Earthworms, folks walk over them every day but unless they are gardeners or fishermen they seldom give this unseen life form a moment’s thought. And that is a shame because these tiny invertebrates are truly the best friends a gardener could have. Here is what these tiny engineers do to make the garden flourish.
Aerate the soil:
Earthworms love to eat. As they do so they wriggle their way through the soil opening passageways for oxygen bearing surface air, vital for photosynthesis to reach deep into the soil with ease. These same passageways also help to drain off surface water after a heavy rain, preventing root rot. Yet another benefit, these very same passageways are also open channels for the plants roots to expand easily and rapidly throughout their growing medium.
Making plant nutrients:
Everyone knows that compost is a valuable soil additive. It improves the tilth, or texture of the soil. Often it is thought of as a plant nutrient but this is not strictly speaking the case. Compost must be processed to achieve a state where plants can use the nutrients directly. It turns out that the most effective way to process compost is to run it through a worm.
The worm is happy to cooperate, as it loves nothing better than compost. As a worm eats it also excretes and these pelletized excretions technically known as castings are pure plant food. The process concentrates the nutrients which the plants need wonderfully in a water soluble form which they readily absorb. The worm is kind enough to deposit much of these castings where they can do the most good; right among the roots of the plants.
The output of a single worm over the course of a year is staggering. A single healthy night crawler can generate a full 10 pounds of his special organic fertilizer, at zero cost to the gardener.
The earthworm does not stop with simple compost conversion. In the course of a busy life the worm burrows as deep as 8 feet beneath the surface, well beyond the digging range of the most dedicated gardener. Returning to the surface the worm delivers deeply buried micro nutrients to an area which plants can reach.
In the end, the worm makes the supreme sacrifice. When an earthworm dies it decomposes and further enriches the soil in which it lived.
Gardeners, be of good cheer, for you are never alone in your garden. An army of talented, tireless helpers toils endlessly beneath your feet.
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