It was Franklyn D. Roosevelt who said “I think we consider too much the luck of the early bird and not enough of the bad luck of the early worm.” Well aside from the greater implications of this thought, it’s true – the worms that surface for all sorts of reasons really do not realise what fate awaits … except when it comes to my containers where they are certainly safe from the birds and hopefully they do not have to surface because they are drowning due to too much watering! I’m for earthworms in my containers … what about you? It is a valid enough question as there are many who do not think the lowly earthworm is necessary in a container and in fact get rid of them if they come across them, more's the pity.
There seems to be two schools of thought here. Most I know will tell you how good it is to come across a worm or two when cultivating your pots, yet at a recent club meeting I met someone who said "no thanks!' Well that was a surprise to me so I did a bit of research and found out some interesting things about these very useful creatures.
Did you know for instance that just one earthworm can process more than 20 tons of soil per acre in its excavations? Well, of course I do not have an acre of pots let alone a spare ton of soil – but if you have ever noticed a container or pot that just performs better than another, chances are the one has worms in it and the other not.
Numerous studies on soil and soil enhancers have shown time after time that earthworms are the best soil improvers and soil productivity is directly attributable to them. They are seldom seen but form a vital part of your soil biodiversity – so get going, get some from your friendly nurseryperson and plant some worms alongside your flowers and vegetables and trees and shrubs and whatevers you have growing in your containers – especially herbs and other edibles.
Furthermore, earthworms are wonderful diggers, integrating and mixing organic matter into the soil and then bringing up nutrients. Because of their constant tunnelling they open up channels in the soil which increases the aeration of the soil which in turn allows for good drainage which in turn allows for good root growth and good root development because the said roots have such easy access to organic nutrients and water. Okay, take a breath! These workmen are pretty powerful as compared to own weight, they eat large amounts of organic matter breaking it down to pure humus. Humus? Humus is a dark brown organic element found in your soil that is made up of decomposed plant and animal remains and animal excrement - great for good loose feedful planting.
The worm’s digestive system provides the enzymes and the grinding action required to break down the organic matter, and then combines this with soil going through its gut; soil that it swallows as it moves through the ground. The soil thus swallowed is processed by mixing it with organic stabilising gums and lime secreted from a gland found in its digestive tract. This in turn strengthens both the size and stability of the soil aggregates (bits that make up the soil structure) and by default, makes home for happy roots and other microbial life! By the by, soil that has gone through an earthworm’s digestive system is six times richer in nitrogen, around ten time more rich in potassium; seven times as rich in phosphates; three time richer in magnesium and twice as rich in calcium. In addition to this the castings (poo which make up the vermicompost) have a higher PH which regulates the acidity of the soil. How is that for soil conditioning?
Want to know more ...
* Each worm weighs about 250 grams and can live up to 15 years in the right conditions.
* Because they are hermaphrodite (both sexes in one) they can double their population every two months or so. They lay eggs on maturity when they are two to three months old and each egg can produce 25 babies plus
* Because they are smart, they generally regulate their reproduction cycles so it is most unlikely that your soil will turn into a container (let alone a can) of worms. Smile now!
* They like ordinary kitchen wet waste, crushed dry autumn leaves, rotting matter like dropped mild fruit but do not like acidic things like citrus, chillies, onions, pineapple skins or live things like maggots (ugh).
* Worms love bananas/skins, paper and cardboard. I sometimes make a worm smoothy for them and add this thinly to the subsoil or to my watering can. Vavoom.
* Earthworms cannot tolerate light and sun and heat, they need to be underground, in the shade and with nice moisture to survive. When digging up and about and a worm surfaces, quickly help him by covering her with soil. P.S. they have five hearts and no lungs and breathe through their skins and mate top to toe. Who knows … one day you may win a radio competition because you know that?
P S When worms surface in my containers and planters and window boxes for no discernable reason then I believe there are too many in the pot so I dig around a bit, bring up as many as I think and share them out, put them in the garden, give them away, use them for new plants, take them to the nursery or the garden club meet … most gardeners are very pleased to get some. Nature is really wonderful, it has a way of sorting itself out quite easily, we could learn from the worms I reckon.
“It costs me never to stab or squirm
To come by chance across a worm
Aha, my little dear, I say
Your clan will pay me back one day” – Dorothy Parker
I say thanks daily for my worms and actively add worms to ANY of my new containers that I pot up. I have to see a worm-a-day, or I turn into the garden doctor. You too? Great!
What do you want your container garden to do?