Wait! Is there that many earthworms in my soil?

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Earthworms in Hawaii

Wait! Is there that many earthworms living in my soil?

L.Rieber, Staff Writer

Earthworms are responsible for making some of the best organic, all natural source of nutrients that can be found in the soil. This source is by far one of the best types of nutrients that a plant can take up and it is created by recycling of organic material (also known as green waste or yard clippings).  For someone who wants to grow food naturally on a small or large scale, this is some great news, “free nutrients”

Another way of looking at it is, you don’t have to fertilize an old forest. Every plant needs to take up nutrients through its roots, and in a forest something is supplying them with exactly what they need everyday of the year. For most places, earthworms and other microbes are responsible for supplying all the tree’s nutrients to it, near its roots. How does a creature that seems so fragile and small capable of doing so much work?

courtesy of L. Rieber

When you think of earthworms, most people think of an individual worm.

People often ask themselves, “What can that thing do for me? It’s slimy, small and lives in the “dirty” ground.” But in reality, in the growing of our food, earthworms are very significant and important.  Besides producing free nutrients for you, earthworms also help with drainage in clay soils, produce soil in rocky landscapes as well as make minerals available in the soil.

The healthier the soil the more earthworms their are. Earthworms will multiply and reproduce according to the amount of food that is available for them. Earthworms eat any and all organic material that is decomposing. They will not eat healthy, living plant tissue. They will eat up to their own weight everyday of old roots, dead leaves, twigs, dead insects, cardboard, eggshells, newspaper, fruit and vegetable to name a few.

When really thinking and considering earthworms in the soil, it is best to think of them as a whole. For example in an acre of healthy soil, you can find over a million earthworms throughout the top six inches of the soil. A million earthworms is roughly 2000 pounds of worms. 2000 pounds! If they eat on a low scale, half of their body weight everyday- that gives you, the owner of that acre of land, about 1000 pounds of nutrients a day spread over the surface.

courtesy of L. Rieber

 An acre is a little smaller than a US football field. photo courtesy of: antpkr freedigitalphotos.net

photo courtesy of: antpkr freedigitalphotos.net


The best part of it all, is that the earthworms in that acre of soil is not one single animal, like a cow or horse, but a million of individual, nutrient- producing creatures, spread all over the surface of the soil. So the next time you look at a forest or organic farm, take a moment to think about the abundance of earthworms doing work down in the soil, everyday of their lives to produce enough nutrients for that plant to survive without any synthetic or man made nutrient.

Ripe Pepperchini


         Barrett, T.J. 1959 “Harnessing the Earthworm”. Faber and Faber Limited, London

Herms, Daniel A, Lloyd John E, and Stinner, Benjamin R. 1999. “Effects of Organic Mulches and Fertilization on Soil Microbial Activity, Nutrient Availability, and Growth of River Birch”. Department of Entomology, The Ohio State University, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Wooster, Ohio

Hoorman, James J, and Islam, Rafiq. 2010. “Understanding Soil Microbes and Nutrient Reclining”. Ohio State University, Extension

Gladstone, Nancy. 1997. “Action Sheet 34: Mulching, So what is mulching?” Outreach TVE Soils Education Pack:Soil Improvement in the Tropics article on Mulching.

Lownfels, Jeff & Lewis, Wayne. 2010. “Teaming with Microbes, The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web”. Timber Press: Portland, Oregon.

Nancarrow, Loren & Taylor, Janet H. 1998. “The Worm book, The complete guide to Gardening and Composting with Worms”. The Speed Press, Berkley.

         Martin, Deborah L, Gershuny, Grace “The Rodale Book of Composting” 1992, Published by Rodale Books

Minnich, Jerry. 1977. “The Earthworm Book, How to Raise and Use Earthworms for your Farm and Garden” Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA

Stewart Amy, 2004. “The Earth Moved, On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms”. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill: North Carolina.

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