Friday, 20 November 2015

Do You Spend Much Time Thinking About Worms?




 
No, I thought not. But you might after reading this.

Worms, also known as Ecosystem Engineers, are my latest obsession.

I confess to not spending particularly large amounts of time considering worms before, but now I am thinking about them a lot.

The reason for this new interest is a talk I went to yesterday, which was aimed at farmers improving their soil but which also has ramifications for the world of ecology, particularly the world of ecology that wants to work more productively with the world of farming.

It is fair to say that there has been a degree of mutual distrust between farmers and conservationists over the years, but if we really want to secure a better future for wildlife and ensure we have enough food to feed everyone, we have to find more productive and less suspicious ways of working together.

The little worm, so easily overlooked by so many of us, may just provide the perfect opportunity to begin opening dialogues of this kind. Because is turns out that worms are fascinating creatures, valuable creatures, quite astounding creatures in many ways.



Here are some juicy worm facts.

1. There are three main worm types: the compost worm, the earthworker worm and the root dwelling worm.
2. Compost worms are not the same as the worms that live in your garden soil. If you put compost worms on to your soil, they will up and leave and make their way back to the compost, which is where they like to be. They don't want to eat soil, they want to eat compost.
3. Worms like mild, damp conditions. If the weather is bad they dig deep into the soil and wait it out. Or they die if it's really bad. But the good news is their populations recover fast.
4. Moles chew the bottom off a worm then push all the grit and soil along the worm with their paw and out of the hole, so they can eat the worm without damaging their teeth.
5. Worm babies hatch from cocoons.
6.Big worms can live for 8-9 years in the wild, but have been recorded living up to 20 years in captivity!
7. If you cut a worm in two close to the tail it will survive, if you cut it closer to the head it can't.
8. The presence of earthworms in soil at a good frequency increases crop yields significantly.
9. Worms like a high pH and lots of organic matter to thrive.
10. You get more worms in phosphorous, calcium and clay soils.
11. They don't like sandy soils because it scratches their skin when they move through it.
12. Worms improve nitrate availability in the soil (important for growing crops and preventing it polluting our waterways).
13. 12,000 worms per square metre is the biggest number recorded.
14.The Green Worm lives in manure heaps and mineral rich environments.
15. Aristotle called them 'the intestines of the earth' and Darwin doubted any other creature had played a more important part in the history of the world.
16. Worms can be grey, red, green or stripey.
17.There are 27 UK worm species, 8 of which you are quite likely to find just in your garden.
18. There are 4 species of Compost Worm (they also live in manure and muck heaps) and they work in the top 12cm of topsoil where they love a rich diet of rotting vegetable matter rather than soil. They don't build permanent burrows or tunnels but prefer to just wander randomly wherever there is food. If it gets very cold they burrow further down the soil profile, curl up into a ball and hibernate in a lovely covering of protective slime.
19. Earthworms (2700 species worldwide) are the ones you'll see most often in your garden, especially the big chaps Lumbricus terrestris (a 12cm long worm also known as the Lob Worm or Common Earthworm). They make the soil airy and better for plants to grown in and they create long vertical burrows (up to 3 metres deep) with their poo (casts) on the surface at the top of the hole. They eat soil and especially like leaves. They pop up to look for food at night (go out with a torch especially on a damp mild night and you'll see them all on the surface, but they move quickly and once the light's on them they'll whizz back down their holes) and Darwin noted they will search out the best shaped leaves to bung up their burrows with. Small claim to fame here- apparently, he carried out this research in one of our neighbour's gardens! 
20. Root Dwelling Worms are deep burrowers that are widespread in farmland. You're unlikely to see them as they don't come up to the surface. They live among the roots of vegetation.
21. All worms help aerate the soil and recycle rotting matter by tunneling through it and breaking it down (eating it) so that fungi and bacteria can release valuable nutrients and return them to the soil. Where there are larger numbers of worms there will be larger numbers of these essential bacteria and fungi. They also help prevent flooding as water can drain down into the soil through their burrows and help plants to grow as their roots use worm tunnels too.
22. In once acre of land there can be more than a million earthworms.
23. A worm stuck in the sun for an hour will become paralysed and dry out and die, so if you find one help it back to a patch of earth. 
24. Worms have tiny bristles on each of their body rings to help anchor them in the soil and crawl along. This is why blackbirds and robins are seen tugging them out, because they can hold on!
25. Worms eat: soil, manure, decomposing organisms, roots and leaves.
26. It takes 500 years to make 1 inch of topsoil and nearly all the antibiotics we use have come from soil organisms.
27. 1 tbsp of soil has more organisms in it than there are people on earth.
28. Worm killing products have been banned for a number of years.

Great stuff, don't you think? Yay for worms!

If you want to know more, have a look at The Earthworm Society's webpage.

I also made two new farming friends yesterday, one who has acres of wild flower meadows bordering some local Chalk Downland and is keen for me to do some wildlife surveys on the farm next year and advise him on how to best manage the land for maximum wildlife benefit, and another who is about to take over a local farm and is likewise keen to find out what she's got living on it so she can look after it. A really interesting day and I met some great people.

Hope you're all having a good week?

CT :o)

42 comments:

  1. What I know about worms is that it shows your soil is healthy if present, they don't regenerate if cut by a spade, they die, and my grands love to catch fish with them.

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    1. Yup, worms are Interesting People for sure :o)

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  2. I can honestly answer YES, to your beginning question. I have a rather large worm patch in my yard and i make sure the worms are always happy. Any time I go fishing, I just go to my worm patch with my shovel and grab a few, never being greedy. I appreciate all the work put into this post and YES, I do like worms......girl talking here :)

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    1. I'm not surprised you are a worm fan. The guy giving the talk said their populations are barely dented by bird predation so I'm sure fishing requirements don't harm them either. Wonderful creatures.
      Have a lovely weekend my friend- apologies for not popping over to see you for a while. It has been quite non-stop here for the last couple of months x

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  3. I'm surprised at myself that I read all those facts but they are very interesting, thank you. I'm pleased you enjoyed your day and from now on I promise to rescue any worms I see stuck in the sun. X

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  4. 26 and 27 - wow! I'm very fond of my compost worms. I went out to look at the compost heap yesterday and was happy to see that already they were moving all through the new green waste I'd put in. A blackbird has been on the grass all morning pulling out earthworms. I'm always happy to see worms in the garden and down on the plot, I'm not surprised to learn how very valuable they are. CJ xx

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    1. I know! Amazing facts. I didn't know compost worms were different to soil worms, I shall look at them all with renewed admiration from now on. The next time it rains here at night I shall be outside with the torch watching them all pop up and down their tunnels. I am perhaps easily pleased. xx

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  5. Hey CT,
    Big worm fans here. I was watching a Blackbird battle one of the ground this morning. We always pop them onto an earthy patch if we see them in the road etc. How exciting to be surveying and consulting those farms next year. Have a great weekend CT.
    Leanne xx

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    1. I've always been fond of worms too but never been to a whole talk devoted to them before- such brilliant little creatures and I reckon generally vastly under appreciated. Have a good weekend, chick XX

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  6. Really interesting, I note that antibiotics are under threat from resistance. Deep ocean vents reckoned to be a good possible source of new drugs.

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    1. I'd not heard that about deep ocean vents but I guess it makes sense. Let's hope it's managed more sensitively than human beings tend to do these things!

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  7. Actually, as a longstanding amateur gardener, I frequently think about earth worms and am always pleased to see them in the soil as I cultivate. A few years ago I came across The Action of Earthworms in the Formation of Vegetable Mould by C. Darwin which was a very interesting read and not in the least dry. I do appreciate your list. Thanks.

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    1. I suspect most gardeners share that feeling- I know I do. It was so interesting to learn more about their ecology and what it is they actually do for the soil.

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  8. What an interesting post, funnily enough we were both oohhing and ahhing at some worm casts outside of the Library just yesterday, they made such a lovely pattern.
    Now, a few years ago when walking along the road in the rain we noticed worms coming out onto the pavement from the cracks at the bottom of the garden walls, really long worms, as soon as they got the jarring of the footsteps they pulled themselves back under the wall. Was I dreaming this as I haven't seen it again? and no, I had not had a drink, ha ha.
    Briony

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    1. They'll have been lob worms or common earthworms and no, you weren't imagining them- they are sensitive to light and vibration and can move extraordinarily quickly when threatened. They also pop up when it's raining x

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  9. I think you are right about farmers - not sure how many of them give any thought at all to worms, although 'my' farmer certainly likes to see them in our compost heap.

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    1. There is increasing evidence about their value to farmers and crop yields and more talks being offered to farmers through Natural England etc to explain how it all works- all good stuff.

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  10. Yup, as an organic gardener and grower I've always been very interested in worms and have thousands of very healthy pink compost worms and blackbirds on the lawn pulling out earthworms, I am always pleased to see worm casts on the lawn and find enormously long earthworms in my allotment soil which I'm careful not to harm. Good job I'm a no dig allotmenteer. Sometimes when I'm out and about I fear that some farmers know very little about soil health (deep ploughing, nitrogenous fertilisers, herbicide and pesticide use - you know the score) so it's good to hear some are being enlightened.

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    1. I'm working with a farmer on a cover crop project who is using a no till approach for his fields. It's fascinating stuff and he's very inspiring to talk to. Also a great spokesman for the subject to other farmers. It gives me huge hope for the future for our soils and wildlife. Great to hear about your garden and allotment worms, Sarah. X

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  11. WOW!!! I knew that worms were important to the soil, but I had no idea there was so much to know about them!! I admit that I only think about worms when I am gardening and find one. We don't have enough worms here though, probably due to the fact that our "soil" as I loosely call it is mainly stones! xx

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    1. I didn't know much about them either- fascinating creatures and so important for all of us xx

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  12. Funny enough I'm trying to figure out how to 'magic' away a wheeled plastic bin from the Fun factory as it'll male a most excellent wormery CT

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  13. Well I never. what I never knew about the common worm I do now and very interesting post it is. Can't say they are going to be my number one thing I think about but thanks for sharing. Have a lovely weekend

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    1. :o) I shall look more carefully at them from now on

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  14. Good old worms what would we do without them. Lots of interesting information here, thank you. Sounds like a good day. :-)

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  15. I'm pleased that I already knew some of those facts but it's always good to learn more. Yup I'm one of those people who put worms in the shade in a flower bed if I find them crawling over hard surfaces which will dry out, and feel sad when I find dessicated ones. And I'm always sorry when my hens eat one! xx

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    1. From what the worm expert was saying, you don't need to worry too much about hen predation as there are usually thousands of them in a garden x

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  16. wow - this was absolutely brilliant!! i do love worms -- i often find myself chatting [usually apologizing for unearthing them] when i'm in the garden. alongside bees, i have to say they are the Most Magic as far as being Champions of the Earth.

    the children and i had a colony of compost worms when we lived in town -- they were marvelous. alas, despite my best insulating efforts, they didn't survive the winter. now that we have more indoor storage options....hmmmmm......

    thank you, for raising worm-awareness -- it's a very Good Thing. and i'm so thrilled to hear of your new farming friends and their aspirations of stewardship. brilliant stuff! xoxoxoxo

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    1. I've always had a soft spot for worms too and really shouldn't have been surprised they are so interesting. Nice to know more about them :o) xx

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  17. Oh I love worms...always used to pick them up as a child (which my mother hated).

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    1. Me too! I was always fascinated at how they move- such strong little creatures. Hope all's well x

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  18. Really interesting post and yes I do think about worms every time I go to my compost bin and see them all wriggling around. I thought they were the same as in the garden so I have learned something new today :)

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    1. I didn't know the difference either. I shall study them with more care from now on! x

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  19. I've just read this post out loud to the HG and to Miss 21. He's fascinated, she's grossed out! He's muttering something that sounds like dendravenas?? And lob worms . Look away now CT, he uses them for fishing!!!

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    1. lob worms are another name for earth worms. No idea what a dendravena is (just looked it up and for once google has no idea what it means- could be you've just made up a brand new name. Copyright it, quick!). My worm man said there's plenty of worms about so the fishing probably isn't harming them (apart from the ones being used as bait of course!) X

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x