Worms are the heavy lifters in any hugel. Because of the nature of hugels, you can’t turn them over like you would traditional beds. Moving fertiliser, aerating and turning over the soil comes down to these little guys, and in my opinion, you can never have enough worms.
I love worms
I somehow acquired a worm farm about ten years ago (I think I pulled it out of a pile of trash out for council pickup). A friend gave me an icecream container of worms, and I diligently followed the instructions, bedded the worms down, and fed them “small amounts” until all the food was gone, then fed them some more. After a year, I still didn’t have many worms. Then the birds and mice got into my compost pile and I started haphazardly putting everything the worms would eat, into the worm farm.
My worms took off and in three months I was virtually overflowing with worms. Then disaster struck. The worm farm smelled of ammonia. I stopped feeding my worms, but within a week 90% of them were dead. I was devastated and disgusted. I poured trays of dead worms into a hole in the ground, and had only a handful left.
I swore never to have such a disaster again, and instead of collecting worm juice, I took the legs off the worm farm, and drilled holes into the collection tray. If ever anything went wrong with my worm farm again, the poor things could escape. I’ve never poisoned my worm farm since, and my strategy means that I have more worms than I could possibly ever contain in a simple worm farm.
Lots and lots of worms
I’ve been living in my current house for not quite 5 years. I brought two full worm farms with me and plonked them in a shady spot under the existing plum trees where the worm wee feeds the fruit trees all year round. I feed every scrap of worm friendly food into my worm farms. The rats/mice chewed into one of my worm farms so I bought two plastic bins, drilled holes into the bottom and started putting my worm food scraps into these. By the time the bin is full, you can see the worms have moved in, and they are cavorting in and around the food like it’s worm utopia.
The garden is full of worms, you can pick a handful of worms out of random places in the garden:
- in the woodchip and cow manure stockpiles
- in the piles of composting grass clippings
- in the hugels and all of the actively fed garden beds
- in piles of straw mulch (used to insulate vulnerable plants/water features over winter)
- under stones, logs or bits of wood
- in and under pot plants, and in the saucers
- in the potato patch
- in the woodchip paths
- in the (highly acidic) Bokashi bin
By letting the worms move freely from my worm farm into the garden, they populate any agreeable environment, and breed more worms. Where there is a food source in my garden, there are breeding worms.
Worms love hugels
Worms and hugels are a match made in heaven. It’s damp but well drained, there is lots of decaying food stuff in the mounds (compost, manure, straw, grass clippings), and between the sticks and woody hugel material are little caverns that the worms love to make homes in (you’ll know what I mean if you put egg shells or half avocado skins in your worm farms — they are always full of baby worms).
I have so many worms that I don’t bother separating them from the worm castings. I haul the whole tray/bin over to the hugels, dump worms and castings on top, and cover them up (usually with grass clippings for them to bed and breed in. Every hugel starts with a medium sized population of worms.
For a while, I kept a a scrap bin (a small rat-proof compost bin with holes drilled in the bottom) located in or near each bed to keep the worms in the hugels. I put garden scraps (and sometimes food scraps) into these, to keep the worms from moving onto a more abundant food source. I topped up the food in these once a month or so. Now I don’t bother. When rebuild my hugels once a year, I put another load of worms on top and the worms eat their way through the new hugel material for another year.