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composting worms in my orchard  RSS feed

 
Kathy Kelly
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I have been using composting worms for a long time. For the last couple of years I have just put the composting worms right in my garden, applying a lot of mulch around my plants and have had no problems with the worms bothering my plants.  I want to do this on a larger scale.  We just purchased an avocado grove and are transitioning to organic.  I want to put down a good layer of wood chips around each tree and add some composting worms also to help compost the wood chips faster.  I will also continue to add organic mulch around the trees to continue the process.  So my question is: do composting worms stick to composting dead material or will they also chew on the live roots and cause damage?
 
James Freyr
pollinator
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I would like to make it clear that I am not a helminthologist, but I don't believe your composting worms will damage any living roots. The only worms I am aware of damaging roots are certain nematodes. Earthworms and the likes feed mainly on decaying plant matter, so yes they will stick to composting dead material.
 
Keith Odell
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Location: Indiana
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I had to look up "helminthologist" to make sure I wasn't one -- I'm not.
Sounds like a good plan to me. 
Based only on my reading, I might add comfrey and/or mushrooms to the mix.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Nice solid plan Kathy. The composting worm (red wiggler in fisherman's terms) likes to eat everything we consider compostable but it doesn't eat "living organic matter".
Since you plan on laying down a layer of wood chip mulch, you still have the option of covering some kitchen wastes for extra food for those worms.
Keep in mind that the compost worm like the top 12 inches of soil and generally doesn't go deep like an earthworm.
However, feeding those compost worms will tend to call earthworms to the area as well, then you will have a nice symbiotic set up between the deep diving worms and the shallow worms.
 
Jason Bijl
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Location: Kamloops, BC - Zone 6
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Feeding them might be a good idea, otherwise they will likely disperse once the area's food supply is exhausted.

Would a mowing down a cover crop be enough to sustain their eating habits?
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Jason,

Most likely, as long as the materials were provided frequently enough.

Redhawk
 
Jason Bijl
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This has a wealth of information.
 
John C Robinson
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Location: Lynn, MA (Zone 6A)
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I'm looking into composting worms, but it looks like most of the worms are non-native. I'm not trying to pick on the OP here, I just have this question and it seems like a recent and relevant thread for the question.

It does not seem environmentally wise to introduce non-native species of worms to the environment. It's such a bad problem here in New England that I can't even google to find out which worms ARE native. All i get is page after page of articles about the invasive worm problem.

The OP here may be using native worms, but I have been looking at worm suppliers, and the invasive worm problems don't seem to be a concern to them at all.

Is anyone else concerned about this? I do bird rehab, and I know we cannot release an English sparrow or a Starling back into the wild, even though they very established in this area. I don't know why it would be different with other species of animal.
 
Ronnie Ugulano
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Location: Zone 9, CA
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Don't worry. They won't eat your plant roots. Redworms will live and multiply to the limit of the food available, and for the most part, they will stay where the food is. When the food runs out, they will wander away trying to find food, but they won't look to your living tree roots for that.. If they can't find food, they'll simply die.
 
Matthew Rupert
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Location: Warsaw, MO
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I was thinking of this myself last night before seeing this thread.  Would the main reasons that most people just put them in a compost pile and not directly into the ground be:

1. You couldn't keep them ALL in a specific location too easily.

2. Most of their food you could only feed them from above-ground without destroying soil structure? 
 
Kyle Neath
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It's such a bad problem here in New England that I can't even google to find out which worms ARE native.


I suspect this has to do with the nature of the word "native." Nearly all earthworms in North America (most certainly New England) are non-native, brought over from Europe. And it's not so much that European worms were aggressive and out-competed the native worms. It's that the ice age wiped out all the worms and left the forests without any. It's possible there were worms before the ice age. It's possible the boreal forests looked different then, too. It's possible all of this is a natural cycle and that the re-introduction of earthworms and the nutrient cycle that accompanies them was inevitable. It's possible that we have introduced an extraordinarily invasive species that will kill our boreal forests. We don't really know. I've read studies claiming invasive worm species are bad, I've read studies claiming the same worm species as rehabilitating.

However, I can tell you with certainty two things about red wigglers (Eisenia fetida), the most popular composting worm:

1. These worms are surface-dwelling, manure eaters. They do not thrive in the forest. They require high nitrogen inputs and generally do not spread very far outside composting piles. Freezing temperatures kill them as well (though not their cocoons).

2. Their pace of breeding far outstrips any efforts mere humans could enact to reduce their total numbers. A mature red wiggler can produce two to three cocoons per week. Each cocoon averages three hatchlings. Each worm is a hermaphrodite and can fulfill whichever sex is necessary to reproduce.

All the most popular composting worms (Red Wigglers, Blue Worms, European Nightcrawlers, African Nightcrawlers) are already established throughout America, and I doubt there's anything we can do to change that. The USDA considers Dandelion an invasive species as well, but you don't see many people worrying about it. I consider worms to be similar. These introductions all happened in the 18th century, and there's just not much to be done about it at this point.
 
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