Ways to keep worms safe while digging in the garden
June 10, 2016 11:38 AM   Subscribe

I really hate it when I'm digging in the garden and accidentally slice a worm in half with my shovel. What are the best ways to prevent this from happening?

I'm hoping you all might have some suggestions for safer tools or digging methods, ways to warn the worms to temporarily leave an area (but to come back later to help the stuff I've planted), attract them to some other spot or any other strategy that will help keep the worms in my garden safe. Superstition and anecdotes are welcome in addition to scientifically validated methods, just be clear about which your suggestion is. Thanks!
posted by metaphorever to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
On the one hand, you really can't.

And some people might buy in to the myth that a worm cut in half will survive and become two worms. That is entirely untrue. One part of it might live, but even those chances are slim.

On the other hand, there is a technique that is illegal, and possibly painful to the worms, but might work.

There are ways to use electricity to send current through the ground. Worms will come to the surface to get away from the current. People use this method to harvest night crawlers for fishing.

In my experience, not every worm in the affected area will come to the surface. It is quite likely some die.

So, you might just have to get over it?
posted by yesster at 11:42 AM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had also been thinking of bringing worms to the surface, though I thought you could do it with water, which also tends to make them come up. I don't know if some of them die.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:46 AM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

i dont' know how you can prevent mechanical vermicide while gardening, but it may comfort you to know that nearly all earthworms are invasive species in north america.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 12:02 PM on June 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

Would it make you feel better if the birds got the chopped up worms? You could put up some bluebird houses. The babies are voracious, and the parents are quick to pounce on any worms or grubs that I leave on the surface.
posted by Ostara at 12:14 PM on June 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

Dig with your hands? Probably not 100% effective at not squishing worms, but close.

Look into lasagna gardening, where you layer compostables and plant into that as the pile breaks down. It's soft enough you could get by without a shovel.
posted by momus_window at 12:21 PM on June 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Use a gardening fork not a spade. If you are simply trying to clear the ground/turn it over it's a good too for it anyway and loosens up weeds for easier removal. You may occasionally impale one if your fork is sharp but it would be a very much reduced chance of killing a worm. Or if you need a hole, use the fork to loosen the dirt, then just gently shovel it out with a blunt shovel it out less chance of slicing a worm. This also works for hand tools.
posted by wwax at 12:31 PM on June 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

Use a pitchfork instead of a shovel. Less chance of slicing one that way.
posted by kookywon at 12:31 PM on June 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yep. Garden fork. You could also try this.
posted by zennie at 12:34 PM on June 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

I just try to keep the soil moist and friable, and make sure it's plenty moist when it's time to dig. Then you don't need to shovel as hard or slice the surface so much; you can kind of scoop the soil more.
posted by amtho at 12:38 PM on June 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Practitioners of the Jain religion are strictly forbidden from harming any animal so I thought they might have some tips, but I didn't find anything with a cursory Google search. You may want to dig deeper (ha, I'm terrible).
posted by AFABulous at 12:49 PM on June 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

@yexster: running an electrical current through the ground is illegal?
posted by falsedmitri at 8:47 PM on June 10, 2016

I came in to say "Garden Fork" also. Our fork looks something like this - it' honestly a far better way to dig holes in your yard, till an area, or aerate than any shovel I've seen. Another example, another.

But another thing to consider is "no till gardening". We do it partly because I am lazy but also because it is supposed to be good for the worms--in fact, the worms do all the 'tilling' of the soil that you need, if you treat them right. No-till gardening page 1, page 2.
posted by flug at 11:02 AM on June 11, 2016

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