We need to look after our earthworms, because they aerate our soil, and because they are cute! Earthworms are found the world over, and there are around 16 species in the UK. Worms have no arms, legs or eyes and they may not have fur, but are just as cute and will do you no harm. Organic gardening not only brings them to us, but also provides essential foods for birds and chicks, and moles love them (they keep mountains of them in their dens for later feasting). Like all creatures, they go where they can find food, moisture, oxygen and a nice temperature. One acre of land can contain up to a million earthworms.
See plants & trees to avoid near pets (avoid cocoa/pine/rubber mulch & fresh compost near pets). Use humane safe slug/snail deterrents & no-dig garden methods. See safer alternatives to netting for wildlife, if used. Many plants (inc. yew & oak trees) are toxic to equines.
So how do worms work? They tunnel into the soil and work by bringing sub-soil closer to the surface, by mixing it with topsoil using slime, which contains nitrogen, that is good for plants. The sticky slime bunches it altogether. Baby worms hatch from cocoons and are so tiny (smaller than a grain of rice) you would never see them with the naked eye. They don’t have eyes, but can sense light and will move away from it, as their skin could dry out. Worms are both sexes, with male and female organs. After mating, the baby worms are born.
This beginner’s guide to soil and worms, is to encourage you to put away your spade, and learn the benefits of no-dig gardening. And also to garden organically. Good gardening starts with good soil. And earthworms are a huge part of the picture. So let’s protect them.
Unless you make your own compost, choose soil that is free from peat. This is a rich good potting compost, but alas it’s now from endangered bogs, which are home to wildlife. Removal of peat bogs is also one of the main reasons we are having more floods, in recent years. Many people who host grouse-shooting on estates, also burn peat bogs, to make the land flat, for the benefit of the people who pay to shoot these beautiful innocent creatures.
Leave wormeries to the experts, as the little red worms often die when sent in the post, or when transferred to soil. Earthworms will naturally find their way to your garden. Vermicompost is complicated, needing the correct moisture levels, temperatures, air circulation and food.
Worms don’t survive if accidentally cut in half (only if the tail is nipped). Move dehydrated worms somewhere near water (Woodland Trust says they can survive a while in water, but not forever). If the worm is badly injured, using your shoe heavily a few times to quickly ‘send it to Worm Heaven’ is likely kinder, to stop it suffering.
Fun Facts About Worms
- The largest earthworm found (in South Africa) was as tall as a giraffe!
- Worms eat all kinds of things including plants (including dead ones), animal poo and dead animals. The waste becomes castings, which is what you find on top of your lawn. Other unfortunate worms are used for angling. They breathe through their skin, as worms have no lungs.
- A worm can live for up to 8 years.
- A worm can have up to 5 hearts.
- If you see a dehydrated worm on the ground, move it somewhere rainy or boggy, as it will die if its skin dries up.
- A worm’s body has many ridged segments, each one is covered in hair to grip the soil to move. They are great for the garden as they aerate the soil and improve drainage, bringing nutrients to the surface. They also provide food for hedgehogs, slow worms, amphibians and foxes.
Books on Soil & Worms
- Soil Science for Gardeners is a book on how to build healthy soil but understanding the rhizophere, the thin layer of liquid and soil that surrounds plant roots. Robert Pavlis (a gardener of 40 years) explores soil myths and provides a personal soil fertility improvement program including looking at plant nutrients.
- Use no-dig gardening methods to grow food, without having to use a spade or fork (this can harm earthworms and also stag beetle grubs).
- Grow your Soil! is a beautifully illustrated guide to help create rich, dark crumbly soil that’s teeming with life, using little inputs, no tilling (digging) and no fertilisers. Permaculture gardener Diane Miessler presents the soil of science health including cover crops, constant mulching, and a simple but supercharged recipe for compost tea. She transformed her own landscape from a roadside dump for broken asphalt, to a garden that stops traffic.
- Gardening with Biochar is the ultimate guide to this new form of gardening for organic growers, which can enrich the soil and improve plant growth. Garden writer Jeff Cox explains what biochar is and shows how you can make it from wood or other kinds of plant material. It can sequester carbon in the soil, making it good for the health of the planet, as well as plants.
- How Do Worms Work? is not really about worms, but it’s a good all-round book of wildlife questions from the Royal horticultural Society. Richly illustrated, you’ll learn if it’s true that sunflowers follow the sun, when a plant is a weed, how to attract butterflies, how long plants can survive without water, and of course, how worms work!
- The Ever Curious Gardener is a book to unleash your inner geek, and learn the natural science of plants and soil. Why will caressing your cucumbers help them bear more fruit? And why you should grow oranges from seed, even if the fruit is inedible? Why do trees need sleep (and how can you help?) Join acclaimed gardener and scientist Lee Reich on a tour of the delights of your garden, from outwitting weeds by understanding their nature, to making the best use of compost and pruning dead plants. And learn why learning Latin, can make you a better gardener