Along the Garden Path:Earthworms in the garden


On a warm, humid day in April, you can open the front door in the morning to hear the birds singing, the air smells of spring not because of the daffodils, lilacs or hyacinths, it’s the worms! A wormy, fishy, musky, earthly smell of worms is coming from the driveway or sidewalks, in the grass and on the road. It’s earthworms!

There are benefits of having earthworms in the garden. They burrow through the soil creating space for air to reach plant roots. Earthworms create tunnels that allow rain and irrigation water to penetrate the soil. Earthworms help to break up dense soil that is inhospitable to plant roots. They can burrow as deep as six feet in the soil.

Earthworms leave behind excrement or castings containing from five to eleven times the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium they have ingested.

When earthworms die their protein-rich bodies return nitrogen fertilizer to the soil. Earthworm digestive juices enrich the soil.

Earthworms eat dead leaves and grass, rotting plants, animal manure, semi-rotted compost, and bits of soil; organic matter is ground in their gizzards, mixed with digestive juices and enzymes in the stomach then returned to the soil.

Earthworms remove surface debris and fungal spores from the garden and they clean the garden of unwanted organic materials.

They eat their own weight in organic matter and soil each day. A pound of earthworms eat a pound of organic matter and soil each day.

Earthworms turn soil into humus improving soil structure. Their coil-like castings are stable when both wet and dry which improves soil structure.

Earthworms reproduce quickly and increase their population – one breeding earthworm can produce 96 new baby worms in six months.

If there are few earthworms in your garden it could mean that the soil is compacted or low in organic material. Add chopped leaves, grass clippings, semi-decomposed compost, and animal manure to your garden and this will allow the worms to thrive.

Earthworms that are most commonly found in home gardens are Field Worms and Night Crawlers. They thrive in cool soil and can be spotted on the soil surface during the darkness of night or during rainstorms when their burrows are flooded. Earthworms do not have eyes but they are sensitive to light; they will retreat into the soil when light is shone on them.

Field worms and Night crawlers are not used in worm compost bins but they can be found in freestanding compost piles in the garden; they will congregate at the bottom of compost where the pile does not become very hot and where they can easily retreat into the soil below the pile.

Earthworms used for compost bins are Red Worms. These worms do not survive in ordinary garden soil. They are used in worm composting boxes and in compost piles as long as the pile does not become too hot.

Vermiculture is the practice of raising red worms in boxes and feed them kitchen waste to create casting to be used as plant fertilizer. It’s spring so bring on the Worms!

By Charlene Thornhill

Along the Garden Path

Charlene Thornhill is a volunteer citizen columnist, who serves The Daily Advocate readers weekly with her community column Along the Garden Path. She can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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