What good are earthworms? Well, little boys have long delighted in scaring little girls with long, dirty, gooey earthworms. These same boys, along with their fathers, hang out in the yard with flashlights on rainy nights hoping to catch some juicy earthworms for their next big fishing trip. And who among us hasn t dissected a worm in biology class? But why are earthworms so valuable?
Earthworms take organic material and turn it into manure, or castings. These castings are found just next to the worms tunnels, which aerate the soil. If you find these castings, gather and use them as fertilizer in your gardening.
Earthworms love mulch from your compost pile, just as your plants do. They eat this mulch and use it to keep their body temperature even and their skin moist. Keep in mind, however, that using fertilizer containing salt will only chase the worms away.
Another issue to consider with worms is the appropriate time to till your garden. Each spring, gardeners everywhere drag out the tiller and head for their favorite garden spot. This does not bode well for the worms crawling directly under the topsoil. Try to time your tilling for the middle of the day when the majority of the worms have burrowed down into deeper soil to keep cool. After you ve finished tilling, continue to be cautious and use a garden fork instead of a spade because, contrary to the legend, worms don t regrow new bodies when they ve been sliced in half.
Speaking of composting, worms can be of great help in that department. You can make a worm bin with a 2x2 shallow box. You can throw your kitchen waste, about 50% of it anyway, into the worm bin. Be careful not to throw any chemicals in the bin. The bin needs to be well-ventilated. This can be achieved by keeping the lid ajar or drilling holes in the lid. You also need to drill some holes in the bottom and then line the bottom with porous fiberglass screening. Now add about 1,000 redworms along with some vegetable or fruit peels, some torn newspaper or leaves. Keep it moist and your compost should be ready in just a couple of months.
If your worm box starts to attract fruit flies, make a trap out of a plastic cup with a lid and a straw. Pour 1/2 inch of regular cola into the plastic cup. Insert the straw into the cup but trim the straw so that the bottom does not touch the cola and it s short on top. The unwelcome fruit flies will fly down the straw but won t be able to get out.
After three or four months start some new compost. Lift the old compost out by the screening and dump it onto a newspaper right under a bright light. The worms will crawl down to avoid the light and allow you to scrape off the compost that can then be added to your garden.
There are many species of earthworms. The nightcrawler and the redworm are the most common in the United States. Did you know that in one small square foot of soil directly under your garden there are about 50 worms? Did you also know that 215,000 worms are able to digest about 500 tons of soil each year? That s a lot of castings.
Aren t worms wonderful! They are good for so much more than scaring little girls.