Worms & Living Soil

Item Name

Working with worms to build healthy living soil from everyday waste. 

In the 19 century earthworms were considered a soil pest. Even though this view has changed, earthworms receive little attention in agricultural practice. Very few farmers only actively promote them. Increasingly heavy machines, intensive tillage and intensive use of pesticides have in many places eliminated earth- worms in fields. In contrast to this scenario, in the healthy soil of one hectare of grassland one to three million earthworms can be found. Number and diversity of earthworms in a soil are considered an important criterion of soil fertility, be- cause earthworms contribute in many ways to healthy and biologically active soils and better adaptation of farming systems to climate change, thus providing key soil functions that favour many positive ecosystem services. Due to their numerous services that increase sustainability of agro-ecosystems, earthworms should receive more attention in sustainable farming systems.

Worms: The original workers 

Worms & Soil

Tags:Urban Gardening, Community Culture


FACTS and information

Regenrating Soil

How do earthworms benefit soil fertility? Earthworms annually deposit up to 10 kilos per square metre of valuable worm droppings in the soil and on its surface. This is as much as 0.5 cm of the soil layer in fields, and as much as 1.5 cm in meadows. But beyond this earthworms provide many more services to the soil, too. 3. Earthworms decompose dead plant matter In fields, earthworms incorporate up to 6 tons of dead orga- nic matter per hectare per year into the soil. In forests, earth- worms process as much as 9 tons of foliage per hectare. 4. Earthworms concentrate plant nutrients Earthworms produce 40 to 100 tons of casts per hectare annually. The worm casts form stable soil aggregates (crumbs), which are deposited on the soil surface. Organic and inorganic fractions are well-mixed in worm casts, and the nutrients are present in a readily available and enriched form. The casts contain on average 5 times as much nitrogen, 7 times as much phosphorus, and 11 times as much potassium as the surrounding soil. This soil has many worm casts on the surface indicating high earthworm activity. It hardly becomes muddy after heavy rains. Earthworm burrows are lined with worm casts, brown traces of humus and white spots of crystallized nutrients, providing excel- lent growing conditions for plant roots. 1. Earthworms aerate the soil Earthworm burrows ensure that the soil is well-aerated and increase the amount of macro-pores. 2. Earthworms improve water infiltration into soils and reduce surface runoff The stable burrows of the vertical burrowers in particular considerably improve water infiltration, storage and drainage of soils. Surface runoff and erosion are thus reduced. Up to 150 burrows, or 900 metres of burrows per square metre and metre of depth, can be found in unploughed soil. The vertical burrows stabilized with slime can be as deep as 3 metres in deep loess soils, and even as deep as 6 metres in chernozem soils (‘Black earths’). Due to their powerful mus- cles, deep burrowers are able to penetrate slightly compacted soils and thus improve drainage. Worm casts are largely lacking on this soil surface indicating little earthworm activity. During heavy rains the soil surface tends to silt up.

The World of worms

With the exception of the Polar Regions and deserts, earthworms can be found in most soils. While more than 3.000 species are known worldwide, only 400 species are found in Europe and 40 species in Central Europe. In cropland only 4 to 11 species are com- monly found. Earthworms prefer medium-heavy loam to loamy sand soils. Heavy clay and dry sandy soils are not favourable to their development. In acidic peat soils only specialised species are found that have adapted to such "hostile-to-life" conditions. Earthworms are hermaphrodites and develop slow- ly, with the exception of the leaf litter dwellers. Only one generation with a maximum of 8 to 12 cocoons (eggs) is produced per year. Earthworms live 2 to 8 years, depending on the species. Sexually mature worms can be identified by the "genital belt" (clitel- lum) encircling the body. Peak burrowing activity and reproduction take place in March and April and also in September and October (temperate zone). When it is very dry and hot, many earthworms estivate and retreat to deeper

Benefits:

1. Earthworms aerate the soil Earthworm burrows ensure that the soil is well-aerated and increase the amount of macro-pores. 2. Earthworms improve water infiltration into soils and reduce surface runoff The stable burrows of the vertical burrowers in particular considerably improve water infiltration, storage and drainage ofPhoton.Net is our source provider for all digital and web technologies. The backbone providing the interactive online presence on a cloud server for the smart systems virtual brain.  soils. Surface runoff and erosion are thus reduced. Up to 150 burrows, or 900 metres of burrows per square metre and metre of depth, can be found in unploughed soil. The vertical burrows stabilized with slime can be as deep as 3 metres in deep loess soils, and even as deep as 6 metres in chernozem soils (‘Black earths’). Due to their powerful mus- cles, deep burrowers are able to penetrate slightly compacted soils and thus improve drainage.
3. Earthworms decompose dead plant matter In fields, earthworms incorporate up to 6 tons of dead orga- nic matter per hectare per year into the soil. In forests, earth- worms process as much as 9 tons of foliage per hectare. 4. Earthworms concentrate plant nutrients Earthworms produce 40 to 100 tons of casts per hectare annually. The worm casts form stable soil aggregates (crumbs), which are deposited on the soil surface. Organic and inorganic fractions are well-mixed in worm casts, and the nutrients are present in a readily available and enriched form. The casts contain on average 5 times as much nitrogen, 7 times as much phosphorus, and 11 times as much potassium as the surrounding soil.
5. Earthworms rejuvenate the soil Earthworms transport soil material and nutrients from the subsoil to the topsoil and thus maintain the vitality of the soil.
6. Earthworms act as biocontrol propagators Earthworms promote the colonization and propagation of beneficial soil bacteria and fungi in their burrows and casts. By pulling fallen leaves into the soil, foliar pathogens and pests (winter stages of fungal pathogens such as apple scab, and insects such as leafminers) are biologically degraded. Dormant forms (spores), however, resist digestion in the earthworm gut and are excreted in casts. 7. Earthworms promote root growth Over 90 % of the burrows tend to be colonized by roots. Roots are thus able to penetrate into deeper soil layers with- out meeting resistance, finding nutrient-rich earthworm casts, water and air.