If you are a gardener, you know earthworms are a sign of a healthy soil ecosystem. If you are a fisherman, you known they help catch fish. If you are kids, you know they can break in half and still wiggle! One of my favorite signs of spring is to see robins hopping around the garden after a rain shower, pecking at the ground, and grabbing a fat earthworm to devour.
Earthworms improve soil by aerating it, leaving behind their castings to enrich the soil, serve as food for birds, and work as fishbait! Worms will normally double in number in about 90 days. They can eat any plant matter, including vegetable scraps and paper pulp, but never meat. They are a perfect companion to rabbits.
Yesterday we had some fun releasing 5,000 earthworms purchased online from Uncle Jim's Wormfarm into our compost heap and our rabbitry vermiculture pits. Vermiculture is a fancy name for raising earthworms. The worms arrived via USPS the day before. We opened the box, then the bag inside the box, finding a huge mass of wriggling, writhing worms, and gave them a cup of water to revive them from their 4 day road trip.
Instructions came with our order, and we were told to dig a hole in the center of the area we wanted to release them. We started with our large manure pile in our south alleyway that we call our compost pile. It had recently been hilled back up with waste from our dairy cattle pens.
Zane dug an 18" diameter hole x 9" deep. We dumped 1/3 of the worms out of the bag - they were alive and wriggling, and in fact some had already escaped to the outside of the bag. Then we put a piece of wet newspaper on top, and covered them back up with the composting manure.
Next we headed to the rabbitry. In the building, we have 2 long runs, and a short triangle. Rabbits cages hang above these. The manure falls into pits below. We had released a few thousand worms in there last fall, but assumed many of them had been transported to one of several gardens that we mulched with the rabbit dressing (manure and fallen hay) when we prepped all the gardens over the winter.
bout 1/3 of the remaining 2/3 of the worms went into each of these areas. Again we pulled back the rabbit dressing in the pits at a centerpoint, making an 18" diameter hole, dumped out the worms, put wet newspaper on top, and recovered the worm spot with dressing.
The worms will now migrate throughout their new homes in the compost pile and rabbitry vermiculture pits. All the while they will digest the manure, and excrete their worm waste, called castings, which makes the most enriched soil possible.
Worms don't like light, so they seek the dark places down in the soil or compost. The sunlight over the alleyway compost pile, and the daylight filtering in the upper windows in the rabbitry will do just that. If you were to release worms into a worm bin, it is suggested you leave the top off and a light on for a while to drive them down.
In 4 weeks when we have our FAMILY HOMESTEAD DAY event, kids will be able learn about vermiculture and soil improvement by digging buckets of dirt from the alleyway compost pile, and finding lots of worms. Doesn't that sound like fun!
As for today, I'll be out inspecting the state of my planted and unplanted gardens, looking to see if I can find any worms on the wet soil. I'll work with the kids to haul out rabbit dressing where we didn't place the worms, onto the alleyway compost pile. This is a job that needs to be done every 2 months or so, and we'll be needing to spread all that rabbit dressing, composted manure, and worms onto our gardens yet to be planted in May and early June.
Oh, and I'll check my transplanted tomato seedlings to see if they have recovered from shock. I'll also make sure the turkeys are doing well in the greenhouse. It got so hot in there yesterday I had to open the door so they could get a cool breeze. Didn't want to cook their eggs before they hatched out!