• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

Cultivating native earthworms

 
Brian Guetzlaff
Posts: 12
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
From what I've read, there are very few "native" earthworms in North America. I'm not sure how accurate that is, but I do believe that imported worms can have a detrimental effect if they end up on the loose. My goal here isn't to get on some soapbox, but rather to ask about what experience you all have had with nurturing whatever native species are in your area to the point where you can use them for composting?

In particular, I'm in Central Texas (there are a couple of native species around), and I've occasionally come across a worm or two in my yard. That alone says something about their hardiness, since I've been somewhat neglectful of my yard in years past I have this idea of somehow coaxing them out of hiding, fostering their growth in a worm pile or two, and then once they're thriving moving them into a composting unit. Has anyone else done this, and what was your experience like? Any tips or hints?

Many thanks!
---Brian
 
Miles Flansburg
steward
Posts: 3766
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
142
bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Howdy Brian, I may be way off base but from what I understand there are different worms that serve different functions. Some are composting worms , some live in the soil and travel up and down bringing organics from the surface down into the soil. So it might be that using the worms you find locally may not work in a compost ? If you were to build a compost pile would you find that worms have moved into it? If so then those are the right worms for your project. Do you or any neighbors have animals? Do worms show up in any of the manure piles?

 
Tom Davis
Posts: 156
7
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I saw a video of a guy in Australia I believe. He had very poor soils with few worms. Probably similar to many parts of Tejas.
His strategy was to take a small chunk of earth (maybe a spade shovel round hole, so about 15" wide and shovel depth) with the grass and other plants that were growing, that was rich with humus and worms.
He would use that "plug" of good soil and dig a hole in a crappy spot, fill with plug.
Whalla.
He uses that as a worm incubator of sorts to spread them to parts of his property without much fertility.
And it worked.
He pretty much transformed his whole farm this way to lush pastures and credits this process for his success.
I wish I could remember where I saw that video, if any one knows what one I am talking about please share.

I have coaxed worms out of soil by just putting a food scrap/yard litter pile in a shady spot, and watering when it needed it.
The worms found it easily, in six months, I had bajillions of worms in a worm farm.
The worm farm maintained contact with the soil, since, I believed the conditions I provided were better than the surroundings, I noticed no decrease in population from doing this, and if any stragglers came by, they could join the worm orgy, roman food fest.
 
Brian Guetzlaff
Posts: 12
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'm on a fairly small suburban lot (about 1/6 acre), and animals aside from the standard cats/dogs aren't allowed by the HOA so no manure piles (and also no chickens for eggs & pest control) Also, there aren't really any lush spots in my yard (yet), unfortunately, but I really like that idea of having worm plugs!

Miles, I get what you're saying about different types of worms. A while back I actually tried building a compost pile, but never saw any worms in there, just flies and ants. Guess that means they're not the composting type.

I'm wondering if at this point my best bet is to just take the best care I can of the yard, and hopefully in the future I'll be able to do the worm plugs idea to help out.

Thanks for your help!
 
Chris Kott
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
9
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have read that putting deposits of kitchen scraps in spots just under the soil, a la ruth stout, will attract the appropriate type of worm if it's anywhere near. If you want the ones that will eat your compost, lure them with your compost.

As to many species of worm in North America being imports, the last glaciation killed most of our native ones, with perhaps some left alive in parts of Florida and Texas. That is why you'll find invasive worm populations a problem where it comes to hardwood forests in particular, that currently depend on a slowly-accumulating, slowly-decomposing mulch layer of leaves from seasons' past. When the worms come in, the hardwood species that thrive in those conditions are outcompeted by species that can handle the new conditions.

-CK
 
Lillian D'Willow
Posts: 3
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I know everyone always says I have to have 'red wigglers' for my vermicomposting, but I'm not one for following the rules.
I have a beautiful bin of worms collected from the soil in my friends garden. The bin has been going strong for almost two years.
My little garden worms happily eat up vegi scraps, and recently found out they adore left over cooked rice.
The bin started with some mashed wet papers, leaves and a bit of dirt, but now I just add food bits. Its an amazing dark brown soil and I use it in my potted plants.
I think they're native, I found them in the dirt, and they love composting my kitchen waste.
 
Brian Guetzlaff
Posts: 12
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
@Chris - Yep, that's exactly why I'm hoping for natives. There aren't many woodland areas near me, but we are upstream from some of those areas (and our storm sewers feed directly to streams).

@Lillian - That's more or less what I was hoping to do, as well. I'm so glad it worked out for you! Sadly, worms of any sort are rare and happy surprises in my yard, but my hope is that over time their population will increase and I'll be able to experiment.

Back when I tried having a compost pile, none decided to get in on the action, so it may not pan out. Oh well, it doesn't hurt to try
 
Lillian D'Willow
Posts: 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Brian, do you have any neighbors, friends that are currently composting?
I know when I decided to make my worm bin, I had all sorts of people pitching in with advice, and offers of wormies.
I recently read that in drier climates, worms go much deeper for the moisture. Perhaps you haven't dug deep enough to find your little wigglers?
 
Brian Guetzlaff
Posts: 12
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Lillian,

Likely not (it's forbidden by our HOA). We've been in and out of a drought (like much of the US) for the last couple of years, so that's a good point about needing to dig deeper. Usually when I find them, it's when I'm pulling weeds and I happen to spot one burrowing back into the shelter of the soil.
 
Tracy Lee
Posts: 52
Location: NW Arkansas
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Brian,
I spent almost 30 yrs in south tx near mcallen. Hot and dry. Have gardened in various ways, always with no pesticides. Over the yrs i have seen some earth worms in the soil, more as the soil improved but never the amount that i have seen in the soil in the midwest. I no longer garden on a big scale in tx as I stay in an rv park in the winter only. I have 2 small raised beds there that are 3 yrs old, mostly composted old hay, horse poop, leaves and straw so its pretty rich in humus soil. I have decided i am going to do a small worm bin soon so in preperation I ordered an online audio course on worm composting from this site (easyvermicomposting.com) as I knew nothing about it worm composting. I have learned very much from this course. What really stuck in my mind was he said that common earthworms are basically loners and you wont find them in masses of worms were composting type worms can be found in masses. So he said to find out if you have local composting worms create the ideal conditions and see if they show up. Unbeknowest to me I accidently did this but if I hadnt listened to that course I would have thought it was just some earth worms. So here is what i did, i have 2 raised beds as seen in the photos. I wanted a way to deal with my kitchen scraps but I cant do a regular compost pile because being in an rv park there is a lack of space in my tiny lot plus asthetics. So I took a piece of wire bent it in a circle dug out my raised bed to ground level set that wire in there and filled the dirt back around it but left it empty inside the wire. If you look close in the picture you can see the wire bin right behind the basil and cucumbers.I took this idea from this website from a keyhole bed design with compost bin in the middle. I would take my kitchen scraps, dump them in the wire and threw some leaves on top of them to keep fruit flies down. Nobody even knew it was a compost bin. I did go 2-3 wks sometimes without watering it but overall i kept it pretty damp. I planted some cucumbers around it to utilize the wire as a trellis. I did this for 6 months, it was probably close to 50% food scraps to 50% leaves. i did notice that all the plants around the bin where the biggest and greenest all winter. In the spring when I leave tx i take everything out of my garden and cover it with landscape fabric so it doesnt become overgrown with bermuda grass. When I pulled my compost bin wire out to level the ground for some reason I decided to explore the humus where the bin was. To my utter shock and delight i found it crawling with what must have been the native composting worms. Literally hundreds entwined around each other, in the soil, and food scraps. They were the size of red wigglers, maybe a little paler in color. no idea the species. Anyone who has gardened in tx soils knows how thrilling it would be to see that. i must say again i was shocked, but very excited because now i knew it was possible. I will definetly be doing my wire compost bin next winter but just move it to another spot. The last month i was there my bin was getting pretty full so i would just take my kitchen scraps and bury them in my garden in a different spot each time. i had noticed those small worms earlier throughout the garden just one here and there but just thought it was earthworms. so it is possible in tx.
100_1696.JPG
[Thumbnail for 100_1696.JPG]
100_1695.JPG
[Thumbnail for 100_1695.JPG]
 
Tracy Lee
Posts: 52
Location: NW Arkansas
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Heres the worms.
100_1720.JPG
[Thumbnail for 100_1720.JPG]
 
Brian Guetzlaff
Posts: 12
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
That's good to know! It sounds like a good real-world validation of what others have said, and what I'm hoping to see. Part of the design I have in mind is to have a little hatch down at the bottom of the garden bed where I can remove some of the final compost and redistribute it (top-dress other beds, lawn, etc). It'd be really cool to find some worms or eggs in there as well to share the love with the rest of my yard
 
Anne Rambling
Posts: 7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
*vc geek alert*
Identifying native species will be tricky. (Truth is there are only a few scientists that can- but some species actually need to have their DNA run to properly categorize!)

This site is helpful to narrow down what you may have wrangled..earthworm ID

The glaciers did do a number on the regions they covered.. in particular the Great Lakes area, a bit across the upper Midwest, and the NE. (If you want to get really geeky about this.. the US actually has a very interesting worm.. the Palouse earthworm. Very large- 3 feet long, snow white.. and when disturbed- smells like lilacs. They thought it might have died out.. but someone found one in Idaho.. which for those scientists.. was probably like discovering a unicorn.) It's only relatively recently that any real interest is shown to that species.

Miles is right about there being different types. At maturity- earthworm get that band around their body (clitellum).. which rolls off them to become the cocoon. The "fresh" rolled off ones are white and get darker with age. If they recently deposited a cocoon.. there will be a depression where it was. It's the mature size that you want to use to gauge what type it probably is.

A really generalized run down...
anecic- typically large earthworms- they create rather deep burrows- they generally need cooler temps- they like deeper soils and some space in an area that isn't disturbed too much.

Endogeic- mid-ish level dwellers- rough ballpark about 4 to 6 inches.. kinda mid sized. They're the ones that hang out a couple of inches into the soil. In some parts these are the ones we find when we turn the soil in gardens-hanging out in raised beds and wandering through the lawn under the sod.

Epigeic- smaller- typically pigmented- they are the upper level dwellers. This particular type does well in bins.


... And just now I notice the last post was in April. *sigh*

I've had vc bins going for a decade now. It's fantastic stuff for mitigating transplant shock and sprouting things. (I'm always amazed at what nubs of things come back to life in there..) Mine are all rounded up from the yard. It's a lovely consideration that you want to use natives. There's no real way to stop the invasives- which is unfortunate.









 
Brian Guetzlaff
Posts: 12
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Anne, thanks for the reply! No worries about timing...still in the same situation right now. That's actually really good to know about the different types of worms. I guess it's only the occasional endogeic I've seen, and can't think of a time I've ever seen epigeic.
 
brad rowland
Posts: 8
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Can I get worms online

I have about 1/2 acre plot in semi-arid Colorado, at about 5,300 feet that I'm restoring. Today it is literally sand and silt with a few weeds, bordered by a road on one side and a concrete ditch wall on the other. Because of the cost of water, most of the neighbors yards are dirt, barely any shrubs and just a few trees. I turned over a lot of the dirt, there is no topsoil, and very little soil biology to be found except some ants and beetles. This county used to be one of the largest ag producing counties in the country, so i know the soil and climate have great promise.

I'm starting off by putting in a very large hugelkultur bed (about 65') but I don't know where to get earthworms locally.

Can I get them online, do I need to be concerned with the "regionality" of the worms, and can someone recommend a source?
 
Johnny Niamert
Posts: 268
Location: Colo
3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Try craigslist for redworms. I'd offer you some redworms, but my colony isn't going at the moment. I only have a small population for the time being.

You may be surprised at how deep European night-crawlers can burrow. I wouldn't be surprised if they showed up on their own sooner or later. I bet you could find these at any park/public/friends yard in big cities along the front range, if you want to speed their arrival.
 
Brian Guetzlaff
Posts: 12
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
brad rowland wrote:Can I get worms online

I have about 1/2 acre plot in semi-arid Colorado, at about 5,300 feet that I'm restoring. Today it is literally sand and silt with a few weeds, bordered by a road on one side and a concrete ditch wall on the other. Because of the cost of water, most of the neighbors yards are dirt, barely any shrubs and just a few trees. I turned over a lot of the dirt, there is no topsoil, and very little soil biology to be found except some ants and beetles. This county used to be one of the largest ag producing counties in the country, so i know the soil and climate have great promise.

I'm starting off by putting in a very large hugelkultur bed (about 65') but I don't know where to get earthworms locally.

Can I get them online, do I need to be concerned with the "regionality" of the worms, and can someone recommend a source?


First off, great job restoring that piece of land! Adding biomass will go a long way to restoring the biology over the coming years.

As for the regionality of the worms, I suppose the main question there is what impact are you willing to accept if the worms get into the wild (which they eventually will, often via waterways). Invasive worms have been known to disrupt local forest ecosystems, so be careful. My recommendation is to go with worms that are as "native" as possible (order of preference: native to your town, native to your county, native to your state, native to your region, native to the US, probably don't want to go beyond that).

Johnny's got some good ideas for finding local worms. One thing I've noticed in my yard (granted it's TX, but the concept still applies) is that any place where I've improved the organic content of the soil, a year or two later I noticed baby earthworms and an overall population increase. As mentioned in an earlier post I already had earthworms in the soil when we bought the place (and it was farmland immediately prior). I'm thinking that if there are any local earthworms in your area already, adding food (the hugelculture bed you mentioned sounds great) will attract them over time.

Nutshell summary: Keep at it with the organic matter; it'll likely attract any nearby worm populations. Also look in your nearby "wild" for worms and you can probably feel safe adding them to the party.
 
Chris Kott
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
9
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
If you read some of the above posts, you will find that the Native American worms were killed off by the glaciers before they receded. There are no "native" worms in the regions shaped by glaciers.

I don't know if any survived at the south end of the continent. The lack of worms led to an environment of slow fungal decomposition on forest floors, which led to the development of hardwood forests. When the worms return, or are replaced by an introduced analog, hardwood forests are the ones to suffer.

If you are greening the desert, I would guess that you don't have hardwood forests to worry about. If you need macrobiota to speed decomposition, invasive species are the least of your worries. Aren't you essentially going to be surrounded by desert, natural or man made?

I would suggest a trip to the nearest wild area with rotting wood on the forest floor. In my opinion, you really need macro and microbiota that break down wood if you are going to have a hugelbeet.

-CK
 
Alder Burns
pollinator
Posts: 1341
Location: northern California
42
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
When I lived in Georgia there was an earthworm that gave off slime when disturbed that glowed in the dark!! I don't think any of the common exotic earthworms can do this, so I'm pretty sure it's a native.....and makes for an easy cool way to diagnose at least one indigenous species! They used to congregate and breed in the earth-floor deep mulched shelter where I would shut my geese in at night, in sufficient numbers to use for bait.
 
Chris Kott
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
9
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
So there may be native species as near as GA. And they sound interesting. I would love to find out what specific species it is. Sounds like a potential shit eater, from where you found them.

Keep in mind that the reason why red worms are popular for vermiculture is because they eat what we need them to and have few issues dealing with confinement and a range of other conditions. They also live in the strata of soil where their activities are beneficial for plant health.

I would be happy to be wrong about this, but what if there are no native species that do what we need them to like the red worm?

-CK
 
Bill Smythe
Posts: 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Anne - loved it !
Brad - let's talk Cplorado sometime!

New here. ReStudying native earthworm issues for gardenong.

Best I have found is spread a cu ft bag of ~ well composted manure about 1/4 - 1" thick and water.

Water (and manure tea) travels down the soil column about 1 ft a day, max. More in sand... of course. But tbe worms require time to dig UP yo you from maybe 10 feet down, where the season lags by 3 monyjs. And if it's too hot or too dry, at some depth they will stop... so shade the area to retain moisture nd coolness.

BillSF9c
w bees, in town
lost my two hens - raccoons
 
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!