Wiggle, waggle, wriggle and writhe. When the soil in your garden moves like this, your flowers and veggies will thrive.
Wanda Cannon, a Hall County extension agent, calls it the worm test. Soil that squirms with worms is on good terms.
"If you can dig down into your soil and you find worms, then your soil is pretty good soil, very rich, usually," Cannon said. "It may need a few things here or there, but if there's worms that are feeding off of it and they're putting their casts in there, then you're getting good soil."
Worms break down organic matter and eat the bad bacteria that might lurk underneath the surface of your garden, and then replace it with vermicast, or worm poop, that contains nearly five times the nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium content than regular soil, Cannon said.
"What you're getting is just pure, disease-free compost," Cannon said.
Will Allen, founder of Growing Power, recently visited Atlanta to share tips on growing worms and creating worm compost at the Georgia Organics conference. Growing Power is a national nonprofit organization based in Milwaukee, Wis., that sells its worm compost as well as instructional DVDs for worm composting do-it-yourselfers nationwide.
Worm excrement not only teems with the microbial life that breaks down soil nutrients into a form plant roots can absorb, but they also contain worm mucus that helps soil retain moisture and nutrients, according to Growing Power's Web site.
Allen taught a class in Atlanta on how to create worm composting bins with store-bought worms and to harvest the worm castings from the bins. But bringing the worms to your backyard isn't hard.
Like all pets, they require food and water and protection from the elements. But unlike most pets, worms don't need special food; they'll be happy with the table scraps, the yard clippings and the raked leaves.
Just portion their food in layers of brown and green and the worms will stick around, Allen said.
"They will never leave their food," Allen said.
Even in the backyard, keeping soil temperature between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit and keeping it moist is important, Allen said. Mulch or newspaper can usually keep moisture from evaporating and protect the soil from excessive heat.
"They do not like to be in a dry environment, because mites and things can stick to them and their bodies get dry," Allen said. "And mites will kill them."