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It was the famous naturalist Charles Darwin who once said about earthworms, "It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organized creatures." Here are some interesting facts to help you better appreciate these "first gardeners" of nature.
The business of burrowing and ingesting dirt is an important one. Earthworm tunnels create channels for air and water to pass through. They also increase soil fertility by mixing the soil and producing excrement called "castings" that are rich in nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, nutrients essential for the growth and development of healthy plants.
Nightcrawlers: average 8 to 10 inches long and prized for fishing bait.
Garden ("Field") Worms: 5 to 7 inches long, gray or brown, and found commonly in damp soils.
Manure Worms: 4 to 5 inches long and found in soils rich in manure.
Red Worms (e.g. Red Wigglers): 3 to 4 inches long, red in color, and used commercially for vermicomposting.
Heart: It takes a lot of heart to eat dirt-five, to be exact! Earthworms also possess special glands between each heart that help them process the excess calcium from a diet consisting of dirt.
Lungs: Worms don't have lungs. Instead, they diffuse ("breathe") oxygen through their skin. This form of breathing makes it necessary for worms to keep their skin moist at all times. This isn't as easy as it seems. On the one hand, too much moisture can be fatal.
When soil becomes saturated (e.g. after a heavy rain) the excess water in the soil takes the place of oxygen and causes worms to move toward the surface. (Incidentally, worms also come to the surface after rains to mate due to increased mobility.) On the other hand, if they remain on the surface of the soil too long, they run the risk of drying out and suffocating.
Eyes: Rather than eyes, a worm's skin contains light sensitive cells. These cells don't allow them to see images like humans, but give worms the ability to detect light and changes in light intensity. Their skin is also very sensitive to vibration, touch, and chemicals.
Mouth: Earthworms can pull in large amounts of dirt through their mouths in a short period of time. They can produce their weight in worm castings in about 24 hours.
Setae: These tiny claw-like bristles are invisible to the human eye, but essential to worm locomotion. Earthworms travel underground by way of muscular contractions which shorten and lengthen the body. The setae anchor a portion of their body in place so they can lengthen the rest of their body and and move forward or contract and catch up.
When soil temperatures get too hot or too cold, earthworms adjust by tunneling deeper into the soil to where conditions are more stable. During extreme heat and drought, they may curl up into a ball, cover their body in a layer of mucus, and enter a state of suspended animation (called estivation) until conditions improve.
Worms remain close to their food supply--the bacteria, fungi, and algae found in soil that is high in organic matter. It can take several years for a good population of earthworms to become established. If their food source becomes depleted (or they become irritated by something in their environment, such as the use of chemicals) they will move on.
Regeneration: It's true, that when injured, some species of earthworms are capable of regenerating small end-segments of their bodies. Worms sliced in half or near the middle cannot regenerate and will die. You can prevent damaging (and reducing) your worm population by refraining from using garden tillers and minimizing disturbances to garden soil.
A large earthworm population is the sign of healthy soil-soil that is rich in nutrients and allows moisture and air to circulate freely through it. It's also a sign of a healthy garden ecosystem. The best way to attract more earthworms to your garden is to add more organic matter to your soil in the form of mulch, compost, or manure. Be careful when using chemical fertilizers to feed your plants. Fertilizers are salts and using them in excess can actually irritate worms' skin and chase them out of your garden.
I have always been an avid gardener without any chemicals. I was anxious to 'get started' in my large garden upon moving into a new home, but our soil was rock hard.
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Eileen from Northern CA
This is a great question. I'm going to assume that you're talking about fattening up your nightcrawlers and common field worms, and not referring to manure worms (red wigglers) that we feed with our kitchen scraps.
The most common earthworms found in the garden are nightcrawlers and field worms (also called garden worms). Night crawlers are easy to spot because they are big! They make wonderful bait for anglers, but they reproduce slowly, so they are not commercially raised as often as some other types of bait worms. Nightcrawlers prefer soil that is heavy in organic matter like lawns and grassy meadows. Field worms are smaller than nightcrawlers. They are also easy to identify because they have a pronounced raised band (clitellum) about _ length down their body. They tend to be more common in soils that are slightly poorer in organic matter. Both of these worms feed by bringing organic debris down into their burrows from the surface. As they move about, the holes they create aerate the soil. Their excretions, also called casts, improve the soil's structure.
When you feed your soil, you are feeding the worms that live there. The more organic nutrients your soil contains, the greater your worm population and the more vigorous your worms. Fertilizers do not necessarily provide earthworms with the food they need (synthetic or organic). They love foods high in nitrogen, so mixing green grass clippings, corn stalks, and green leaves into the soil(dried leaves are low in nitrogen) should provide them with plenty of food.
Apparently, the Purina company also makes and Purina Earthworm Chow for raising bait worms. I haven't been able to locate this online, but I have seen several references to it. You might try locating a worm ranch that raises earth worms (not vericomposting worms) for more information. I know the first two main ingredients are ground corn and ground soybean hulls.
Put some corrugated cardboard on the ground and get it good and wet. The glue between the layers of cardboard will get gooey and they will eat that. Sometimes they will breed in the cardboard and you will have lots of worms. Happy fishing!
Any veggie left overs, coffee grounds, they get real feisty, ripped up news paper wetted and put on top, if there in a container put a small light above it, this keeps them from moving out, and they will move out if it's dark.
"Make up the following recipe to fatten and toughen up your worms;
Chicken Layers Pellets 50%
Wheat or Corn Flour 10%
Powdered Whole Milk/Skim Milk 10%
Bran or Wheat Meal 20%
Agricultural lime or dolomite 10%
Mix the ingredients and sprinkle lightly on the food wastes about once a week.
After several months you will have fat, tough worms in ready supply for fishing."
You could start off with a few bought fishing worms and feed them up to create an on-going supply.
We call them compost worms over here in Oz. They are great for recycling kitchen food scraps and making the best "worm cast" compost.
Personally I think the worms are more useful kept to make this wonderful compost than feeding to the fish...but to each their own! :)
Are you feeding worms in your garden or worms in a bin? There are very different breeds in each. The most common worm used in compost bins, the "red wriggler," will always be smaller than a nightcrawler no matter how much you feed it, and isn't commonly used for fishing. The "European nightcrawler" (or "giant redworm") is also used in compost bins, and is also suitable for fish bait. These worms need the conditions of a compost bin or manure pile, and do not fare well in garden soil.
The most commonly used fishing worm is the Canadian nightcrawler, which is very hard to raise in captivity and is more commonly found outside. There are a number of other worms in garden soil, too -- if you are giving your garden lots of compost, and not using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides, all of which harm earthworms.
You can't keep garden worms successfully in a worm bin, long term, but you can keep them in a small bin for a short time to "fatten" them. This would be easier than feeding all the worms in the garden when you only want a few for fishing. It also won't interfere with your garden plants. In the first stages of breaking down, non-composted food will compete with your plants for nitrogen.
In a worm bin you can feed them just about anything, although the recipe given in the first answer will "fatten them up" the fastest. If you feed them scraps, they will eat faster (and therefore get fat faster) if the food is soft, or broken up in small pieces. And the rottener, the better! Adding molasses will make food disappear like it's money.
Avoid meat, fish, and dairy products because they will smell foul and attract other creatures besides worms (like rats). Avoid oils or oily foods because they decompose verrry slowly; avoid citrus peelings and onion for the same reason; avoid spicy foods because they really don't like them; mix acid foods like tomatoes up with non-acid foods.
Garden worms absolutely love bananas.
We always kept our "fising worm bed" underneath our rabbit
cage...and once a week, the worms got a good heavy sprinkling of plain old waterground or stone-ground corn meal.
It was watered in really well, and when we were going
fishing, my daddy would go out and with a single shovel
full of earth, we'd have about enough worms to catch
fish enough for a good fish dinner. There was no big
deal about it at all. For some unknown reason, the rabbits
provided everything else the worms needed. We lived in
Lakeland, Florida back in the early 40's, and that's
the way we all raised fishing worms.
All the best to you.
Julia in Orlando,FL