These earthworm facts will help you to understand their importance. Learn how to encourage earthworms to work for you in the garden!
Yes, earthworms are probably the most important creatures in your garden and for most of you, that's not new information. But often these poor critters overlooked, forgotten and totally underappreciated.
Without them, the soil under our feet would be just dirt. It would be rock hard and compacted, making life for plants very difficult if not impossible. If not for these little creatures we would probably not have a garden, we might not even be here!
Let me give you some earthworm facts first:
How Does An Earthworm Move?
Earthworms move by contracting and de-contracting their muscles. This makes them longer and shorter. The mucus on their skin and the bristles on their body help them to glide along in their tunnels.
What do earthworms eat?
Garden worms eat just about anything that is organic. Leaves, grass clippings, plant debris, dead roots, shredded newspapers or your kitchen waste make great earthworm food. They pull the organic matter e.g. leaves into their tunnels and let microorganisms predigest them. In their digestive system, the organic matter is mixed and ground with small soil particles and little stones.
What are worm castings and why are they so important for the soil?
Worm casts are the poop of the earthworms. The worms mix soil and organic matter in their digestive tracts converting it to humus. These worm casts are like organic fertilizer and probably the best one you can get. One worm can produce about 4.5 kg of worm castings per year! These worm casts are 40% richer in humus than the rest of the soil and contain a high amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium and magnesium. Just perfect plant food!
The tunnels that the worms dig in the soil allow air and water into the ground. Soil microorganisms and plant roots need oxygen to thrive. The worms turn and loosen the top soil and also the subsoil. The roots are then able to grow their roots into the deeper layers of the ground in these tunnels. Also, water finds its way into the ground along those channels. They turn the soil into something like a sponge that is able to absorb a lot of water in no time! This helps to prevent flooding.
The worms pull the organic matter like leaves or debris into their tunnels, mostly at night and feed on them. Without worms, all this debris would accumulate on the surface and would not make its way back into the soil again. The worms are like a recycling factory in the soil. They make the nutrients that are tied up in the organic matter available for the plants again.
Earthworms are also food for a lot of other creatures in your garden. Birds, hedgehogs, frogs or moles just love them. That makes them the beginning of a food chain which is important for a healthy and thriving ecosystem!
Aren't these fascinating earthworm facts? Can you imagine your garden now without those little ugly critters? It would probably look more like a desert! They are your best friends in the garden.
Encouraging earth worms is the best thing you can do for your garden. After all this information it is obvious what they need to thrive: plenty of organic matter! Keep your garden soil covered with organic mulch. You can use grass clippings, bark mulch or leaves. Mulch works like a blanket for the ground. It keeps the soil cool and moist in the summer and warm in the winter. These are ideal conditions for garden worms! Also, avoid digging your soil. Learn more here about no-dig gardening!
Avoid using chemical fertilizers and other garden chemicals. These create an environment that is lethal for worms! Use organic fertilizers instead. These even provide food for the worms that will in return make plant nutrients out of them!
Of course, you should have a compost bin with lots of worms producing fertile compost to enrich your garden soil. Composting with worms is also called vermicomposting or worm composting. Some people do this in special worm bins in the garage or basement recycling their organic waste.
I want to show you how to grow lettuce even if you don't have a garden for growing vegetables!
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Check out the November 2017 issue of the 'Homestead Gardener' Digital Magazine for organic gardening tips, permaculture and self-sufficiency.