Benefits of Earthworms in the Garden

Earthworms offer more than bait for a fisherman’s hook. They were nature’s plow long before people began to cultivate the soil. In general, lots of earthworms indicate a healthy soil. Just one acre of healthy, cultivated land may harbor half a million earthworms. Here are some benefits of earthworms in the garden.

NATURAL TILLERS
Earthworms till the soil by tunneling through it. This breaks up dense soil composites in which it is difficult for plants to grow.

MOISTURE RETENTION
The tunneling of earthworms creates natural space for moisture to exist for easy access by plant roots.

AERATION
Earthworms naturally aerate the soil, an important component of any healthy loam. The air that is held by worm tunnels helps breakdown bacteria in the soil.

SOIL CONDITIONING
Earthworm excrement, called “castings,” acts as a soil conditioner, improving the porosity, moisture retention and overall quality of the soil. Castings also help bind important nutrients to plant roots and can deter pests and soil-borne diseases.

NATURAL FERTILIZER
Earthworms are protein-rich and add natural fertilizer to the soil when they die and decompose.

CREATE HUMUS
Another of the benefits of earthworms in the garden is that they help to create humus, a dark, rich soil that is extremely beneficial to plants. Humus is usually the result of thorough composting, but earthworms can be extremely beneficial to this process, accelerating it by helping to break down the many materials that go into your compost.

DISPOSE OF ORGANIC MATTER
Earthworms eat their body weight in organic matter every day. They can help rid your garden of unwanted leaves, grass, fungal spores and other debris. This material then becomes fertilizer in the form of worm excrement.

ADDING EARTHWORMS TO YOUR GARDEN SOIL
Earthworms tend to lay dormant in cold weather. They begin to work in the spring and die out as the weather grows hot or the soil dries in the summer, but not before laying eggs. New earthworms will emerge as the soil becomes moist again and will thrive as long as it stays damp.

The best way to increase the population of earthworms in your garden is to add lots of organic matter. This may include garden clippings, grass and leaves, semi-rotted compost and animal manure. Nitrogen-rich compost is a haven for earthworms. Beware that synthetic nitrogen-based fertilizers tend to repel earthworms. Earthworms propagate quickly; a single worm can produce around 100 new earthworms in a six month period.

You can also dig up large sections of soil, or a chunk of matted grass, that is rich with earthworms and place it in your garden. These earthworms will then start a new colony in your garden, assuming there is plenty of organic matter for them to eat and proper moisture.

Mulch and cover crops can help to protect earthworms from freezing and dry soil.

EARTHWORM BINS
You can raise your own earthworms in your compost bin or a special earthworm bin that can even be placed in your basement. This is called vermiculture. Essentially, you raise these worms in boxes and feed them kitchen waste, which is then turned into castings by the worms, harvested and used as fertilizer. “Branding” and “Red worms” are used in compost piles, as they do not survive in regular soil.

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