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Don’t overlook the amazing worm

Living organisms, both macro and micro, benefit soil productivity and contribute to the function of all ecosystems.

Living organisms, both macro and micro, benefit soil productivity and contribute to the function of all ecosystems.

The cycling of nutrients is a critical function that is essential to life on earth. Earthworms play a critical and vital role in the soil food web and to the health of our soils in our gardens and farm soils.

Worms are shredders and our own natural recycling machine.  They tear up and pull down plant litter as they consume bacteria and fungi, mix minerals along with their excretions called castings, creating fresh, nutrient-filled soil for plants and other organisms and improving soil structure.

Worms usually stay in their burrows during the day and come up near or on the surface at night to feed.  If the air is too cold or dry, they’ll stay in the soil.

If it’s too wet or rainy, they come to the surface.

Earthworms eat plant materials, tiny roots and other bits. Some of the more known common worms are the garden, night crawlers, manure, red wrigglers, tape and silkworms. They are found worldwide and used as bait, human and animal food, breeding stock and for building soils.

Here are some more interesting facts about our important soil dwellers.  The mighty worm can consume one-third of it’s own body weight in one day and is strong enough to move stones 60 times its own weight.

Worm castings are rich in nutrients for both the plants and microbes.  They have, on average, two to five times as much potassium as normal soil and the soil passed through them contain approximately seven times as much nitrogen.

They are food for birds and small animals and they nourish the soil when they die.  Worms burrow through compacted soils and create channels for drainage, aeration and root growth.

They possess five to nine hearts, are 82 per cent protein and full of omega 3 essential oils.

Worms are hermaphrodites carrying both sex organs and can lay eggs and give sperm to each other.  After mating, each worm produces several cocoons containing one to four eggs, depending on the species.

Worms are made up of two parts: skin and bands of muscles throughout its body and depending on the damage, can grow back severed segments of their bodies.

They have no teeth, so digest through a type of gizzard; have no eyes, but have light receptors that can tell them if they’re in darkness or light; have no ears, but sense vibrations of other animals nearby.

They have a head and breath air in and carbon dioxide out through the skin. Air dissolves on the mucus of their skin, so they must stay moist to breathe, otherwise they suffocate.

They have a tiny “brain” that connects with nerves from their hearts, skin and muscles which enables them to detect light, vibrations and some tastes.

In old Tibet, monks believed that worms were the reincarnation of their mothers and that they would not allow any harm done to them. Aristotle considered worms to be the “intestines of the soul.”

Charles Darwin spent 39 years investigating the worm, realizing their truly amazing (and largely unrecognized) functions and roles in history.

Cleopatra considered them to be sacred, and didn’t allow farmers to remove the soil from their lands.

Toxic chemicals such as fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, tilling and over or underwatering can damage or kill these precious worms.

Hey, let’s give these all-important critters the respect they deserve and give them a great soil environment to live in.