I Present To You, Your Best Garden Buddy: The Earthworm

By 4 m read
Common Earthworm (Lumbricus terrestrial) - (Photo by Erich Boenzli)
Common Earthworm (Lumbricus terrestrial) – (Photo by Erich Boenzli)

We all have our fond, weird, creepy, or strange memories about earthworms from our childhood. And none of them are the same. For some of us, they were a fascinating, study-worthy creature. For example, figuring out which end was the head and which one was the tail. I never figured it out. Or why there’s that weird “saddle” somewhere in the middle. Or why, when it rains, they’re slithering all over the sidewalk, and when the sun comes out, they die and shrivel up.

Some of us were even dared to take a bite from one. And some of us cut them in half and marveled how both ends (or fronts) were still alive, seemingly doing just fine. Now, come on, think back, I know you did some of these things…unless you were born around the new millennium. If so, you probably only know of worms as some video game creature with weird superpowers that have to be tamed so you can hitch a ride on them to get to the castle to wake up the dragon and cut out its tongue and present it to your leader so you get to the next level of achievement sort of thing.

Over my lifetime, I have two distinctive and humble relationships with the earthworm. My first one was as bait for fishing. My second was as a buddy in gardening.

Earthworm - Vermicomposting (Photo by Erich Boenzli)
Vermicomposting (Photo by Erich Boenzli)

The earthworm is as reliable and as versatile as bait can be. Catfish, trout, bass, you name it, they all go for it. What I never figured out is how fish know that earthworms are edible. Earthworms live in and on the earth, but not in the water – hence the name earthworms and not waterworms. But I guess it’s the wiggling that makes them attractive to fish. But how do they breathe under water? Oh, and how do stay alive with a fish hook threaded through them?

But before getting into the buddy-buddy part of gardening, I’d like to answer a question raised earlier about the sidewalk. Earthworms live in the earth. Wow, really? So when it starts to rain, their little homes are easily flooded, so they start coming to the surface to avoid drowning. That’s one theory. Another one is that they can move easier and quicker on a wet surface.

Now here’s a neat little trick I learned from my father. When you need some worms to go fishing during a dry spell in summer, when the soil is all hardened up, here’s how to get them: Take a piece of wood, let’s say a foot by a foot, put one end on the grass, and hold the piece at a 45-degree angle. Start tapping the wood with your fingernails, and after a couple minutes, earthworms will start coming to the surface. Why? They think it’s raining.  Ok, I’m not sure if they really think that or if it’s more of a reflex…or something else altogether.

Earthworm - Red Worm (Eisenia fetida) - (Photo by Erich Boenzli)
Red Worm (Eisenia fetida) – (Photo by Erich Boenzli)

I never figured out if that’s a real thing, but it worked for me as a child – unless my dad trained the worms to come up to the surface as soon as they heard me tapping on the wood.

So that’s the answer to the first part of the sidewalk mystery. The second answer is less mysterious. Earthworms need to keep their skin moist, otherwise they dry up very quickly. So, after the rain, if they get caught on the sidewalk when the sun comes out and dries off their skin, they are literally toast.

Let’s get back to the part about them being our garden buddies: Earthworms are the workhorses of the garden. By digging channels up to six feet deep, they aerate the soil and create drainage channels. Their excrement (castings) is rich in nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. In our compost bin, the red variety of worms are doing an incredible job creating “black gold.” Red worms love fruits and vegetables from your kitchen and garden, spoiled or not. They also like tea bags and coffee grounds and basically just about anything that goes into compost. Composting with worms is called “vermicomposting.”

Earthworm - Compost, aka “black gold” (Photo by Erich Boenzli)
Compost, aka “black gold” (Photo by Erich Boenzli)

And whatever they do, they do it in a very proficient manner: Earthworms eat about one-third of their body weight in organic matter and soil each day! And they reproduce like bunnies (not really). One breeding earthworm can produce 96 new baby worms in six months.

In a future article, we’ll teach you how to set up an easy and budget-friendly compost bin, so that your plants, flowers, and vegetables receive the best food to become strong and healthy.

So, the next time you see an earthworm on your sidewalk, pick it up with your hand, study it, and come up with some more questions about this fascinating animal. And please share your own childhood memories about earthworms.

Enjoy these 10 little known facts about earthworms:

Here are a few more of our yard & garden articles you may enjoy:

Do you find earthworms in your garden? Let us know in the comments below!

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