I have no-till methods, compost, and cover crops, however, my worms went absent. What happened to my worms? Disappear to?
I’m unable to locate the earthworm I have in my yard in the past, when they were numerous. What has happened to them? Do you know to increase the population of earthworms in the soil?
Where Did My Earthworms Go?
Earthworms can hibernate, digging about 6 feet deep to get out of frozen soil but if you’re digging your garden, I’ll assume that it’s not frozen.
A variety of factors can contribute to earthworm decline, including environmental degradation, over-tillage and excessive use for chemical fertilizers. However, this isn’t the situation for the majority of organic gardeners that use no-till practices.
How often should you compost? Earthworms are beneficial for gardeners especially because they eat organic matter, and their digestion process clears up nutrients, making them bio-available to plants. They also help make the soil more fertile and assist in making compost break down faster, so that plants can utilize it earlier. As you’re taking no action to end the life of earthworms, they might be escaping to search for food elsewhere.
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How to Increase Earthworm Population in Soil
Many practices, some of which you’re already practicing are able to help protect earthworms as well as other species of subterranean life:
Don’t Till Your Garden More Than Necessary
Rototillers are excellent to break the hard clay into pieces and cutting organic material to create new bed formations. Once the beds have been established Tiller blades are able to cut through worms, bringing mycorrhizal fungi up to the surface and go to die. They can also remove air pockets that make the soil more loose allow for decomposition and let worms breathe.
Add Mulch to Garden Soil
The soil exposed to the sun is dying. When the sun dehydrates soil microbes die. The dry, hot soil isn’t able to support earthworms, either. Lawns, even though they aren’t food sources for humans, can offer a thick cover of protection for the soil …-…and earthworms will come out in the evening or when it rains. Make sure your garden is covered by spreading organic material over plants. In winter, cover the soil with mulch or leaves that will break down and protect living things in the subterranean.
What to Feed Worms
What can you feed worms could be as easy as letting roots remain in the soil when crops die. If you are looking to create a tidy appearance for your homeowners association cut your crops to the level of the soil so that roots remain intact. Then, chop the top layer to use as compost. Then, layer on compost piles to ensure that worms are able to reach the surface to take the opportunity to eat. In spring, you can dig some of the compost into the soil so that it will begin to decompose at the roots.
Should you decide to build an extensive compost layer and you continue to practice no-till and mulching techniques and your worms should be back in the near future.
Marissa Ames is editorial director for Ogden Publications and manages MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Grit, Countryside, Goat Journal, Backyard Beekeeping, and Backyard Poultry magazines. She and her husband, Russ, travel to Africa where they serve as agricultural advisors for the nonprofit I Am Zambia . She spends her free time eating lunch.
The original publication was “Where Did My Earthworms Go?” in the Ask our Experts column in the issue for October/November 2023 in MOTHER Earth NEWS magazine. It is regularly vetted to ensure accuracy.