Tropical Fruit Forum - International Tropical Fruit Growers

Everything Else => Tropical Vegetables and Other Edibles => Topic started by: BajaJohn on April 09, 2017, 12:11:50 PM

Title: Worm management
Post by: BajaJohn on April 09, 2017, 12:11:50 PM
Basically looking for tips on how to improve the soil in my dry, semi-tropical climate. Worms always come up as a beneficial soil organisms so I wanted to tap any experience people have with worms in hot, dry climates. Temperatures in the summer remain in the upper 20s and 30s (C) even throughout the night.
I've put a lot of effort into composting and after 4 years found a population of what appears to be pot worms as I dug up potatoes from a compost filled trench. They seem to have populated only the compost as I haven't found them in any soil. The natural soil here is so dry that it is accepted that worms are uncommon here. The challenge now will be to keep them going through the hot summer when local advice is to clear the garden, dig it over to turn the soil and leave it to dry as the wildlife extracts pests from the loosened soil. I'll be attempting some vermiculture but suspect it will be a challenge in the 3-month long spell of 90F+ that barely moderates at night.
I don't find worms in my compost bins, most likely because they get quite hot.
Title: Re: Worm management
Post by: Zafra on April 10, 2017, 12:58:24 PM
I'm in tropical wet/dry with heavy clay "soil" and we find very few worms near the surface even in the wet season, nada in the dry. dig further down though, where the soil cools off, and there are fat pink worms - not the red wigglers people use for composting - doing their thing down there. knowing that worms like cool and dark, the only thing you can do to encourage them in a hot dry climate is mulch the living daylights out of everything, a couple of feet deep or more at all times, especially with stuff worms like to eat. populations are so low there you probably won't attract them naturally, so you'll have to "seed" worms under the mulch. then the key will be keeping up the mulch and some amount of moisture in there, or they'll dry out and bake pretty quick.
Title: Re: Worm management
Post by: LivingParadise on April 10, 2017, 02:22:58 PM
Hmmm... we don't have worms here either. We don't have much in the way of soil, it's too hot, too, hard, too dry, and too full of rocks. The further down you go, it may get a little cooler but then you hit the salt water table. I figure many of the tasks that worms do, bugs that DO like to live here will do also, even if not quite as efficiently. 

To an extent I'm starting to feel that I have to accept some of the serious limitations of my local environment, and focus on native plants and learning which ones have edible and medicinal properties. This climate is just exceptionally harsh for nearly all categories of plants that are not indigenous. The other option of course is container planting and mulching.
Title: Re: Worm management
Post by: BajaJohn on April 11, 2017, 11:35:53 AM
Thanks for the suggestions. It is fascinating to how cultivation can change the soil and it's inhabitants. There are some areas that I can mulch heavily and keep moist throughout the summer. At least this could be a worm nursery to jump-start other parts of my garden at the end of summer. I'm also getting a lot of small snails which do a little damage to my crops but currently not enough to raise alarm. The garden is evolving quite rapidly and I'm a bit wary of straying too far from conventional local wisdom in case I'll be repeating long-forgotten mistakes. That said, I'm open to experimenting and am also trying to push productive crops into the summer months when conventional wisdom is to leave the ground fallow.
The biggest challenge is my 30' x 30' veggie plot where I imagine deep mulching would present a challenge to cultivating some crops. Besides protecting worms, I suspect it would protect less desirable creatures that predators can find easily in the turned, fallow soil of summer. I've been rotivating mid-July and then again in September with 3-4 cubic yards of compost. It may be an idea to hold back some of the compost and concentrate it in trenches under some of the crop rows to encourage worms.
Another alternative is to encourage other creatures that may replace worms. Several varieties of ants seem to be quiet abundant and accepted here. In contrast to other areas where the popular strategy seems to be to get rid of them. What other bugs should I be encouraging and is there anything I should be doing to encourage them?
Title: Re: Worm management
Post by: Zafra on April 11, 2017, 02:02:28 PM
never fallow! beneficial critters of all kinds need living roots to get it on with  ;D. use your fallow times to grow beneficial cover crops which feed and protect the soil, create lots of organic mass, etc.
Title: Re: Worm management
Post by: LivingParadise on April 13, 2017, 11:00:53 PM
What other bugs should I be encouraging and is there anything I should be doing to encourage them?

This I don't know much about, but my inclination is that worms are just spoken of the most because they are abundant in the places where the people speaking about them are. I would think that there are other organisms that do similar work, that might be just as beneficial. Those that are abundant where you live already. Leaning on those ancient traditions, where you have the opportunity to learn about them, probably is the best way to discover this. Or ancient agricultural practices in similar climates/soil regions. People did learn these lessons over thousands of years of trial and error, so it is a waste to re-invent the wheel with our "modern" world. But, certainly there are times when a little innovation works miracles. Wish I could give you more ideas, but I am still figuring my own situation out. I do have an immense respect for the people who lived off this land for centuries, if not thousands of years, though. Agriculturally, it is an immense challenge, and nearly all information about use of the rare native plants here has been lost.

There was someone else from the Keys - name I think was 'By the Sea'? - who used to post a lot to the old vegetable forum, who strikes me as someone who might have more to offer this conversation, because I think (he?) was someone who grew organically, and certainly had a few more years of experience than I do here to draw from. I remember building up mounds being in discussions, for instance. You could also try planting beds in-ground. Some of these might be ways to control specific areas of soil for temperature and other qualities that worms or other organisms might need - or perhaps without the need of them at all - to nurture specific plants that need richer conditions.

I think you yourself talked about the benefits of cacti on soil, right? So plants like that, or ice cream bean, etc. might be a good option to grow in areas where you need the soil to be broken up and improved. I know there are plenty of more examples, but I can't think of any right now. Some of this is discussed in the fruit forum, and should apply pretty well to vegetables just the same. We will keep brainstorming and see what suggestions people come up with...

There's also trucking in debris and manure, where unwanted, from local areas. For instance here, people are always wanting to get rid of seaweed, if you're willing to do the work to collect it yourself. And as I understand it, it works great on the soil as mulch, as well as buried as compost, no rinsing needed. I haven't gotten around to it yet. But that's another way to build at least a beneficial top layer, and also help keep moisture in in dry areas. You just have to be careful with random local debris, because a lot of invasives or harmful materials can often be in there that you might not want in your soil. Improving soil, especially over a large area, is a very long process. Have you looked into how Grimal Grove in the Lower Florida Keys does it? I have not had much contact with them yet, but as I understand it the guy worked much of his life to totally transfer a pretty inhospitable landscape into a tropical plant oasis. Some of the original work, and the current restoration project, will not apply to me because they have different rock underneath their island than I have on mine, and more fresh water than where I am, but they are committed to organic growing too and probably have a lot of good ideas to share. Again, what works for fruit, will often work for vegetables. Just some ideas...
Title: Re: Worm management
Post by: spaugh on April 20, 2017, 08:47:16 PM
Mulching and keeping it wet will keep the worms happy.  We don't have worms where I am at either except for where I have mulched and am watering.  The worms will work on breaking down the mulch.  The soil here is decomposed granite.  Much like most of northern baja.
Title: Re: Worm management
Post by: gnappi on June 08, 2017, 06:39:14 PM
When I first moved into my house it was an eco desert in the sandy loamy soil. As I dumped trimmer mulch and hand tilled it in up to 10 inches down in certain areas and after decomposing worms spontaneously appeared no doubt from nearby lawns. Now I have lots of worms.