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Gathering Garden Worms

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Spring rains don’t just water my garden — they’re also great for gathering garden worms. I started wrangling worms many years ago in Des Moines, Iowa, when I had a new vegetable garden but very few worms to help my plants thrive.

One rainy night, I was crossing a parking lot and found myself dodging scores of huge, thick earthworms trying to escape the downpour. A light bulb (more like a neon sign) went off in my head. Worms! Free for the taking! I searched the parking lot for a container and hit pay dirt with a discarded extra-large drink cup. In just a few minutes I had gathered enough worms to fill the container two-thirds full. I drove home thrilled with my newfound garden helpers — until I noticed the worms crawling over the sides of the cup and onto the floor mat. Needless to say, I deposited them in my vegetable garden as soon as I got home.

Earthworms are unseen garden heroes that aerate soil and leave behind worm castings—free fertilizer.
Garden worms: worms on pavement during rain
Paved areas are often littered with worms after a good rain.

Since that night, I’ve perfected my technique for gathering garden worms. First, I scope out potential worm gathering locations. I’ve always been successful with large expanses of blacktop near fields or in recently developed areas (especially those on former farmland). I’ve found that the best time for collecting is a few hours after the rain starts, as the water working its way into soil begins to drive the worms out. If I head out at night, I wear a headlamp. I also like going early in the morning, just before sunrise, when there’s some ambient light.

To collect soon-to-be garden worms, I use a container with a lid that allows air to circulate. My fishing friends store worms in cheap foam coolers with a few holes poked in the lid, but I prefer something I can handle with one hand. My favorite bin is an upcycled design using plastic milk jugs (see image at right), as it’s super easy to get the worms in with the funnel opening. I fill the bottom with garden soil, then top it with a light mulch layer, like leaf litter. Not only does this help keep the worms in the container, but it cuts down on the slime factor, too!

Once I’ve gathered enough worms for the garden and am back in the car, I stash the worm-filled bin in a deep bucket or box to keep it stable during the drive home. If it’s still raining when I arrive, I keep the bin in a cool, shady, protected spot, like a garden shed or garage. (I learned the hard way that critters like skunks and possums like to chow down on worms.) If the rain keeps falling for more than a day or two, a little cornmeal sprinkled on top of the leaf litter is enough to help nourish the worms. Once the rain stops, I introduce the worms to my vegetable garden, releasing them into the soil near plants, tucking them beneath leaf litter or mulch. (I like to do this near dusk or when it’s cloudy.)

I’m currently breaking ground on a garden at a new home, and I haven’t seen many worms yet. Luckily, I know just what to do.

 

Article and images by of Julie Martens Forney.