Try Earthworms to Practice Sustainability in Action

February 25, 2012

Digging for Earthworms at Patuxent Research Refuge

Want to put an organics recycling crew to work invigorating your lot? Try starting with a colony of worms. I came across this comment on the Twitter feed of Earthwormsinfo:

“Starting small, my goal is to get 1000 households recycling with earthworms by the end of 2012. From there on we will think big!!!!!”

For people ready to begin composting activities, this location appears to be one that leads to a lot of places worth visiting. I like this website’s reference to Charles Darwin, who sang the praises for these worms in 1881:

“Of all animals, few have contributed so much to the development of the world, as we know it, as these lowly creatures.”

Earthworminfo continues:

Earthworms contribute to the provision of productive soil by constantly recycling nature’s wastes and renewing soil fertility, century after century. Healthy soil contains healthy earthworms and other soil life. Earthworms contribute to soil health and you will find your best worms in healthy pasture, cropland and gardens.

Going further, it happens earthworms improve the mechanical structure of soil by opening channels through which water, air and roots can travel to more easily assisting plant growth. Earthworms redistribute nutrients throughout the soil when they feed and excrete at different depths adding to soil life and plant health. It has been estimated that nearly every particle of healthy topsoil on earth has passed through earthworms at one stage or another.

Earthworminfo provides this information as well regarding the depths at which earthworms go about their business:

Different species of earthworms burrow at different depths. Their burrow range from the surface to, in some deep soils, over two metres deep. They can cross like highway intersections and can range from 1mm to 10mm wide. Some are vertical and some are horizontal. Some are more or less permanent and others are made as the need arises. There can even be small nesting chambers.

These burrows allow infiltration of surface water and air to lower depths. Earthworm activity can increase soil water holding capacity and availability to plants by up to nearly 40%. So burrows from earthworms should have a significant impact on lowering water tables and reducing salinity processes.

Here’s a quick summary about earthworms:

  • They provide paths for root systems to penetrate.
  • The air in burrows is more humid than surface air.
  • The number and length of burrows increases as more food is available.
  • The earthworm casts can contain a blend of sands, clays and organic matter, thus increasing soil strength.
  • Earthworms avoid soil with coarse abrasive structures. The also dislike clays in high rainfall areas which are low in oxygen. This can be changed by the incorporation of humus.
  • Some earthworms consume their own weight in a combination of food, water and soil everyday.
  • Their dry body weight is two thirds protein, and they are low in cholesterol.
  • They pass the waste of that food from their bodies every 24 hours in the form of vermicast-natures best soil conditioner.
  • A worm system 1 metre long x 2 metres wide x 30 centimetres deep can cope with the average compostable household waste for a year.
  • A well-run system does not smell offensive.
  • Up to 70% of all household waste is edible by earthworms.
  • Earthworms live 2 to 3 years under favourable conditions, but healthy worms up to 15 years old have been recorded.
  • Earthworms have been around for 600 million years.
  • Earthworms only mate with worms of the same species.
  • Worm eggs-capsules- can survive drought and cold winters, provided they are deep enough in the soil or it is well mulched.
  • Earthworms detest sunlight- two or more hours exposure to sunlight will kill them.
  • Earthworms are hermaphrodites – each worm is both male and female. Mature worms can fertilise or be fertilised. In some cases they may do with out a partner and self fertilise.
  • Worms are subject to so few diseases that you can virtually say they catch none at all, and for very good reason, the bacteria fostered in their gut and excreted with their castings are benevolent, and produced in such overwhelming numbers that disease-producing bacteria can not survive.

Thanks to Earthwormsinfo for this solid information on sustainability in action.





Glenn Meyers

Writer, documentary producer, and director. Meyers is a contributor to CleanTechnica, and founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.