and birds. This all started with...why should I bag leaves, drive them to the stump dump, and do it all over again the next weekend?I was trying to find a way to save gas, money and wear on the car. Now I have delicious food and a better view!
I am going to make some 'worm towns' in the untouched areas and work my way to the perimeters.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
pollinator
Posts: 1507
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, suburban, nearish coast, 50x50, full sun, 40" year-round even distribution
142
kids purity trees urban writing
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks erika.

My update--just dug another town, in the turf part of the orchard (by the tree I planted out).  

Observations:
Way down below the clay line (some clear 1 inch line I think is line of clay about 2 feet deep) there was a grub
A root (thick, probably long dead, tree root but soft)

The soil was really really compacted down there--i feel like "caliche" would be appropriate, though I don't know the technical definition of that.  So apparently some tree and some lone grub could make a go of it down there in that near-cement environment, but nobody else

There were some trolls who were mostly happy to have a visit from the surface, though one was shouting something about "build the ceiling!"  

I found 2 worms today to populate my worm developement--one a red wriggler!--in late November in new England! This is both great news and pretty scary.  They were under thick layer of leaves in the asphalt parking lot.(I put the grub back in, she earned it.  Shes worked hard for that real eastate)



---

I thought about going deeper--in a sense, why not? The damage is already done (disturbance of topsoil) so tormenting the subsoil can only make things better over all.  But I was tired of "digging " (ie rocks) so I didnt this time.  Also it's kind f time limited.  But anyone have thoughts on going deeper? Tree roots would get in there eventually, more absorbance down below is always good, the earth worms may or may not expand downward as well as sideways...does anyone know?  I would love a project of subterranean research.  I heard in a movie recently that we know the ocean floor less well than we do the surface of Mars or sonething (ok it was Aquaman, go ahead and judge).  I would venture that the same is true of what's underground--since once we dig down to observe it weve disrupted its habitat.  

I assume there are some records from people digging foundations, wells, or sewers, troll hunters, dowsers, and gnomes, as well as Jules Verne, but any other places to look?  (I'm basically just interested in 6 feet down...but maybe tree-depth actually. Wouldnt it be nice if the tree had soil instead of dirt down there??





 
pollinator
Posts: 2130
Location: 4b
505
dog forest garden trees bee building
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Joshua Myrvaagnes wrote:

I assume there are some records from people digging foundations, wells, or sewers, troll hunters, dowsers, and gnomes, as well as Jules Verne, but any other places to look?  (I'm basically just interested in 6 feet down...but maybe tree-depth actually. Wouldnt it be nice if the tree had soil instead of dirt down there??



I read that terra preta is up to 6 feet deep.  Maybe throw some biochar and bones and things in there.  You're doing basically the same thing, but with much smaller holes.  If it works as terra preta does, at some point, it may spread to make the entire area that much more productive.  I'm going to make some of these with biochar in my food forest area, as well as my gardens.  Certainly amending post hole digger-sized holes is easier and less resource intensive as compared to trying to do the entire area.
 
pollinator
Posts: 337
Location: Chicago
84
dog forest garden fish foraging urban cooking food preservation bike
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I like the name "worm town," I had not heard this before.  This is basically what I do with compostables I don't want in my food garden, though. Dog-doo, any dead birds or critters all get buried.  I was digging a pit this past weekend, and I was surprised how many worms were active in the soil even though we have already had snow and frost.
 
master gardener
Posts: 3445
Location: Pacific Wet Coast
1252
duck books chicken cooking food preservation ungarbage
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I've been trying to do more of this in the last year. Joshua, if you need more places to dig holes, you're welcome to visit. I'd suggest you look at the pictures posted here https://permies.com/t/130201/big-rock-hole#1021257  first!

1. I have *never* managed to dig a hole deeper than the one pictured, and it's maybe 2 feet. Alas, most of my worms will just have to cope with worm bungalows.
2. The first picture gives some sense of the "decently dark soil" layer at the top, followed by an area infiltrated by roots, but which in this particular hole is pretty much clay. Below that it was very tough clay/mineral soil/rocks and more really big rocks.
3. I dug several holes of a smaller size south of the new one around my Kiwi Vine and some Honeyberry shrubs I was planting. Trying to dig planting holes reminded me that despite all the mulching I've done in that area for years, the top soil can still only be measured in inches. I figured I needed to try another approach. The hole I dug under the kiwi trellis certainly seems to have more stuff I'd call soil in it now than last spring when I started adding whatever veggie scraps I had and I recall that the last time I added to it, there were worms hanging around. That hole was still probably only 18 inches deep when I gave up. The deeper you go, the more space you need to access the bottom unless the post hole digger you're using is attached to a 3 point hitch, and even then, it will mostly stir up the dirt here rather than getting it out of the hole - did I mention we have a lot of rocks?
4. I tried to make sure I saved the soil to cover the hole, but it was hard to get it back off again as I added more organic matter as the stuff composted and shrank down to nothing. Wood would take longer, but I'm more trying to build soil at this point than hold water. Once I feel I've got some decent soil, I may try adding punky wood to do the sponge thing, but I tried planting wood elsewhere and without the micro organisms to interact with the water, I'm just not convinced it's having as much effect as I'd like for the effort I put in. (Did I say that digging in clay was hard work?)

So what I'm saying is that I agree the concept has a place, but like all permaculture plans, it doesn't always survive contact with the rocks. Don't feel that because digging down 3 ft is recommended, that digging 18 inches won't still be worthwhile in heavy soil. Yes, some holes will have to end up huge on top, but if the lawn or other area is struggling and unproductive, stick a few flowers on top of the mound for a year or so and then re-seed (assuming you're aiming for grass). In a case like mine, I'll probably be adding short-cycle veggie scraps to many of my holes for at least another year, then considering punky wood for at least another year or two before any final "grading and planting" happens. Just because the book suggests a one-time dig/fill/plant, doesn't mean that you can't take the idea and adapt it to your own ecosystem. Anything that builds soil, sequesters carbon and holds water is helping your own garden and the planet.
 
I think she's lovely. It's this tiny ad that called her crazy:
100th Issue of Permaculture Magazine - now FREE for a while
https://permies.com/goodies/45/pmag
reply
    Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic