The Helpful Gardener
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Ch. 10 Earthworms

O.K. this is part of the soil food web you all saw coming. I had third graders schooling me on worms last Saturday as we did the clean-up for the Senior Center garden and found plenty... we knew they were important before Jeff wrote this...

But didya know they were THIS important? Didya know Darwin really considered his worm studies to be his big scientific discovery? Did you know that worm castings are 50% higher in OM than surrounding soils? That their burrows go twelve feet deep in places?

Here's one Jeff left out. If you core aerate your lawn, in less than eight hours the holes are half filled back in, but a worm tunnel can last for years? Beat that, humans...

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Scott Reil

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gixxerific
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You got me thinking on this. :idea:

If only I could rig up a worm based aerator. I'd be rich, but what would I do with all that money anyways. But still it's my idea now. :lol:

By the way I love my worms, I have a fishing demonstration to do for the cub scouts at my house this week. I'm supposed to show how to rig a hook etc., but didn't want to kill a worm in the process so I thought I would use a fake worm.

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Worms ARE a worm based aerator Gixx! :lol:

Uh oh, what happens if Cubbies spot worms?

Better not do it in the garden... :wink:

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Scott Reil

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I saw some giants yesterday when I was building yet another sheet mulched raised bed. 8) They were paler in color, about 3/8" thick and elongated to about 8". Though I complain about my blue-green clay subsoil under the sod -- and this was one of my worst spots in the yard -- the worms are plentiful and come up entangled in the grass roots where ever I peel up the turf. I really don't believe that tilling doesn't chop them up and reduce their population.

They LOVE cardboard sheet mulched beds. The other day when I was planting my new Sunflower& House, I saw black specs everywhere on TOP of the cardboard, under the straw. Initially, I thought, uh-oh, smutty mold growing? Then realized the earthworms had managed to find their way up to the moist area beneath the straw and were already casting away on top of the cardboard.

Also, when I put out containers of plants, I place them directly on the ground. Soon after, the earthworms move in. I think this is why I have satisfactory growth from my container plants even though I never fertilize. I'm totally lost :? in the Container Forum when people talk about fertilizing every 2 weeks or once a month. Even my orchids flower (a lot) every year.
:flower:

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This was really interesting. I've always known about how earthworms aerated the soil and their slime helps to bind soil particles together, but never knew the details of how it all worked.

It says that earthworms eat microbes and that the bacteria in their intestines help to break down the organic matter they digest so they can absorb the nutrients from it. Now, my question is, are these the same bacteria that were eaten or are they a dedicated type that resides in the intestines? Also, what happens to the bacteria that are eaten? Do they survive or are they killed and their nutrients taken up. I'm inclined to think that at least some of them survive since on page 99 in says that bacteria and fungi are bound in the fecal pellets that deposited.

The details on page 98 about the vermicastings being extremely high in plant-available (mineralization?) nutrients made me remember about an experiment that was posted in the Tomato Forum.

I believe it was Duh_Vinci who tested various soil mixes by starting tomato seedlings in them. They all performed about the same, except for the one with worm casting which produced noticeably hardier seedlings. Reading this, it's no wonder since not only did it have large amounts of plant-available nutrients, but also bacteria and fungi built right in! Now that's what I call a soil amendment.

Page 99 indicates that an overly high earthworm population can adversely affect microbial populations by direct consumption of the microbes and of their food source. So, it seems to say that you can have too much of a good thing. However, on page 101, it condemns soil practices that kill earthworms.

So, can you really have too many earthworms, and if so, how do we keep that from happening. Perhaps the negative affects of too many earthworms are in a nature system. I think that if we continually add organic matter (and, as a result, microbes) to a garden there will be enough to go around for everyone and there will be no need to worry about too many earthworms. Perhaps this will be touched on later in the book.

A great insight into the many benefits of earthworms, none the less.....makes me want to start a vermicompost bin :D.
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I think that's when Mother Nature balances the situation -- birds and moles move in. :wink:

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:idea: That's right. I completely forgot the big fact that a natural system will balance itself out over time....that is of course, if we work with it and not against it :wink:.

What do you folks think about adding a bunch of worms to the garden to give it a head start?
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I think if you add the compost, the worms will come. When my compost pile is doing well (i.e. not frozen and buried under 6" of snow like now), the working area of the pile has hundreds of earthworms in it, none of which I put there. When I add the compost to the garden, I do take some of the earthworms with it, from the pile to the garden.
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rainbowgardener wrote:I think if you add the compost, the worms will come. When my compost pile is doing well (i.e. not frozen and buried under 6" of snow like now), the working area of the pile has hundreds of earthworms in it, none of which I put there. When I add the compost to the garden, I do take some of the earthworms with it, from the pile to the garden.
That's true, RBG. Also, I read that if you have your garden near grassy areas, it will encourage worms to congregate there. Of course, if you garden with beds, like Jeff recommends, you beds will be surrounded by grassy walkways.
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