Earthworms are wonderful for our gardens, as they improve drainage and bring nutrients to the surface. They tunnel into the soil, eating all kinds of plants and decaying matter, and this waste becomes castings, which is what you find on your lawn. Worms breathe through their skin (they have no lungs) and have ridged segments with hair, to grip the soil in order to move. They have have no eyes, but can sense light (so will move away from it, as their skin would dry out). They are also both sexes, with male and female organs. Baby worms hatch from cocoons and are so tiny (smaller than a grain of rice) that you could never see them with the naked eye.
Worms also food for birds and chicks, hedgehogs, slow worms, amphibians, foxes and moles (who spend their lives ploughing through earth, to find worms to take back to their dens, for later snacking).
The Book of the Earthworm is a book about our little engineers of the earth. Without worms, the world’s soils would be barren, and our gardens and fields wouldn’t be able to grow the food we need to survive. Worms recycle decaying plants, and put nutrients back into the soil. They also provide a food source for wildlife, and their constant burrowing helps heavy rain soak away.
How to Help Earthworms
- Read Grow your Soil!. This is a beautifully illustrated guide to help create rich, dark crumbly soil that’s teeming with life, using little inputs, no tilling (digging) and no fertilisers. Permaculture gardener Diane Miessler presents the soil of science health including cover crops, constant mulching, and a simple but supercharged recipe for compost tea.
- Securely bin all garden chemicals and pesticides and use safe humane methods to deter slugs and snails (instead of toxic slug pellets). Most councils have a special toxic waste department at landfill.
- Switch to no-dig gardening. This means not using forks or spades, which can harm worms (it’s not true they grow into two worms, if sliced in two). Not tilling the earth also helps to save baby stag beetles (those big grubs you often find in garden soil).
- Leave vermicomposting to the experts. This needs the correct moisture levels, temperatures, air circulation and food, and most amateurs don’t have the skills to avoid accidentally killing some worms, when transferred to the soil (worms can also die when sent through the post, for delayed post or strikes etc). Just make your own compost or choose peat-free soil, to protect bogs that are home to endangered wildlife. Keep fresh compost away from pets, as it contains mould. Read more on how to make your garden safe for pets.
- Move dehydrated worms to somewhere near water. On sunny days, worms will die unless they can absorbs oxygen from water. Although they can survive for a little while in water, they can’t swim and will eventually drown if unable to exit the water. Just move to some damp soil if you can. If a worm is badly injured from being trodden on etc, using your shoe heavily a few times to ‘send it to worm Heaven’ is likely kinder, to stop it suffering.