Vermiculture





The science of and need for
Earthworm husbandry at
ecoGROW


 

Locomotion and importance to soil

Earthworms travel underground by the means of waves of muscular contractions which alternately shorten and lengthen the body.


The shortened part is anchored to the surrounding soil by tiny claw-like bristles (setae) set along its segmented length. (In all the body segments except the first, last and clitellum, there is a ring of S- shaped setae, embedded in the epidermal pit of each segment,perichaetine) The whole burrowing process is aided by the secretion of lubricating mucus. Worms can make gurgling noises
underground when disturbed as a result of the worm moving through its lubricated tunnels. They also work as biological "pistons" forcing air through the tunnels as they move. Thus earthworm activity aerates and mixes the soil, and is constructive to mineralization and nutrient uptake by vegetation. Certain species of earthworm come to the surface and graze on the higher concentrations of organic matter present there, mixing it with the mineral soil. Because a high level of organic matter mixing is associated with soil fertility, an abundance of earthworms is beneficial to the organic gardener. In fact as long ago as 1881 Charles Darwin wrote: It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organized creatures


Earthworm is the common name for the largest members of Oligochaeta (which is either a class or subclass depending on the
author) in the phylum Annelida. Folk names for the earthworm include "dew-worm", "rainworm", "night crawler" and "angleworm" (due to its use as fishing bait).

Earthworms are also called megadriles (or big worms), as opposed to the microdriles (or small worms) in the families Tubificidae, Lumbriculidae, and Enchytraeidae, among others. The earthworm megadriles are characterized by having a distinct clitellum (which is much more obvious than the single-layered one of the microdriles) and a vascular system with true capillaries.

Benefits
The major benefits of earthworm activities to soil fertility can be summarized as:


* Biological. They come out of there holes (tunnels) mostly after a rain shower. In many soils, earthworms play a major role in converting large pieces of organic matter (e.g. dead leaves) into rich humus, and thus improving soil fertility. This is achieved by the worm's actions of pulling down below any organic matter deposited on the dried dirt, such as leaf fall or manure, either for food or when it needs to plug its burrow. Once in the burrow, the worm will shred the leaf and partially digest it, then mingle it with the earth by saturating it with intestinal secretions. Worm casts (see below) can contain 40% more humus than the top 9" of soil in which the worm is living.

* Chemical. As well as dead organic matter, the earthworm also ingests any other soil particles that are small enough¡Xincluding stones up to 1/20 of an inch (1.25mm) across¡Xinto its gizzard wherein minute fragments of grit grind everything into a fine paste which is then digested in the intestine. When the worm excretes this in the form of casts which are deposited on the surface or deeper in the soil, minerals and plant nutrients are made available in an accessible form. Investigations in the US show that fresh earthworm casts are 5 times richer in available nitrogen, 7 times richer in available phosphates and 11 times richer in available potash than the surrounding upper 6 inches (150 mm) of soil. In conditions where there is plenty of available humus, the weight of casts produced may be greater than 4.5 kg (10 lb) per worm per year, in itself an indicator of why it pays the gardener or farmer to keep worm populations high.

* Physical. By its burrowing actions, the earthworm is of great value in keeping the soil structure open, creating a multitude of channels which allow the processes of both aeration and drainage to occur. Permaculture co-founder Bill Mollison points out that by sliding in their tunnels, earthworms "act as an innumerable army of pistons pumping air in and out of the soils on a 24 hour cycle (more rapidly at night)" [2]. Thus the earthworm not only creates passages for air and water to traverse, but is itself a vital component in the living biosystem that is healthy soil. Earthworms continue to move through the soil due to the excretion of mucus into the soil that acts as a lubricant for easier movement of the worm.