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Gardening with Laurie: Earthworms are nature's little underground farmers

By By Laurie Garretson
May 16, 2013 at 12:16 a.m.


Last week, I wrote about garden snails. This week, I'd like to enlighten you about the virtues of another slimy garden creature: the earthworm.

It sometimes surprises me how many gardeners as well as non-gardeners think earthworms are bad for the soil. But yes, in some parts of the world, earthworms are a problem. But not in our part of the world. Earthworms are nature's silent, little underground farmers.

Having earthworms in the soil will keep the soil well aerated. As the earthworm moves through the soil, it not only loosens the dirt but also encourages air to penetrate down even deeper into the tiny worm tunnels. Our soils need oxygen for the growth of beneficial bacteria. The more bacteria in the soil, the better decomposition of organic materials. That's a good thing.

As earthworms tunnel through the soil, they bring up minerals that were deeper in the soil, which moves them to where root systems can utilize them. Without earthworms all this beneficial material would not be available to plants unless we did the "tunneling."

Earthworms love organic matter. Decaying leaves, twigs, manure, rotting plants and decaying animals. All these make a good diet for earthworms. Natural mulches are good to encourage earthworms to your soils. Compost or dried leaves added seasonally to your beds and gardens will help to bring in the earthworms.

Earthworms not only help to aerate the soil but fertilize at the same time. As the worm moves through the ground it eats organic material. This organic material goes in one end of the worm as food and comes out the other end as fertilizer.

Earthworm manure is known as castings. Earthworm castings are loaded with organic nutrients that help to fuel all your plant life.

As worms digest organic matter and make the matter into smaller particles it becomes more available for the soils microorganisms to use. These microorganisms, which are bacteria, fungi and protozoa then further help to decompose the organic matter.

Some forms of soil nutrients and microbes are unavailable to plant life until they are actually passed through an earthworms digestion system. The worm's stomach acids are what convert the matter to a form that is then able to be taken up by plant roots.

Earthworms are moist slimy sightless little creatures.

They breathe through their skin and the slime helps to keep them moist so they can breathe. The slime also helps them move through the soil.

Many times after a good rain you will see worms on sidewalks or driveways. They come up out of the saturated soil to get oxygen. Many times they dry up and die before they are able to get back to the soil.

Earthworms really are easy to maintain. They tend to themselves and give so much back to the soil, which then gives to the plants, which then gives to us humans. Unfortunately, humans do a couple of things that destroy earthworm populations.

Constant tilling and using synthetic fertilizers will destroy earthworms. Tilling will of course chop up the worms and man made fertilizers have salt in them, which burn them and make the soil uninhabitable.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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