Anybody see the July 7 article about earthworms in the Wall Street Journal?
It seems that people are finally learning that worms are not the wonderful
things the worm dealers would have us think.
FACT: Earthworms do not create good soil, they migrate toward good soil.
After finding good soil, they attract moles.
of living. They occupy a niche in the soil ecosystem. A good topsoil supports a
host of organisms and is naturally a good habitat for the worms as well. A good
topsoil is highly fertile provided the system is balanced. A few inches of
topsoil are all that stands between us and extinction.
That certainly sounds like the reporter may not have done thorough
research and may very well have started out with a bias, a big no-no in
Fact: I haul in horse manure mixed with leaves. That is not soil, it is
horse manure and leaves . . . organic, yes, but not soil. A good supply
of earthworms comes with it. The manure that is left in the manure bin (a
surround of concrete blocks) is beautiful, highly fertile soil in the
spring. From my personal observation, there is no question the earthworms
(and incoming buddies) have converted the manure and leaves to soil, or
more properly called, worm castings.
At Hanford, Washington, they conducted experiments with earthworms to
"clean up" radioactive soil. It seems that everything that goes through an
earthworm's body is detoxified. The soil passed through the earthworms'
body did, indeed, become non-radioactive; however, they had no way of
disposing of radioactive earthworms, experimentation abandoned.
(Information from our composting classes.)
My grandfather farmed and made certain to keep a good supply of vegetative
material in the fields when he harvested, the reason? Earthworms to break
it down for more fertilizer for next year's crop. He was also a rotation
crop person, taking a lesson from Ben Franklin.
I read sometime last year that Australia has a crisis building. They have
been invaded by a tapeworm that eats earthworms and is becoming a major
problem. Without the earthworms, the soil is not being "worked" and the
agricultural industry is in jeopardy. Perhaps some of our Aussie friends
on the group can fill us in about the particulars of that; I have lost
track of the current status of that problem. Seems logical to me that
moles are not so discriminating in their food supply that they would
ignore tapeworms and starve, ya think?
As for moles, there are a lot of good soil areas that do not have moles.
My own garden is one of those. Moles are attracted by more than
Do you think that perhaps all the other critters (beetles, etc.) that are
also working the soil the earthworms are working could be attracting moles
as well? But maybe those smaller critters aren't as obvious as earthworms
and didn't catch the reporter's fancy. Perhaps the reporter will go after
ladybugs next time and tell us they really don't eat aphids?
I'll tell you for sure, between moles and earthworms, I'll take the
earthworms any day even it means moles too. I can trap the moles but I
cannot live without the earthworms . . . none of us can. Throw a load of
organic material, leaves, manure, whatever, onto a spot of clay and you
will have soil. As they say, compost happens. Earthworms are a major
element in the compost happening . . . soil built.
No, I am not a worm dealer and have no financial interest in earthworms
except my survival as a member of this planet. I am smart enough, however,
to observe my worm bin which has only redworms and kitchen scraps that,
without my help or any additions of anything else, becomes beautiful, rich
soil that gardeners strive to achieve. Without the worms, it becomes a
smelly, stinking and unhealthy mess.
There are many tiny critters involved in composting, but the earthworm is
the one that is universal and most effective. It leaves the question in
my mind if the reporter is one of those poor souls afraid of earthworms.
Oh, by the way, earthworms attract gulls as far as 400 miles inland from
the ocean, just ask any farmer plowing his field. Did the reporter mention
a gull problem? They also attract Robins to entertain us with their food
Yes, I will try to remember to read the article, but I doubt it will
convince me that all earthworms are good for is attracting moles. I also
doubt it will change anything I've said here; reading will tell.
email@example.com (Glenna Rose) wrote in
don't know if this is what you are thinking of, but I saw on PBS (i think
it was Nova special on the origins of life, but it could have been
Nature) that England was invaded by a planarian (a flatworm?) from New
Zealand. Might have also hit the US. Details about it hunting
earthworms is similar.
yes it is true that the planarian came to England in a pot plant from New
Zealand. it was in the news at the time, but I do not know if they found a
cure for it. hope this helps you.
Richard M. Watkin.
Glenna -- The poster failed to give the details of the article. In fact, it
was well supported. The article was not in reference to gardening or
farming though -- it referred to a specific ecosystem, namely native
forests, where earthworms disturb a balance that has been in place for
millenia. I quoted a few bits from the article in my response to the
Nope. Don't get my agricultural advice from the WSJ, or my financial
advice from the Johnny's seed catalog.
Odd. I cannot dig a trowel of soil out of my garden without pulling up
at least one earthworm, and I have neither moles nor poor soil quality.
The worms are part of my low-till strategy, aerating the roots of my
plants -- almost every plant in my garden has earthworms entwined in
its roots, where the aeration is needed most.
Any vermicomposter can tell you that most plants will thrive in a bed
of nothing but worm casings.
I've always taught my kids: Feed the worms, and you're feeding
yourself; starve the worms, and you're starving yourself.
My sentiments and experience exactly, and no golphers either. I've
found that any soil that does not have worms doesn't seem to grow
plants worth a hoot. IMO they go hand in hand, more worms, better
You must have gotten misinformation or only part of the answer. Earthworms
are a very good soil enhancer. Number 1 - they leave castings (poop) that
is one of the richest fertilizers AND Number 2 - they aerate the soil by
tunneling through and allowing oxygen to plant roots.
Yes, moles eat them, as well as grubs. Very good for us and moles tunnel
and aerate the soil also. The biggest culprit in ruining plants are VOLES
which eat the plant roots and destroy them. Moles are actually beneficial,
but they do leave some tunneling on lawns - not too pretty.
I had some massive tunneling going on last fall when I moved to my new
house, but my cats got at least 3 huge moles and numerous voles. Not a
problem this year.
Zone 7b - North Carolina
Actually, this is rather humoresque -- the July 7th edition of the WSJ is
currently on my new bed, covered by about 3-4 inches of mulch. I used it as
a weed barrier/grass smotherer in lieu of digging the bed out. :)
Let's eliminate a few bits of fluff from the article and get to some key
1) "The Worm Turns: It's Down To No Good off Home Turf / Interloper in
Northern Forests Devours Undergrowth Other Fine Creatures Need"
This is the title of the article. Note that it starts off by suggesting
that worms are no good when they get out of their habitat -- i.e., gardens
and farms -- and into forests.
2) "To be sure, on farms and in gardens, earthworms can be beneficial. They
help stir the soil and replace nutrients."
I do not think anything further REALLY needs to be said about this. Most
gardens and farms are not quite the same as a forest so this makes good
3) "But they're exotic creatures in vast stretches of North America,
including nearly all of Canada and the northern U.S. The reason: About
10,000 years ago, glaciers retreated from these areas, leaving the region
earthworm free. For thousands of years thereafter, forests and other
ecosystems in these parts evolved in a state of wormlessness."
Makes sense again -- here we have an ecosystem that does not have
earthworms. This same ecosystem does not have quite a few other things as
well. To paraphrase the article -- earthworms were moved into these
ecosystems by man, much like many species of plants that have proven to be
bad news, or animals that runwithout predators (can you say feral cats in
Australia?). The earthworm populatoins came with settlers as ballast in
their ships as well as in their plants and even their animals, fishers dump
leftover bait along the shores of fishing areas, etc..
4) "For centuries before the worms arrived, fallen leaves and other forest
litter decomposed slowly, creating a spongy layer of organic material,
called duff, which provides habitats for plants and ground-dwelling animals.
Now the earthworms are getting to the duff first, and eating it out from
under species that rely on it. Earthworms typically eat more than 10 times
their body weight each month. Studies have shown that when worms invade, the
duff layer is devoured in three to five years."
Now, here we see WHY earthworms pose a threat to these ecosystems -- the
very same behavior that makes them so beneficial to home gardens and farming
make them devastating to forest ecosystems.
To summarize all of this -- the article is sound as is the journalist's
research HOWEVER it is a directed topic. This has absolutely NOTHING to do
with gardens or farming -- it is STILL recognized that earthworms are highly
beneficial to gardens and farming. It has, however, been found that when
earthworms are transplanted to a different ecosystem, such as native
forests, they have an undesirable effect on existing life-forms in that
ecosystem. In the case at hand, that effect is on plant and animal life
that rely on "duff". This is to be expected whenever an alien species is
introduced to a new environment.
Noting Darwinian theory, these life-forms may well be selected for
extinction now that another has invaded their ecosystem. Alternatively,
they may adapt and survive. Either way, homeostasis will be achieved.
Moreover, the worms are generally beneficial to all plants, including
trees in the forest. That is good for humans and fights global
warming. Ecological disasters are rated mostly in terms of how they
can affect our long term survival. Possibly the worst, at least in our
country, was the disappearance of a few billion chestnut trees, and
the attendant disappearance of 100 billion pounds of quality and free
food at the onset of each winter (as well as the choice timber tree in
the East). But the worms is one of those rare things, together with
dandelions or zebra mussels, where we have done ourselves and many
other species a favor.
Also of note is the fact that earthworms propagate very slowly, no
more than 20-30 feet per year if they have to do it themselves. There
are large tracts of not previously farmed land where they have not
Hmmm...I dunno about this one. As the author of the article notes, there
are a number of species of plants and animals that are suffering as a direct
result of the earthworms eating the fallen leaves and such. I would expect
that most will adapt however.
If enough colonies form though, this has an obviously multplicative effect.
It is definitely an interesting problem.
I'm not quite sure why the original poster has such an issue with
earthworms, especially in farms and gardens, but this article certainly does
not support his assertion that earthworms are such evil creatures.
Either way, I'm still hitting the local bait shop in the next few weeks to
get some earthworms for my new perennial bed. :)
Wouldn't the earthworm eggs get widely distributed by rainwater runoff
and soil carried on vehicles and the roots of transported seedlings and
on the muddy hooves of native, feral, and introduced animals?
John Savage (news reply email invalid; keep news replies in newsgroup)
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