How to Get Worms Out of the Ground Without Digging

By Jacob Reis

Worms are everywhere; a single acre of land can contain more than a million earthworms. You would think that catching them for a worm farm would be easy, but catching them without digging up your yard or garden? That takes some knowledge.

Method 1: Mustard Water

Things you will need

  • 1 gallon jug of water
  • 1/3 cup ground yellow mustard seed
  • Clean plastic bucket
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Distilled water

Mix 1/3 cup of ground yellow mustard seed into 1 gallon of water. Seal the gallon and shake until thoroughly incorporated.

Find an area of ground with little or no grass so you can see the worms better. You can look for piles of castings, or worm excretions, that look like small mounds of globular soil balls. This is a telltale sign of worm inhabitants. Remove any stray debris.

Pour just enough rubbing alcohol into your bucket to coat the bottom. This will anesthetize the worms and prevent them from trying to escape while you're still hunting.

Pour 1/4 of the gallon of mustard water over a 1-square-foot area and wait. Worms should start appearing within a minute, as mustard irritates their skin but doesn't do permanent damage. Once a worm has come completely out of the ground, pick it up and place it in the bucket. After you've caught the worms that came up that time, or after three minutes have passed, pour the next 1/4 of the gallon and repeat every three minutes, catching worms in between, until the gallon is empty.

Remove the worms from the bucket, rinse with distilled water to remove the alcohol and mustard and place into your worm farm.

Method 2: Composting

Things you will need

  • Compostible food waste such as vegetables and fruits
  • Plastic gloves
  • Clean plastic bucket
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Distilled water

Create an area in your yard or garden for composting. Composting not only helps the environment, it can be a great source of worms for your colony. Closing this area in with mesh fencing will keep rats and other critters out while still allowing worm access from beneath the soil.

Add compost material to the area, breaking up large chunks into smaller pieces that can be more easily scattered. You can compost:

Water the area enough to wet all the compost material and throw a few handfuls of potting or other soil on top, if available to introduce microbial organisms important to the process of composting.

Come back at night wearing plastic gloves. Prepare a bucket, coating the bottom with rubbing alcohol as before, and move the pieces of compost material around by hand. The worms likely will be munching away. If not, watering the area will bring them to the surface. It is important to catch them quickly. Unlike with mustard, the worms will not be distracted and may dart back underground if you don't catch them quick enough.

Rinse the worms with distilled water and add them to your worm farm.

"Worm charming" -- the art of catching worms by bringing them to the surface -- can be done by creating vibrations in the soil. Experimenting with different techniques can be fun for children and adults alike.