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This is my second year working my veggie garden. The land had lain fallow for at least 15 years before I started working it again last winter. I imported vast quantities of dried manure and compost and had quite a successful garden last year, but in all that time and work on the soil, I never saw a single earthworm. In October, a friend came to visit and brought me a one gallon container that was about 75% live earthworms in a moist compost medium. They appeared to be active and healthy. Without delay, I released the worms into my garden, in a half dozen spread out locations into loose moist soil. While I was rototilling the garden last month in preparation to plant again, I did not see a single worm. I had high hopes that they'd have spent their winter being happy, productive and prolific, but just NOTHING. I'm very discouraged. I was considering buying encapsulated worms from Gardens Alive, but now thinking that I'd just be wasting my money. Ideas? Suggestions?
Tilling being bad for overall soil health is no myth.
That's just one of many published studies from reputable universities. There is some short term benefit to certain crops by tilling, and this can increase production for commercial farmers, but the overall, longterm effect on soil health still remains. For the backyard "farmer" a no till technique is easier, cheaper and in the long term better for the health of the soil.
I had to dig a seriously big hole in the garden today. I had to dig up an irrigation box, then uncover a number of the pipes going into it so we can replace the frozen valve. I ended up with a hole 15" deep x 24" across, and once again, even though the soil was moist (not dry, not wet) I didn't find a single earthworm. I'm tellin ya folks, I really don't think there's any worms in there anywhere :(
I know a worm hole on the soil surface when I see one.... used to see them all the time when I lived back east, but I've never seen a one while I've been living here. I've got 1/2 acre of irrigated bermuda grass, and for all the sprinkler heads that I've had to dig up to repair, I've never seen a single worm in the lawn either. And as for finding earthworms in my finished compost next month... I'm not betting the rent on that, either. I'll keep you posted.
I had built a big compost pile using pallets, on the ground back at Thanksgiving. I started to move the finished compost this week to top dress the veggie garden. I've got half moved now. It had reduced down to about 3' depth, from the original 4'+, and was no longer working, cool to the touch and nicely moist. This load had some pill bugs again, but not a single earth worm to be seen.
In my experience, if you want the worms to come, you have to feed them. Dig a hole and put in chopped up fruits and veggie scraps, add a little shredded paper and cover up. The worms should come. I collected 5 gallon plastic pots and put them around my garden. I just put my scraps in the containers and water every once in a while. I wanted to move one last week and when I lifted it there were 3 fat worms hanging from the bottom. This method works well when the garden is planted out and digging a hole is difficult.
If I (rarely) have spoiled food, then I do bury it in various places in the garden, but most routine vegetable scraps are typically consumed either by the dogs or the chickens. Wouldn't an aggregate of 5" cover of manure over the course of a year be considered "feeding" my potential worms?
One third of my veggie garden space has not been tilled in a year. I think I'll try Karis' suggestion and do a lasagna layer thing there this year to see if it makes any difference compared to the tilled area. My garden has 3 terraces, so clearly delineated separate areas. The pit I dug to repair the frozen irrigation valve was in one corner of this undisturbed middle terrace.
I was in the garden, yesterday, decided that it was time to move a large garbage bag full of soiled wood chips to mulch around my pepper and tomato plants. This bag had been sitting on the soil since mid-February, and I've been watering faithfully around it, and even wet down the contents about once a week, too. Under the bag, the soil was quite damp. There were hundreds of roly poly pill bugs and one large grub, but still no earthworms. I had a plastic cup handy, so scooped up the bugs I could, providing a party for the chickens. I still have not yet begun to empty the contents of the compost bin, so don't know if I'll find any worms in there yet.
Keeping fingers crossed for you Jeanne.
I think mulching is the single most important thing you can do to attract and promote earthworm activity in your soil.
The only time I have not had mulch on my garden soil is since February when I tilled before planting. I'm now in the process of mulching again.
From my own personal experience in my clay heavy soil backyard, I too was planning on introducing some earthworms. However, first I dug a large 12'x'12 square area down 1 1/2 feet to put my raised bed gardens in. In the process of doing this after digging slowed around 1 foot, I flooded the hole with water and let it naturally drain. Once the surface area was mostly dry, I began digging and to my great surprised I had tons of earth worms that had surfaced to moist soil where before I had thought there could be none. The soil was really hard and compact as well. It appears in out here in the Arizona dry country that the worms are are there, just deeper under ground than you may be use to seeing.
Were the animals that you used the manure from wormed? Of course a couple animals' manure spread over a half acre isn't going to annihilate them all. Like others have said, My guess is that they're there, just deeper. I have always had luck digging a big hole (about 3-5 gallons) and burying lots of veggie scraps in it. Basically what green shoes has said.
For you not to have a single worm on an irrigated property is mindboggling.