Garden Basics with Farmer Fred

126 Jumping Worms! Human Food vs. Plants

August 06, 2021 Fred Hoffman Season 2 Episode 126
Garden Basics with Farmer Fred
126 Jumping Worms! Human Food vs. Plants
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

One day, you might be doing a little digging in your garden, and up comes a worm. But it’s not just any worm. This one is easily identified by its violent thrashing about, slithering, and actual jumping in the air. Say hello to the Jumping Worm, also known as the Crazy Worm. And it’s not a garden good guy. The jumping worm is a pest with a voracious appetite for all the things that helps your soil thrive.  And it is slithering it way across the country. We have tips for dealing with the jumping worm. Also: if you’re in the habit of pouring beer or coffee or milk on your plants, you’re probably not doing them much good, if any. Garden Myths expert Robert Pavlis runs down the kitchen staples that should probably be left in the kitchen. It’s all on episode 126 of the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots.  And we will do it all in under 30 minutes. Let’s go!

Jumping Worm (picture from Wisconsin Natural Resources Dept.)

Smart Pots
Jumping Worms Information (Oregon State University)
Jumping Worms Leap into Oregon
Video of Jumping Worms
Map of Jumping Worms in the U.S.
Robert Pavlis' Garden Myths Blog
Video: Farmer Fred on Cool Season Vegetable Gardening
Sacramento Co Master Gardeners Harvest Day Aug. 7  Zoom link

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GB 126 Jumping Worms, Human Food vs Plants 



Debbie Flower, Robert Pavlis, Mary in VA, Farmer Fred

Farmer Fred  00:00

Garden Basics with Farmer Fred is brought to you by Smart Pots, the original lightweight, long lasting fabric plant container. it's made in the USA. Visit slash Fred for more information and a special discount, that's  

Farmer Fred  00:20

Welcome to the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. If you're just a beginning gardener or you want good gardening information, you've come to the right spot. 

Farmer Fred  00:32

One day, you might be doing a little digging in your garden, and then up comes a worm, but it's not just any worm. This one is easily identified by its violent thrashing about, its slithering, and actually jumping in the air. Well, say hello to the jumping worm, also known as the crazy worm. And it's not a garden good guy. The jumping worm is a pest with a voracious appetite for all the things that helps your soil thrive. And it's slithering its way across the country. We have tips for dealing with the jumping worm. Also, if you're in the habit of pouring beer or coffee or milk on your plants, you're probably not doing them much good, if any. Garden myths expert Robert Pavlis runs down the kitchen staples that should probably be left in the kitchen. It's all on Episode 126 of the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots. And we'll do it all in under 30 minutes. Let's go.

Mary in VA  01:35

Hi, Farmer Fred. This is Mary. I garden in Arlington, Virginia, which is zone 7a. I'm a new gardener, I started gardening during the pandemic. When I'm digging the soil, I will sometimes encounter these things that look like worms. But they jump, they jump! They literally slither and jump. And then I think maybe they're snakes. And I was wondering if you had any idea what they might be. Thank you for indulging the questions Farmer Fred. I enjoy your podcast so much.

Farmer Fred  02:08

Mary, thanks so much for that question about the jumping worms. It's also known as crazy worm or Asian jumping worm and snake worm. And apparently, it's coast to coast. I'm glad they're not here, Debbie Flower.

Debbie Flower  02:21

We can only hope that they don't get here. But this is an Asian native that has somehow gotten into the US. And boy, that must have been a surprise to see the worms, jumping in your garden. 

Farmer Fred  02:32

And they're good for nothing. 

Debbie Flower  02:33

They're good for nothing. Yes, they eat they exist mostly in the duff. So the lovely organic matter that we love to talk about and how beneficial it is. That's where they live and they eat twice as much, at least, as any other kind of worm that we have in our garden would eat in a day. And when they poop it out, you know, we like the worm compost, the worm castings we call them from earthworms. But when these jumping worms poop out their castings, they are not good for the environment, for the gardening environment. So they're a real headache, they probably came to you either in a plant that had them that you got, hopefully not at a nursery. Nurseries are aware and trying to keep track of it. But they get their stock from other places, or in a plant you got from a friend or on tools. Or if you visited a garden that had them and they were on your feet, something like that is how they would get into your garden. So controlling them and preventing them from spreading and other parts of the garden will be some sanitation. When you have worked in the area of the garden that has them you will want to be sure that your tools and your shoes are clean, and your wheelbarrow and your bucket and whatever else is cleaned. And if when you get new plants to knock them out of the pot and shake them to make sure that there aren't any in there. When they have babies. They have cocoons, I couldn't find out what those cocoons look like. But they have several babies in the cocoon. And then they come out and grow and quickly get to be big. So if you're not just looking for the worms themselves, you're looking for these cocoon like structures, all I can think about is that movie, called "Cocoon". And to get rid of them, the best thing is to lay plastic, bury it around the edges over the area. It's generally assumed that these are new, and they're not going to be all over your yard yet. They're just going to be where you found them in this one location. So take plastic and lay it over that. The thickness of the plastic is not as important as if you're solarizing. It could be two mils thick. It could be thicker than that. Clear colored plastic, lay it over them, bury the edges, and it should get up to 104 degrees pretty quickly. And that will definitely kill the cocoons. I didn't see anything that said about whether it would kill the adults as well. But you don't want to continue this process, On and on and on.

Farmer Fred  05:01

A lot of Cooperative Extensions in many states now have handouts about the jumping worm, it's become that big of a problem. And apparently, the cocoons are pretty small, two to three millimeters across, it could be orange or brown in color, it kind of circular with one point, I would think those would be difficult to find in soil.

Debbie Flower  05:19

Yeah, two to three millimeters, that's 25 millimeters per inch. So yeah, two to three millimeters is very small.

Farmer Fred  05:27

And being that color, they're gonna blend right in with the soil.

Debbie Flower  05:30

Right, so you're going to have to just do the plastic and get it up to 104 degrees or above to kill them, because you're probably not going to find them.

Farmer Fred  05:38

The other issue with the jumping worm is apparently they're popular for fishing, and there are people who are selling the worms. So don't release fishing worms into your garden for one thing, just in case.

Debbie Flower  05:50

Right. And that can happen. I've done it, I've gone and bought fishing worms to try to improve my garden in the past. And so you want to know the difference, obviously, they're going to jump. So that's, that's one big difference. If they're jumping, you do not want to put them in your garden. But just in case that doesn't happen in the moment you look at them. The jumping worms will have a white to gray band as an earthworm does has a band on it, but it's very smooth and not raised on on the jumping worm. And it goes all the way around the jumping worm, completely around, in a circle. Whereas an earthworm will have a white to gray raised section but it is raised, it is higher than that around it and it doesn't go all the way around the circle of the worm.

Farmer Fred  06:41

Jumping worms, coming to a garden near. you unless you're vigilant.

Debbie Flower  06:45

Oh, boy. Keep your eyes out. Get rid of them as fast as you can.

Farmer Fred  06:48

There you go. Thanks for helping out on this one, Debbie. 

Debbie Flower  06:51

Oh, it's a pleasure. Thank you, Fred.

Farmer Fred  06:52

We'll have a link in today's show notes, more information about the jumping worm, from Oregon State University. Look for that in the show notes for this episode of the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. 

Farmer Fred  07:07

You've heard me talk about Smart Pots, the award winning fabric planter here on the Garden Basics podcast. They're durable and reusable. I've been using mine for five years now. And once again, they're being pressed into service in my yard. Yeah, I have this problem. I grow too many tomatoes for the amount of allotted sunny space I have for them. So those extra tomato plants go into the Smart Pots. I place them in scattered areas around the yard where I know they'll get enough sun, which is a premium in my yard. And even five years later, I can pick up those Smart Pots, plant and all, and move them around without fear of the Smart Pot tearing or ripping. Smart Pots are made of breathable fabric, which creates a healthy root structure for plants. And, Smart Pots come in a wide variety of sizes and colors. Visit for more information about the complete line of Smart Pots, the lightweight fabric containers. And don't forget that "slash Fred" part. Because on that page are details of discounts when you buy Smart Pots on Amazon. Okay, now I understand maybe you want to see the Smart Pots before you buy them. That's not a problem. Smart Pots are available at independent garden centers and select Ace and True Value stores nationwide. To find a store near you, visit slash Fred. 

Farmer Fred  08:31

What do you give plants to drink besides water and plant food? Well, this question actually has been asked on many social media outlets, in many gardening groups. And you might be surprised at the number of household kitchen products that are given to plants. Are they worth it? Well, there is one gentleman who actually tackles a lot of garden myths. He's even written a book on the subject. It's Robert Pavlis. He's a well known speaker-educator, with over 40 years of gardening experience. He's the author of several books including "building natural ponds", "soil science for gardeners", and "garden myths". And he publishes the popular gardening blog, as well as garden . He gardens in Ontario, Canada, and Robert Pavlis, it's a pleasure to have you on the program. Hey, it's great to be here. Tell us, for those of us who aren't familiar with gardening conditions in Ontario, Canada, exactly what your seasons are.

Robert Pavlis  09:33

Well, we have a zone five garden so we have a fairly long winter. Around here we don't get great snow cover but we do have snow and then we have hail and sleet and everything in between and then it gets warm and then it gets cold. So even though our winters aren't that cold. The problem here is that we have this freeze-thaw problem. Then spring comes, the summers are quite humid, quite hot. So today is 29 degrees centigrade. And fall comes pretty quick. And you know, by middle September, while things are finished in the garden by October, we could have frost.

Farmer Fred  10:16

So if you're going to grow a summer vegetable garden there, you start around Mother's Day and wrap it up by, I guess, the end of September.

Robert Pavlis  10:27

Yeah, well, our traditional last frost date is May 24. That's moved back now to around May 10. So a lot of gardeners up here will try to extend that season. So we use things like rowcovers, or we gamble, what I call gambling in the garden. And I plant things two or three weeks early and hope it doesn't freeze. But that doesn't always work. And various other ways to keep things a little warmer. But yeah, early May. Tomatoes and things, warm crops, they probably won't go out til late, middle-late May, depending on the year.

Farmer Fred  11:06

All right. So a bit shorter than here in California to say the least. 

Robert Pavlis  11:11

Just a little bit. Right. 

Farmer Fred  11:15

And for those of us who work in Fahrenheit, not centigrade, I believe 29 degrees centigrade would be about, what, 80 degrees or so?

Robert Pavlis  11:25

I think so. Yes. Okay.  Canada converted to centigrade a long time ago. And I'm a Centigrade guy now.

Farmer Fred  11:35

I don't blame you. It makes sense, it makes sense to me. All right. Well, I love your garden column that you post, and people can subscribe to it. It's free, and you get email notifications when they are released. And a couple of weeks ago, you had one on feeding plants from the kitchen, which products actually work. And for those of you who are short of time, the quick answer is, "not many". But I am amazed though, at what food scraps people are feeding to plants that they think will work. I guess we should start off with is exactly how plants absorb nutrients.

Robert Pavlis  12:18

Plant roots only absorb certain things. And they have to be what I call small molecules. So nitrogen, potassium, phosphate, these are all small molecules. But what you have in most plants is large molecules, proteins, carbohydrates, and so on. And you can put all that you want on a plant, it can't use it until it decomposes. That's why that composting process is so important. We're taking large molecules, converting them to these small little nutrients that plants can use. And until that happens, plants get no benefit. And they need a certain amount of those, they need a fair amount of nitrogen. They use a fair amount of potassium and phosphate, and then they use like a half a dozen other minor things like calcium, magnesium, manganese, sulfur, and they need all of those. So one of the things I look at when we're talking about stuff we're putting on our plants, the first question you really need to ask is, what nutrients are in there. And by the way, the one nutrient that most soil is missing is nitrogen. And I won't get into why,  just accept the fact that most of the other nutrients are probably there in the soil. But nitrogen can go away very quickly. It doesn't stick to soil,  it runs away. So in most cases, growth is controlled by the amount of nitrogen you give your plants. Now, if you are deficient in one of those other things, you also need to add that one, but nitrogen is a key one. So the key question is how much nitrogen is in this, what I called food scraps, adding to my plants, and if it's very minor, then it's really not going to do much for your plants.

Farmer Fred  13:59

And besides, it has to be converted by the soil biology into a form that the plant can use.

Robert Pavlis  14:06

That's right, and nitrogen is used mostly as nitrates and some as urea. But plants pretty much use nitrates. So if I take a big protein molecule, which has lots of nitrogen in it, and I give it to my plant, it's absolutely useless, the plant can't use it. Now, the bacteria in soil may come along and degrade that protein and eventually release the nitrogen. But until the nitrongen is converted into nitrate, plants can't use it.

Farmer Fred  14:36

Well, speaking of high protein foods that people like to put on plants for one reason or another, is milk. And this is something that people have been trying for years. Does milk do any good on a planet?

Robert Pavlis  14:50

Well, I guess it depends on how you ask the question, right? So milk is mostly water, the second biggest ingredient in clean whole milk is fats. So now there's a tiny, tiny little bit of other stuff there. And some of that is protein, and protein does contain nitrogen. So milk does have a very low level of nitrogen in it. It also has things like calcium and magnesium and some of the other nutrients. So yes, adding milk to plants will provide nutrients to that plant. The question you really need to ask is, you know, is that enough nitrogen to actually make my plant grow? Well, and quite honestly, if you have spent milk, you know, you can't drink it. Okay, put it in your garden, put it on some plants, and it will do some good. But milk is an extremely expensive way to get nitrogen. So if you're using good milk that you could drink, I would never put that on the soil. That's just a waste of money. Exactly. It's

Farmer Fred  15:56

Exactly. It's a  very expensive source of nutrients, if you dare. All right. Now, people also want to think that they can get their plants to grow faster if they give them some coffee. And I don't think plants absorb caffeine.

Robert Pavlis  16:10

Yeah, this is something that people like to do. So they've finished drinking their coffee, there's a bit left on, it's got to be good for them, let's put it in the plants. So what I did in that blog post is I took a slightly different approach, because so many people are against chemicals, and pro organic. And this concept never makes any sense to me. I'm a chemist, so I understand what's going on here. And coffee is full of all kinds of carcinogens, and I listed them in the blog. And, I said, would you give that to your plants? I mean, would you even drink it yourself? All right. Well, that's the key here. And the thing that people just don't understand is that there's lots of chemicals out there that are toxic, and most of those, in fact, come from plants. Remember, coffee is a plant extract, it is coming from plants. Every plant we eat is full of toxins. The key question is how much of that toxin is in the plant? And what does it do to our bodies, and in most cases, these levels are very low. You don't have to be concerned about them. The chemical names just sound really nasty. They are carcinogens without question, but their levels are low. And the other thing is our bodies have been doing this for millions of years and we're very adapted eating these toxins as long as they stay in low levels. So coffee doesn't hurt us and coffee will probably not hurt most plants. However, there's a caveat here. Coffee does have caffeine in it and coffee grounds which are also very popular in the garden. They also have caffeine and and both of them can harm seedlings. So small plants can be given too much caffeine from the coffee grounds if they're used as a mulch. And I guess if you pour too much coffee on you'll get the same effect. So caffeine can kill small plants and it can stunt larger plants so you have to be careful how much caffeine you put on your plants.

Farmer Fred  18:25

Well that takes us down another scenic bypass. All the people that are going to Starbucks and picking up that five gallon bucket of coffee grounds and taking it back home and putting it around their acid loving plants thinking it will acidify the soil. My concern is they apply those coffee grounds too thickly and it becomes an anaerobic environment.

Robert Pavlis  18:46

Yeah. Well, there's there's a couple myths in this little story. The first thing is coffee grounds are not acidic. So I don't know where that came from. They can be slightly acidic, or they can actually be alkaline. So but they're certainly not heavily acidic, they're not going to acidify the soil around your plants. And it's now been shown that a little bit as a mulch is probably okay in your ornamental beds. I would not use it in a vegetable garden where you're planting seeds. Just keep coffee grounds out of there completely. And quite honestly, the best thing you can do with them is compost them first. That will reduce the amount of caffeine and then they'll be fine in the garden.

Farmer Fred  19:29

I feel sorry for house plants, especially in offices, especially around party time, just because people tend to dump everything into the house plants on their way out, including things like beer or Gatorade.

Robert Pavlis  19:43

Yeah, yeah. By the way  this list came from an actual discussion on Facebook and these are all things that people suggest that I didn't really make out the list. I just went down and recorded it. And yeah, people are pouring good beer on the plants. I don't get that. Again, there's some very minor value there, because again, it has some protein in there. But basically, it's not doing any good for your plants. Gatorade, the reason people use that is because it replaces electrolytes. I mean, Gatorade is good for us, right? It's gotta be good for plants. And that's the logic that people use to get to this point. Well, it doesn't take a lot of effort to Google Gatorade and see what's in it. And the electrolytes is mostly sodium, and potassium. Now plants use potassium. And so that might be helpful. But sodium is toxic to plants. Now, we got to be clear, plants do need a very, very small amount of sodium in their diet. But higher levels are very toxic. Now you're from California, you wouldn't know this. But when it snows everywhere, we tend to put salt on the roads to keep them from freezing up. And so along the road edge, a lot of people have trouble growing plants because all that sodium comes on to those plants. So you know, Canadians know that you don't put sodium on plants. But a lot of people think well, Gatorade is electrolytes. So that's that's got to be good stuff. But it's not. One of those electrolytes is toxic to plants. So don't put on Gatorade.

Farmer Fred  21:25

Well, another ingredient of Gatorade that is also of dubious value when it comes to putting in the garden, although I know nurseries who sell it, sugar. And lately it was especially in the last drought here in California, there were nurseries selling a product that was mostly sugar, claiming it could mollify the effects of a drought by preserving soil moisture on your lawn.

Robert Pavlis  21:51

Yeah, yeah, I've seen I've seen those products advertised and I haven't yet done a review on them. But sugar on its own, may help soil a little bit. And it does help plants directly. So plants won't absorb this sugar doesn't really do anything for them. Now that may come as a surprise because some people know that, you know, plants are green. And they photosynthesize. They take sunlight and convert it to sugars. And plants need lots of sugars. That's what makes them grow. But plants don't absorb sugar through their roots. So they want to make the sugar themselves, they don't want to absorb it. So what happens with most of the sugar we put on our soil is that it makes microbes grow. And for microbes, sugars, like candy, they just love it. And they go nuts and they grow like crazy, you get this big explosion of microbes. And that sounds like a great thing. And it may be, but once the sugar runs out, there's a big crash in populations, they all die off. They are all decomposing and indirectly that decomposition of all those microbes will provide some nutrients to the plant. So other things, the potassium and phosphate and magnesium from these dead microbes, are now feeding plants. So indirectly sugar does help plants. But again, it's not the best source. I mean, you're better off getting some manure or compost that works just as well and probably works much better because it also includes other things than just sugar. Yeah, Sugar is a high carbon material that has no nitrogen in it. And for microbes to decompose high carbon they have to get nitrogen from somewhere and they steal it from the soil, away from plants to digest that sugar. And so in the short term, it may actually reduce the amount of nitrogen that the plants are getting. 

Farmer Fred  23:48

In your post at on feeding plants from the kitchen: a lot of the substances you mentioned are water-based. There's banana water, there is coffee, of course, fish tank water, pasta water for plants, rice water, even soda pop. And again, probably water is okay, but it's that other stuff that it is probably not going to do much good.

Robert Pavlis  24:14

Yeah, I think some of the reason people use this is because they don't want to waste it. Water is now recognized as a precious resource. And so you've got this water in a pot and well, what do I do?  I don't want to put it down the drain and waste it, so I'll give it to my plants. And that's probably a valid way to use the water. It's certainly won't hurt the plants. So all those things you mentioned are not going to do a tremendous amount of damage, particularly in a garden where you've got lots of soil and a very small pot of water. If you're doing house plants, see, you might want to give them some variation once in a while. You don't give them all pasta water all the time, but it probably won't harm your plants. The biggest value though, is the water. it's not the other ingredients, the other ingredients are really not doing very much. So the key is you still have to fertilize those plants. Okay? And that's the danger. I think for most beginning gardeners, they say, well, geez, I put some pasta water on there. So I fed my plants, but that doesn't have the nutrients that the plants need. Okay, think of pasta water, and all these other things you mentioned as water, and you still put some fertilizer in there.

Farmer Fred  25:28

Hey, and one word of warning. If you do use pasta water on your plants, let it cool off first. Don't put boiling hot water on your plants. Thank you very much.

Robert Pavlis  25:39

Yeah, that's a good idea. You'll only do that once though. 

Farmer Fred  25:42

Yeah, exactly, the results will be quick to see. All right, anything else in this you want to cover?

Robert Pavlis  25:49

I think the the overall message I tried to get to gardeners is is that except for potted plants, most things in the garden really don't need to be fertilized a lot. I grow about 3000 different varieties and species of plants, everything from trees down to little rock garden plants. And I've been doing this for 15 years in this garden. I have never fertilized anything. Okay, I don't fertilize when I plant and I don't fertilize 15 years later, and guess what, stuff grows. Okay. Now if you have a known deficiency, you do have to do something about that. But that applies to a very small percentage of our gardeners, particularly if you're putting on compost and manure and mulching and so on, you're not going to have that deficiency. So you don't have to feed those plants. Now containers is a different thing. there we're adding lots of water. We're watering regularly, water pours out the bottom, particularly if they're outside containers. And so we're washing those nutrients out of the soil all the time. And most of time that's not even soil, right? Some soilless stuff that has no nutrients in it, or very few nutrients. So containers, you have to fertilize. Everything else, ignore. Let it grow.

Farmer Fred  27:06

Like we say on this program when it comes to fertilizing container plants, fertilize weekly, weakly. In other words, a regular fertilization, but cut the dosage in half every time you fertilize. 

Robert Pavlis  27:19

Good advice. 

Farmer Fred  27:20

Robert Pavlis is the author of the blog, plus the author of several books, including his best selling "garden myths", book one and Book Two. If you want more information about all his writings, including the books, you can visit his website, Anything else you want me to mention?

Robert Pavlis  27:40

I even have a YouTube now. So I'm a YouTuber. So we have a channel called Garden Fundamentals. And there's regular YouTubes on there all about gardening.

Farmer Fred  27:50

Robert Pavlis. We've learned a lot this morning. I appreciate your time.

Robert Pavlis  27:54

Well, thanks very much. It was fun being here.

Farmer Fred  28:00

The Sacramento County Master Gardeners have a new video posted at their youtube channel about choosing and planting many of the cool season vegetables you might be considering. The downside is, you’ll have to look at my face. But there is a lot of good cool season veggie info to make up for that. Again, that video can be found at the Sacramento County Master Gardener Youtube page. We will have a link to it in today’s show notes. Plus, coming up on Saturday August 7, the Master Gardeners have a full morning of garden presentations on their Harvest Day Zoom channel. I’ll be one of the presenters, live from the abutilon jungle here at Barking Dog studios in suburban purgatory, answering your garden questions. That’s Saturday, August 7. You need to register for this Zoom garden class, find a link in today’s show notes, or check out the Harvest Day page at the Sacramento County Master Gardener website, Like I said, the link is in the show notes.

Farmer Fred  29:11

Garden Basics comes out every Tuesday and Friday. It's brought to you by Smart Pots. Garden Basics is available wherever podcasts are handed out. And that includes Apple, Iheart, Stitcher, Spotify, Overcast, Google, Podcast Addict, Cast Box, and Pocket Casts. Thank you for listening, subscribing and leaving comments. We appreciate it.

Jumping Worms!
Smart Pots!
Human Food vs. Plants
Sacramento Co Master Gardeners Harvest Day Zoom Chats and Videos