There are 1,800 species of worms, which are grouped into five families and found all over the world. The most common species of earthworm is 1 to 3 inches long and is most often used as fishing bait or for worm composting. Bait worms are called night crawlers, and compost worms are called red worms. Earthworms adapt well to many different environments and are an essential part of garden-soil health and the ecological systems of garden life.
Importance of Worms
Worms convert organic material into nutrients that plants can absorb. Garden worms aerate the soil by creating tunnels. Aeration helps maintain soil structure and fertility. Worms also bring nutrients to the surface of the soil, making them more available to the root systems of plants. The nutrient content of vegetables is increased by the presence of worms in the soil.
Worms in the Food Chain
Worms attract birds to the garden, and then the birds eat harmful insect pests. Garden worms are food for all bird species as well as ground dwellers like moles and gophers. Worms are a high-protein food for birds in the spring, when they are feeding their chicks. Worms are often the only source of food for birds before berries and seeds ripen.
Worm castings are the byproduct of worms' activity in the soil. As worms eat all types of organic matter, from dead leaves and animals to newspapers and coffee grounds, they leave behind a residue called casting. Worm castings are very rich in nutrients and are valuable as a compost material. Worm compost has five times as much nitrogen and seven times as much phosphorus as typical garden topsoil.
Create a worm compost bin from which to harvest worms for garden soil. Red wigglers and angleworms are two popular varieties. In the bin, worms eat food waste and increase in number. Within two months, they can be put into the the soil. Red worms and manure worms also create a byproduct called "worm compost tea," a natural liquid secretion that gathers at the bottom of the bin as they eat. When mixed in a 6-1 ratio of water to worm secretion, it is a very potent fertilizer. Worm tea is used as a spray by gardeners to help control harmful insects and improve nutrient content. Worm composting is often supported by local gardening and recycling programs.
The more worms you have in your garden, the better your soil will be. Earthworms and compost worms are the most beneficial types. Earthworms live deep within the soil, where they fertilize and aerate it to improve fertility and structure. Compost, or manure, worms live in the top 12 to 18 inches of the soil, where they digest organic matter and turn it into usable plant food. Worms can eat nearly their body weight in vegetable and fruit scraps each day.