Gardening Articles for week ending 20th OCTOBER
Written by Wally Richards.
Earthworms are a very important aspect in gardening, when
you have lots of worms in your gardens you will have healthy
plants and soil. If you have good worm populations you can
bet your bottom dollar that the soil food web is active and
healthy also. On the other hand when you have few or no earthworms
then your soil and plants have a problem. We can gauge the
health of our soil by the number of earthworms per square
foot which can be 50 or more in that given area.
There are basically two types of worms, surface feeders (tiger
worms) which only operate in the organic matter near the surface
of the soil. Then there is the bigger, deep dweller worms,
which operate in the area from near the surface and down to
several feet under ground. The later one maybe the only one
you come across when digging the gardens if you are not supplying
ample organic material to the surface of the soil on a regular
bases. The deep dwellers do a lot of good bringing up minerals
from the lower depths and taking organic matter down, but
it is the surface dwellers that achieve the best gardens for
us, breaking up organic matter as their contribution to the
soil food web.
Plant disease spores are in the soil near the surface waiting
for the right conditions to activate and cause the common
health problems we see in our plants such as rust and blackspot.
When you have good populations of surface feeding worms they
take the spores into their bodies as they are feeding and
get rid of the spores.
Some years back I read an interesting account of the comparison
between two orchards, one had sheep and geese to keep the
grasses and weeds down where the other used Roundup.
When the scientists investigated the orchards they found good
worm populations in the one with sheep grazing but sparse
worm populations where the Roundup was used. The instance
of diseases in the trees of the Roundup weed controlled orchard,
was high and frequent chemical spray needed to be applied.
Where in the more natural, earthworm populated orchard diseases
were minimal and only required occasional control methods.
The scientists concluded it was the surface feeding worms
that were responsible for the low disease rates, killing millions
of spores while they foraged.
The other aspect would be a far healthier soil food web and
thus, healthier fruit trees to boot.
To obtain good worm populations they are a few dos and
donts. You have to supply ample organic material to
feed the worms which means animal manures and organic waste
such as foliage of weeds or plants. They need a sweet or alkaline
soil so a spreading of Rapid Lime every 3 months will be to
advantage. The surface of the soil needs to be kept moist
and moisture retained by a good layer of compost or mulch.
The liberal use of all man made fertilisers must be avoided
as these create an acidic condition which kills the soil life
and makes the worms move away to better conditions. Likewise
the avoidance of chemical spray and chemical weed killers.
A little man made fertiliser at the base of a plant can be
used if needed, but that is all and a little Rapid Lime applied
to remove the acid effect.
The problem arises in the summer when the soil starts to dry
out and we have to water the garden to keep the plants happy
and the soil life working. If our water is one which contains
chlorine from the towns supply, the chlorine is going
to kill the soil food web and really upset the worms.
Last week I was contacted by a lady in Palmerston North who
breeds Tiger Worms for sale to home gardeners. During the
conversation I asked her if she knew what effect chlorinated
water had on earthworms. She told me that they had, some years
back, while living at Bulls, the need to moisten up their
worm pits as the summer had become very hot and dry. (Normally
worm pits require no extra moisture as they are covered and
ample moisture is available most of the year)
But this particular summer the tops of the beds became too
dry and the worms would not work in these conditions so they
applied light sprinklings of the towns water which contained
What transpired was the young, immature worms suddenly went
into panic mode and reached maturity rapidly so they could
reproduce themselves but they were incapable of laying eggs.
The mature worms became very inactive only eating sufficient
to keep themselves alive and for 6 months would not reproduce.
This meant for that period of time these worm farmers had
no stock to sell. I did not realise that chlorinated water
could affect worms so much.
To overcome the problem if you can stand your chlorinated
tap water in vessels for a day or so then the chlorine will
dissipate and can be used safely on your gardens. The alternative
is to spend about $120 on a filter housing and filter to connect
your outside tap to. The replacement filters are about $35.00
and one filter should last about a season dependant on how
much water you are needing to use.
They make the world of difference to your gardens, keeping
the plants growing and healthy.
You can obtain a worm farm such as the Worm-a-Round where
you can breed your own worms with your kitchen scraps. Not
expensive and a big savings in the longer term. You gain the
worm pee which is a fantastic food for your soil and plants
plus the vermicast (worm casts) for potting up and soil conditioning.
Alternatively you can make a worm pit in a garden by digging
a hole about 16cm deep and 30cm wide, into the hole place
some shredded, wet newspaper along with kitchen scraps. Place
a sack or cover over the hole and leave for a week or so and
then from a worm farmer obtain a bag of Tiger worms.
Put the worms into pit and cover. Add more kitchen scraps
over the ensuring weeks and your starter pack of worms will
By placing wet newspaper, animal manure and compost over the
surrounding soil the worms will spread out over the garden.
Keep the area moist with non-chlorinated water and avoid chemical
fertilisers and sprays. Overtime you will find that your humus
level will build up and you can speed up this process by watering
Mycorrcin and Magic Botanic Liquid into the compost layer
every month or two.
Sprinkle Rapid Lime about every 3 months but avoid areas where
acid loving plants are growing.
The only disadvantage of having a worm pit, compared to a
worm farm, is not being able to collect and use the worm pee.
A lady told me a story a couple of years back about how she
started a Worm-a-Round farm off but instead of collecting
the worm pee she just left the tap turned on, to drip out.
The spot where she placed the Worm-a-Round was rough ground
as hard as the hobs of hell where nothing but a few weeds
After several months she discovered that soil area around
the worm farm, where the worm pee had being dripping, was
far better soil than in her gardens. Thats nature at work
If you have good worm populations you are fortunate so look
after them, they are the greatest asset you have in your gardens.
If not, you should look at buying a worm farm or bags of worms
and making worm pits. I tell you what, you will thank me in
a year or twos time if you do so, and don't forget to
look after the worms.
Any Problems ring me at 0800 466464 (Palmerston
Web site www.gardenews.co.nz