Who knew that the very things we loved to play with as children, like dirt and worms, have so much more to offer our environment than we ever could have imagined?
Let’s crawl inside and see what these not-so-creepy crawlies do for our soil, our planet and our health.
Worms help to create good soil structure
Healthy soil is becoming endangered, which means serious trouble for our planet. With soil gradually turning into nutrient-deficient dirt, we need earthworms more than ever.
Earthworms burrow into soil, which creates air pockets. These tunnels aerate the soil, allow water to drain and decrease the rate of erosion by up to 50 percent, which reduces runoff and prevents drought, flooding and other harmful effects of climate change.
They also help to create humus—a dark type of soil, which holds important nutrients in place for plant growth and use. And those same drainage channels from their burrowing create space for air to reach plant roots, allowing them to grow.
Plus, when soil becomes too compact and dry (not usually a happy place for plant roots), worms can burrow as deep as six feet into the soil and break up that dirt for plants’ roots to be able to dig deeper.
Worm poop = great plant health!
Worms can eat... a lot! We’re talking their weight in organic matter and soil each day. Worms will take semi-rotted food and compost it for us thanks to the enzymes in their stomachs. This produces worm castings (aka, worm poop), which are high in nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, and are all important minerals needed to support plant growth.
While they’re burrowing, they may find some dead organisms, fungal spores or plant matter, and munch on them. This is great because those same stomach enzymes will help to unlock the nutrient availability of the organic matter, add it into the soil and move the nutrients into closer contact with plant roots.
A great way to attract some worms to your garden is to scatter chopped leaves, grass clippings, semi-rotted food and animal manure. The worms will be happy and probably be there to stay.
Worms help to regulate our climate
To keep it as simple as possible, a huge reason for the warming of our planet is that carbon is being released into the atmosphere.
Here’s what should be happening: soil traps carbon, and it’s held there by plant roots. The more plants and green-cover crop we have, such as trees, long wild grasses or garden plants, the more carbon we can trap into the ground.
What’s happening: we’re losing a lot of these green protectors through deforestation. And we’re not only eliminating those protectors, but we’re actively adding to the carbon in the atmosphere through conventional agriculture.
Conventional farmers practice “tilling,” aka: big tractors tearing up the soil and the fields. Once they dig up that soil, all of the stored carbon gets super released into the atmosphere. This tilling, along with spraying pesticides, disrupts the environment in any remaining soil for the essential microbes and insects, and eventually dries out the soil.
All of this is to say that if we put worms back into those degraded dirt areas, even if they’ve been tilled and sprayed on for decades, worms can begin to restore the dead soil and allow us to store more carbon again. Worms stimulate the microbial populations, decontaminate the land, bring soil back to life and pretty much help our entire ecosystem to recover from environmentally detrimental practices.
By incorporating their castings into our soil, they can begin to rebuild and enhance the formation of macroaggregates, which could once again help the soil to store carbon and prevent the release of more carbon.
Earthworms are pretty much our primary source for improving our food production and without them, we would have sad dirt, no food, and really, no life on earth as we know it.
High-five, worm friends! Thanks for keeping us alive.