Manure: An Earthworm Inoculant for Compost?

Embracing Our Interdependence With Nature

Manure: An Earthworm Inoculant for Compost?

Eventually when I speak to people about their compost piles and bins the inquiry turns to earthworms, and whether they should *buy worms to add to their compost piles. I always say “Put your compost on the ground, and the earth worms will come.”. That, it seems, has always been true for me, or has it? The one compost additive I have always brought in to my yard is manure. Not bagged composted cow manure, but manure off of the pasture or from the stable. I wonder now if my gardens and my compost are well populated by worms because I have always added manure.

When I think about the development of my property I recall that my house was built in the only clearing there was on my property, and before any building was done that piece on which my house would stand was raised up quite a bit with some of the worst fill I have ever seen. It was basically orange and grey sand. There wouldn’t have been any worms in that. As prescribed by the laws governing builders a certain amount of seed grass sod was laid out on top of that fill. Could worms have come in with that sod? I think it is likely. Of course I began planting away the grass as soon as I came in. Many of the plants I put in the ground came from my neighbor across the field. She has great dirt and lots of worms on her property, and other plants came from my friendly neighborhood nursery. Their pots frequently have worms in the soil, and there the worms are regarded as a nuisance (they say that earthworms in potted plants make the soil more heavy and compact which crushes the roots.). This has been going on for the last 18 years, so I don’t know from where my first worms came.

My primary vegetable garden was built in 1992, and since then was given several inches of manure and brown leaves every summer to prepare it for the planting season. All of the gardens in the yard around my vegetable garden have crumbly worm casting tops and if I lift out a rock I can watch a big irredescent pink earthworm taking a quick dive to safety. I don’t recall when I began seeing worms on my property, but I do remember the first time I saw them in my vegetable garden. I felt certain they had come in with manure.

When I first began making compost outside of the garden in on the ground bins I put manure in the mix, and from the very start that compost was lousy with earthworms. I think therefore that if you are not seeing worms in your on the ground compost pile and it is otherwise working and full of all of the other invertebrates of the compost pile you should add manure from the field or stable. If you are in my town and would like to acquire a bucket of manure, or a bucket of compost complete with worms and other compost inhabitants from me please look to my consulting page to contact me.

If you have any experience with earthworms or no earthworms in your compost and soil I would like to hear about it. Please feel free to comment at the end of this article.

*As you may know I keep composting worms in closed bins for my vermi-composting project. These worms are best suited for the kitchen garbage bin environment. People should not buy this type of worm to put in their outdoor compost. These worms are not natives and I understand that they are not likely to survive where earthworms thrive. Conversely earthworms are not likely to survive in my vermi-composting bin, and should not be harvested from the earth for that purpose.

Here’s To Worms


4 Responses

  1. Jeanne says:

    Adina, what a wonderful time to be gardening, even if it is hot here in zone 9B. How are your native tomatoes doing? I have lots of yellow leaves and not doing well. I don’t want to lose them, they taste divine!!!! Do you find they grow horizontal more than verticle? Love your site.

  2. Adina says:

    Hi Jeanne, Thanks for your comment. My wild cherry tomatoes are finishing out too. They do seem to bush way out, and grow in many directions. My best bush ever was a volunteer that put itself outside the wire fence holding in my compost pile . That bush was rooting into the compost the whole way up, and it lasted far into the summer months.. it also dropped lots of berries into my compost and this year every shovel full sprouted wild cherry tomatoes!

  3. Karen B. Saito says:

    I have two horses and lots of manure. Where can I read more about using worms to compost manure. ie do I need bins, should the manure be rotted and what type of earthworms should I use? I don’t see many worms in the pile, which is spread over a large area, not piled too high. Thanks, Karen

  4. Adina says:

    Hi Karen, You can use red wigglers to compost manure. I also have native worms in my manure bins though they came with the manure, I didn’t put them there. I use old Tote Bins with screens fixed on top for manure and worms, but you can also create winrows, or boxes or troughs which will better protect your worms from predators like moles and armadillos. I don’t know which book you should read on this subject. If you worm your horses you should only use manure that has had some time to sit out in the weather before adding it to your worm bins, or use the manure farthest away from the worming dates.

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