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In Celebration of Worms

One of my great joys as a kid was helping my grandfather slop the hogs. Hogs are a little cumbersome in suburbs, not to mention illegal.  But what zoning inspector could object to worms?  I slop mine with kitchen garbage every other day and no one knows but the worms and me.  As they reproduce themselves, I plant them here and there around the yard, or give them away to friends. They only cost about $4.00 a thousand.

You can order them from classified ads in Organic Gardening magazine. One worm ranch, Jerry Klieger's Mill Creek Ranch, (Noel, Missouri 64854) distributes little mimeographed pamphlets about worms. Here's an excerpt:

South American Indians I worshiped the earthworm.
New Zealand Maoris ate the earthworm.
And Americans? Americans are killing off the vital earthworm with chemical fertilizers. They're rapidity killing off the world's mightiest soil builder and soil enricher.

"When I was a child, I remember how so many earthworms would crawl out of the ground after a hard rain. Now, I never see a worm!  What has happened to all the earthworms?"  I'm often asked.

The answer is that the invaluable earthworm population has been drastically and tragically reduced by heavy post-war use of chemical fertilizers.

Earthworms — nature's fertilizers — never harm any living thing. They've never killed a bird nor burned a root. They've never upset the balance of nature.  Instead:

  • Earthworms fertilize the soil as can nothing else.
  • Earthworms add rich topsoil.
  • Earthworms neutralize the soil.
  • Earthworms provide roots with essential oxygen and ions.
  • Earthworms cause stones to sink and seeds to germinate.
  • Earthworms bring up as much as 30 tons of soil annually, per acre, to the surface.
  • Earthworms enable gardens, trees, shrubs, lawns, to grow faster, healthier, greener.
  • Earthworms provide drought resistance.
  • Earthworms prevent erosion, promote drainage.
  • Earthworms, placed in small numbers around trees, shrubs, will greatly speed growth.

The earthworms' work of enriching the soil continues day and night, summer, winter, spring and fall, even under frozen earth, as deep as 14 feet!

The earthworm has 10 hearts. It is bi-sexual, cross-fertilizing. It lays its eggs in sacs underground.  It has no eyes, but it can sense light. It avoids light and cold by burrowing.  All 1,800 species in the world's temperate and torrid zones are nocturnal and subterranean in their habits. The life expectancy of a Hybrid Red Wiggler is 15 years.

Earthworms ordinarily come to the surface only at night in order to forage for food and to throw off their soil-enriching castings. They forage for organic litter. Earthworms never eat anything that is living.

Worms are seen above ground in daylight only under unusual conditions. Sonic booms, poisonous chemicals, and heavy rains will all bring them to the surface.  (Excessive rains flood their burrows and send them scurrying to the surface to avoid drowning.)

The tireless earthworms never sleep. They never cease burrowing; riddling and honeycombing even the most dense clay and compact adobe soils.

As they tunnel, they ceaselessly devour the earth with all that it contains: dead leaves, dead roots, dead vegetable and animal remains, mineral elements, and-all the microscopic vegetable life of the soil. These are digested and utilized as food.

At night the earthworms come to the surface to eliminate all this in the form of castings. They excrete practical neutral humus--top soil so rich in water-soluble nutrients vital to plant life.

Their castings, from the deep layers of the earth, are not just sterile, mineralized earth. Everything eaten and digested is ground and thoroughly mixed and takes on a new form. When deposited at night on the surface of the earth, this new material has become humus-laden topsoil, ready for immediate use by growing vegetation.

Whether the soil is acid or alkaline, the worm castings are always more neutral than the parent soil. The castings always have a lower clay content, are richer in organic matter, nitrates, total and exchangeable potassium and magnesium, available phosphurus, base capacity, base saturation and moisture equivalent.

The castings are a natural compost and fertilizer.  Dead vegetable matter is not only transformed into useable forms through the castings, but is mixed with inorganic matter to make both of greater use.
Without earthworms, no soil can be truly fertile for long. The presence of the earthworms not only spurs and speeds plant growth, but allows seeds to grow more rapidly Earthworms draw the seeds into their burrows. This enables the seeds to germinate under proper conditions of darkness and humidity.

The ceaseless burrowing aids in-aeration and drainage of the soil. Plant roots are enabled to enter the soil easily. Plant life becomes hardier and can live through drought conditions more readily.  Rain trickles into the worm burrows instead of running off the surface. The water is retained and erosion prevented. Roots are provided with vita! oxygen and a dynamic organic fertilizer.  Deeper burrowing brings up inorganic ions, change particles, from deep layers to root level.

Earthworms add one inch of top-soil every 10 years. No soil is fertile because of its composition alone, but because earthworms are working throughout, keeping the soil fertilized, stirred up and well aerated.

The world's tastiest worms must be found in New Zealand. The Maoris there once considered well-prepared and well-cooked worms a great delicacy.  The, chiefs reserved the prime specimens.

The world's longest earthworms are found in Australia and India. Two genera of giant worms there reach 12 feet in length.  They can be located as they move underground by the gurgling sounds they make.

Equatorial South American Indians once worshipped a 7-foot-long genus of earthworm, the Rhinodrilus, recognizing its part in fertilizing the soil.