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Mar 6 / Jeff

Nature’s Best Kept Secret – Worms!

Now that the spring season is right around the corner, I have been busy adding soil amendments to my gardens and cleaning up the winter crops. Adding compost, manures, mulch, kelp meal, peat moss, etc. is all fine and dandy, but there is one of nature’s best kept secrets that every gardener must have…

Worms!

For those of you who are not too familiar with these creatures or for those of you who have a phobia, fear no more. These guys will eat their own weight in organic matter every day and excrete a highly nutritious fertilizer called castings. Plus, as they dig through the soil, they help aerate it, which aids the roots in penetrating deep into the soil.

The common variety used in gardens is called ‘Eisenia fetida’, a.k.a. red worms or earthworms. I managed to find a box of 300 worms at Summerwinds Nursery in Chandler (Arizona Ave. south of Guadalupe).

It looks like a Chinese food take-out box… except I wouldn’t eat the contents.

Delicious.

So I basically took handfuls of worms and set them in various parts of my yard – the vegetable gardens, in the blueberry patch, and the row of potatoes.

We’ll see how they do in the next few weeks…

14 Comments

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  1. Jeff G / May 7 2011

    My garden is about three years old. Each spring and fall, I add more amendments to the soil. It’s starting to look pretty good, and the veggies are starting to do quite well. But, no worms at all.

    So, I’ve been looking for a source of worms for a while now.

    How are yours doing?

    I’m over by Chandler Mall, so the place where you got your worms is within a reasonable distance. If your worms are doing well, I may just go get some of my own.

    • Jeff / May 31 2011

      Hi Jeff,

      It’s hard to tell unless you dig up the soil. The other day I was working one of my raised beds and found them wiggling around, so at least they’re still there. The texture of the soil has definitely improved. If you don’t have any worms, I suggest buying a small batch and throwing them in for good measure. They can only make your garden better!

      Jeff

  2. gray / Jun 12 2012

    Jeff,
    I am just starting to convert a plot on my 1.8 acres for a garden. My property is located by Casa Grande. I am looking for a place to get a few truckloads of compost. Is there any place in Phoenix to load up? I have a buddy in San Diego that tells me by their landfill there is an area that is composting on a large scale. Is there anything around Phoenix like this?

    • kerry / Nov 9 2013

      There is a farm out on Maracopa rd, near the Phoenix Ak Chin Casino, with a sign out front that says Dairy manure, and some big piles . I don’t know how well rotted it is. You might go check it out.

  3. De Brown / Apr 20 2013

    Please tell me a good source of info on what to plant when. I moved to Chandler 6 weeks ago and have lost nearly everything I’ve planted. I want a veggie garden, and may go container gardening if nothing else works. Thanks for your help.

    • kerry / Nov 9 2013

      tomatoes – start indoors in mid to late winter, then in feb to early april put them in the ground with straw or shred paper mulch, and a clear or thin white plastic cover over a wire arch – to keep the late frost off. Or a bit later on the north side of a south wall, so they get shade through the highest temps of the day. Or put slightly older seeding plants in the ground in august, (when they first show up at the home depot), and hope it doesn’t get frosty out before they ripen – mulch and protect if frost sees imminent.

      squash and melon, and most other spring veggies at about the same time; give or take, depending on their tolerance for frost, and dislike of heat. The short season types do better – Spring is difficult here, frost likes to hang late, but summer hits hard and fast.

      aug through nov – plant your leafy greens – lettuces, spinach, kale, cabbage broccoli, etc… they like it cooler, and will winter over just fine unless it freezes for several days, which has only happened about four times that I can remember in the 30 years I’ve been in Arizona. They will bolt and die in mid summer when temperatures hit the hundreds.

      Beans and peas – later summer/early fall, as soon as the temps are reliably down into the nineties, or in a slightly shady area. Usually late july or early august on through mid October.

      PS: the soil here has major anti-social issues.
      Raised bed is recommended but if you dig – pretend it’s a clay pot. make it big enough to accommodate whatever you are growing. Take a fat long drill and punch deep drains in the bottom. (If you are planting a tree or bush toss some soil acidifier in the drill holes and sprinkle across the bottom, because wow, severe alkaline, and when the roots hit bottom, they will appreciate the booster while they force onward – for smaller plants just sprinkle some across the bottom of the trench or bowl) fill with a mix of 1 part dirt, 1 part compost, and some sand and wood chips to help keep it loose. get some worms to add in, first to help keep the soil from caking into brick, and eventually they will help improve the soil if you keep adding a bit of compost every year for them to munch.

    • kerry / Nov 9 2013

      PPS: when I say big enough to accommodate- I mean nearly as big as the root ball of the fully mature plant will end up being, because you can’t count on it punching through and I’ve actually seen bushes here get root-bound as if they were in a pot way too small, despite being in the ground.

      For a prior tree, I had dug a hole only about twice the size of the container, and by the second year it was dying of root bind and alkalinity. The next time, I pickaxed through the brick hard soil until I had a hole five feet deep and almost six feet across for my little bitty five gallon orange trees – now they are thriving, and ten years old.

      Forget any acid lovers, like blueberries, unless you can dig a hole big enough they never touch bottom. They absolutely will not tolerate this soil.

  4. De Brown / Apr 20 2013

    Will check out Summerwinds Nursery on AZ so of Guadalupe for red worms. Second problem… I am squeemish about touching worms.. any suggestions? (I’m fine with spiders and other hard shelled critters.)
    -De

  5. De Brown / Jun 29 2014

    I have yet to find a source of earthworms! I’ve called every establishment suggested and none have them anymore because, they tell me, it’s too hot for worms to survive in a compost pile as they can’t go deep enough to escape the heat.

    In the last year I’ve had 4 full batches of compost, using my Vita-Mix to reduce kitchen scraps to liquid and adding at least one half gallon of it to the compost pile daily, sometimes several in a day. Still, I’d like to have worms in there too.

    • Jeff / Jun 29 2014

      Hi De,

      It is pretty hot right now, so I would be surprised if you could still find worms for sale locally. You should still be able to find them online. Try a Google search for “worms for sale”. When the weather cools in the fall, some of the local nurseries will start to carry them again.

      Jeff

    • Jerry / Feb 8 2016

      I just put my food scraps in the dirt and the worms go do their thing. They really enjoy melons.

  6. Max / Oct 21 2015

    Thanks all for the tips. Summerwinds has them in stock. 300 red worms for 17.50

  7. Jerry / Feb 8 2016

    I am in Golden Valley and I have lots of worms. I bought a pound a few years back and almost lost them when I moved here but they have made a real come back. I didn’t realize it at first but a few escaped the container and were making it in the sandy dirt of the desert. So I am going to try and encourage native worms by putting things that worms like to eat in the ground. What do you think?

    • Jeff / Feb 10 2016

      Hi Jerry,

      Worms are definitely helpful for the soil. Be sure to add plenty of compost or other organic material so they can break it down and provide additional nutrients for your plants. Don’t forget to provide enough water too.

      Jeff

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