Adding worms to raised beds

bigdaddybondo(Boston/6)April 2, 2006

I ve built some raised beds in my garden... 5-3'x6'x12", and 2-3'x12'x12"... I have filled them up with "Mel's mix" equal parts compost, peat, and vermiculite... ( I added a little cow manure for good measure as well)... Now i was thinking of adding a couple of pounds of worms to the soil.. Is it worth the $30?? what kind of worms should I add??? Any help would be appreciated

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recluse(6b/7 NE TN)

bigdaddybondo, I wouldn't buy worms to add to your raised beds, I would gather worms from your property/yard to add to the garden - if you really find the need to do such a thing.

I'm far from an expert in this area (or any area of gardening, for that matter), but I have done something very similiar to what you are proposing.

My raised beds began as a weed barrier, then became a lasagna bed (as I read about the benefits, and supposed ease, of just piling OM on wet cardboard and planting in it). Once I actually created the lasagna beds, I found that with the materials I used, I could not plant it in, so my beds once again evolved - into a combination lasagna/modified sq ft garden.

I used (soilless) potting mix on top of my lasagna layers, so I have similiar materials (to what you have used) filling my beds. When I was building lasagna layers, I added worms from my yard reasoning that the worms would speed up the breakdown of the organic matter I had added and make it available to the plants faster.

In my opinion, there isn't much benefit to adding worms to a bed containing only Mel's Mix because the bed already has those benefits incorporated into it's makeup.

Garden worms break up and aerate compacted soils (red worms do not do this, only burrowing worms do it). But, with Mel's Mix, the soil is not compacted, so capillary water movement is already good.

Worms also add nutrients to the soil in the form of castings. Adding compost means you've added usable nutrients to the soil already (although many would say that worm castings are a more usuable form of nutrients, that's another discussion).

So, I'm not sure that adding worms to your raised beds will make a significant difference. However, if you would like to add worms anyway I would suggest using the worms that are native to your area/property. As long as you add OM for the worms to eat, you are reasonably assured that they will survive in your garden.

Since I am doing a modified lasagna/sq ft garden, I add OM to my beds periodically. This organic matter feeds my worms in addition to creating a water absorbent layer that decreases the need for supplemental watering, and holds moisture where it's needed (in the root zone) for several days/weeks.

I don't think red worms (the kind you buy online for vermicomposting) will survive in your garden, especially during the summer and winter. Red worms/red wigglers/manure worms, etc, need moderate temperatures, 55-77 degrees being ideal, and excessive heat over 84 degrees can kill them.

Red worms live in the surface litter (where it is much hotter or colder, depending on the season) and do not burrow into the soil, so extremes in temp are more likely to kill them and waste your investment $$.

Additionally, since redworms do not burrow, you do not receive the benefits of aeration that you would with the ordinary garden worm.

So, in my opinion, if you want to add worms to your beds, my vote goes for the worms you will find on your property. Save your money for other things :-).

    Bookmark   April 3, 2006 at 12:28PM
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squeeze(z8 BC)

I'll second that it'd be a waste of money - spend it on more compost!

the worms will find a good food scource, and they'll do fine, coming up to the food, going deeper to a cooler [and warmer in winter] temp if they need to


    Bookmark   April 4, 2006 at 5:21PM
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beachcat(8 Fl Panhandle)

I am also interested in adding worms to a raised bed as I live on the beach and have no worms on my property. I had not considered that some worms do not burrow, and need cooler temps. If I were to buy some worms, what kind? I live in Panama City Beach, Florida

Thank you

    Bookmark   April 6, 2006 at 11:46PM
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wfike(8, Atlanta, Ga.)

You can use red wigglers for the beds as long as there is a lot of organic matter in the bed but you need to make a worm bed out of a 55 gal drum or something and fill it with newspaper, cardboard, house or cow poop, sawdust, grass clippings or whatever you can fine. Put some worms in it and wait a while till they get to laying eggs and place the eggs into the beds instead of the worms. Worms (reds) will not do well in anything other than what they were born and raised in unless you gradually adjust them to it over time. They will really help the soil in your beds.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2006 at 3:37PM
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recluse(6b/7 NE TN)

beachcat: I would recommend nightcrawlers for you. I've lived in both Jax and PCB in FL, and I recall having nightcrawlers in both of those cities. If you want to find them on your own property, do this:

[Cover a flashlight with red cellophane and search for them outside at night after it has rained, or it is humid, or dewfall is heavy. Nightcrawlers come above ground to find their food and mate, so you will probably see just their anteriors sticking above the ground, and will have to dig down to get them. Don't try to pull them from the dirt or you will break them. Like most worms, Nightcrawlers won't let go, and will break before giving up. North American Nightcrawlers, those you will find in your yard, don't come above ground much until it's around 50 degrees, so they will do much better in FL than other worms might.]

If you don't want to dig them up from your yard, you can look into the european nightcrawler. Many companies sell euros for composting. They are reportedly much better than the north american nightcrawler at composting and have a much better survival rate in captivity. Nightcrawlers do burrow, so they have a better chance of survival in extreme temps.

wfike: I have read in several articles and books on vermicomposting that transplanting worm eggs/cocoons has a much better success rate than transplanting the worms themselves.

When I pulled back the mulch (6" of leaves) from my raised beds in Feb, I found many babies worms in those leaves. I didn't see any adult worms until I began working the OM into the beds for the spring. I found a huge nightcrawler in one of the beds that I'd put there last spring. I was a bit surprised that it survived, because after reading how deep nightcrawlers burrow (up to 6') to escape cold, I thought it might have died in the bed. My beds are only 12"-14" deep.

Anyway, obviously the worms that I added to the beds last year survived, mated, the eggs hatched, and the babies survived. I attribute this to the fact that the worms were native to my area, however, as wfike stated, it's worth a try to add red worm eggs/cocoons to your beds. They may well survive.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2006 at 12:07PM
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kcmo_don(zone 6 Kansas)

I had the same problem, and now I have AWESOME soil in my beds....

Here is a link that might be useful: worms in my bed

    Bookmark   April 10, 2006 at 6:58PM
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