Earthworms move through loose soil eating decaying organic matter such as dead plant material. When you add organic matter like garden compost to your soil, the earthworms help to further break it down. They can draw food material such as leaves on the lawn, into their burrows and are also responsible for the worm casts you sometimes see on the lawn surface. The worms are one of the gardeners’ best friends. They do not damage plants but help to improve the immediate area around plant roots.
There are around sixteen different species of worms in UK gardens, but the ones you are most likely to see are the composting worms that live in the compost heap. These are the brandling worms or the tiger worms that eat their way through our kitchen and garden waste to help create a wonderful, rich and earthy compost for our gardens. If you have a compost bin or a compost heap it is these worms that will move into the waste and help to break it down into garden compost. They work with the microorganisms in the soil to digest bulky organic matter and break it down into nutrients and materials that not only improve the soil, but feed the plants too.
To keep the worms in your garden soil healthy and happy use natural fertilisers that add organic matter to the soil like well rotted garden compost and farmyard manure. Mulch around beds and borders with composted bark and avoid the use of chemicals and pesticides wherever possible. Worms are a vital food source for ground feeding birds and also hedgehogs, moles and other garden allies. They are also, I’m told tasty when baked on an open fire, but I have no intention of testing that garden recipe and they are far too precious to eat anyway. Do what you can to keep your garden worms fit and healthy. Keep the soil healthy and the worms will stay on your patch and help support the bug busting wildlife at the same time. It’s all part of the natural cycle.
You can harness the power of worms by using a worm-composting bin. By containing a population of worms in an environment that they love, warm, moist, slightly alkaline and nutrient rich, they will break down small amounts of organic waste into a dark, nutrient rich compost. Dedicated wormeries are widely available. The secret is to keep the worms fed little and often by adding vegetable peelings and kitchen scraps a few times each week. The worm bin needs to be protected from extreme temperatures to keep the worms alive and they will work, live and breed in your worm bin. In nature they will move deeper into the ground in very hot or very cold weather, but in a worm bin they can’t do that, so they do need some extra protection. A worm bin is usually a stack of trays that the worms work in. When they have digested and composted the material in the bottom tray they will move up through the layers to work on the next. You can then remove the tray of ready to use compost and use it on your garden. Any liquid exudate from the worm bin can be removed via a tap at the bottom and used as a liquid feed. So your working worms not only dispose of your kitchen waste, but they make fabulous nutrient rich compost and a liquid fertiliser too. Not bad for a bunch of spineless wriggling soil dwellers.