“If a healthy soil is full of death, it is also full of life: worms, fungi, microorganisms of all kinds.”Wendell Berry
Earthworms are the most important soil builders. Charles Darwin and other experts called them the ‘architects of the soil’.
There is a worrying shortage of earthworms in Portuguese soils. But we can bring them back by creating an environment that is attractive for them.
And what’s more attractive than food?
Earthworms need large amounts of plant materials, rotting plants, including their dead roots. And they eat a lot.
Someone has worked out that 120 worms per sqm over 1 hectare of land can eat the equivalent 6 tons of straw. In return they produce a layer of humus of about 1 cm.
Earthworms eat not only decaying plants, they also like certain soil fungi. Apparently they are particularly keen on fungi which could be damaging for our food crops (potatoes, carrots, sweet corn and others).
This means, they protect our vegetables from rotting in the ground. They also protect fruit trees from diseases by cleaning up the soil. Earthworms are not only soil builders, they also provide our soils with a very efficient health care system. Therefore looking after our precious soil population should be a priority.
Apart from rotting vegetable matter, earthworms thrive on animal manure. Horse, cow, chicken, duck, rabbit manure, or any waste produced by farm animals are popular on the worm menu. But they don’t go for the fresh stuff because the high nitrogen content would damage their sensitive skin.
When the the manure is left to rot for a while on bare soil, worms find their way into it when the food source is ready for them.
Earthworms also love coffee grounds and ground up eggshells. These can be mixed either in the compost bin, or they can go straight onto the soil in your garden.
Green manure is another good food source for the earthworms. It seems to stimulate the production of worm eggs and increases the worm population.
If you don’t see any worms in your soil, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are not there. They can live up to 5 metres deep in the ground. When you provide them with a good food source, earthworms somehow find their way to it.