The Importance of Earthworms in Soil

The importance of earthworms in soil:

by Stephanie Hudson

There are billions of creepy crawlers on planet Earth that populate the air, dry land and the damp underground; all of these creatures contribute an enormous amount of work to our earth and environment. Bees pollinate the beautiful flowers; the dung beetle is the janitor of the land, sweeping up dung and rotting materials and spiders act as population control in the bug world by trapping insects and drinking their blood.

We have one slimy friend in particular who is exceptional in the world of creepy crawlers and that would be the earthworm. Just the name “earthworm” implies that this outstanding creature dedicates its entire life to working for planet Earth! They burrow and live underground and are responsible for helping make our soil healthy and rich so that we humans can grow nutritious food and maintain healthy plant life.

Earth worm cocoons

The worm may look boring and unimportant because of its disgusting slimy appearance, the way it moves and finally its unflattering rusty color but did you know that a lot of people refer to worms as free farm help? They do an enormous amount of labor right under our feet by breaking down organic material like dead leaves and grass and turning it into material that other plants can use; this is only possible because of the earthworm’s unique digestive system. Worms eat dead leaves and grass that pass through its digestive system and leave behind something called a casting, or worm manure; these castings fertilize the soil by adding nutrients and other materials that result in rich, healthy soil and the promotion of plant growth.

Helping to fertilize the planet is not the earthworm’s only duty; they also turn the soil by eating the organic materials at the top of the land and mixing it with the soil below. This helps to increase the amount of air and water underground, the key to healthy dirt.

Soil is more than just dirt; it is a mixture of organic matter that contains nutrients, air, water and bacteria. These elements are very important for the growth of strong, nutritious plants which provide food to both humans and animals. It is also very important for us humans to do our part in keeping soil as clean as possible for our burrowing buddies. Earthworms have an amazing ability to digest harmful materials that have been tossed into the environment, such as metals, and dilute their toxins. But despite the worm’s best efforts, poisons can still remain in their dung. The undigested metal particles are mixed with the soil that is then used by plants and eaten by animals, including humans. Yuck!

We must always remember to recycle metals and other materials properly so that they do not end up underground contaminating the food chain. Earthworms keep our soil loose, moist, and fertile—which is the only way to grow our delicious vegetables, fragrant flowers, and other plants. If you have a garden at home and you notice a lot of worms, that is a wonderful sign that your garden is happy and the dirt is full of nutrients! Never remove or cause harm to these amazing little workers, they are contributing more to your garden and to the earth than we could ever know and they are doing all of this without the help of eyes, arms, legs or teeth!

Teachers:

Project 1: Does organic material break down faster with the help of earthworms?

Estimated time: 2 weeks.

The materials needed:

·       2 small opaque (non see-through) containers with lids (e.g. large coffee cans).

·       Soil and organic materials such as leaves, grass, or straw and fruit and vegetable waste.

·       14 red worms. “Red Wigglers” are best for this project (found in most nurseries or fishing stores).

Step 1: Fill coffee cans about half way with about the same amount of soil fruit or veggie waste and organic materials, cover and let sit for 3 to 4 days.

Step 2: Add 7 earthworms to both containers and poke a few small air holes in lids.

Step 3: After about a week open the containers and record which of the two containers have composted the most materials the one with worms or the one without worms.

Project 2 : Do plants grow better with the help of earthworms?

Estimated time: 4 to 6 weeks.

The materials needed:

  • 6 (6 inch) pots
  • Potting soil
  • 18 seeds
  • 6 earthworms
    • Earthworms can be found in your yard, or purchased at nurseries and fishing stores.

Step 1: Plant the seeds (place three seeds in each pot, evenly spaced in the soil).

Step 2: Add two earthworms to three of the pots. (The other three pots are not going to get any earthworms at all). Make sure to water the pots with the same amount of water and at the same time. Make sure that each pot has the same access to heat and light to give the seeds the same advantage.

Step 3: After waiting for the seeds to sprout start measuring their growth, record your results weekly. When writing down the results write down the height of each plant and when the project is finished analyze the results. Make sure to take the average plant growth for the pots that had earthworms in them and those that did not.

Project 3: Earthworm garden- See for yourself what worms do in soil!

Estimated time: 2 weeks.

The materials needed:

  • 1 large jar with a lid
  • Potting soil
  • Apple peelings
  • Cornstarch
  • A marker
  • 2-3 earthworms

Step 1: Fill a clean jar with alternating layers of soil and corn starch. Soil layers can be thicker than cornstarch layers.

Step 2: After filling the jar place apple peelings on the top of all the layers.

Step 3: On the jar use marker to mark the boundaries between each layer.

Step 4: Place earthworms on top of all the layers and apple peelings.

Step 5: Place lid loosely on top of the jar.

Step 6: Observe and record what happens to the layers of cornstarch, soil and apple peelings every day for 2 weeks.

Note: make sure to spray a little water in the earthworm garden every day to keep it moist.

When earthworms burrow through soil they are on the hunt for food. The result of their movement creates little tunnels through the soil. This is beneficial for plants because the soil stays aerated. The purpose of alternating the cornstarch and soil is to dramatically demonstrate the impact 2 or 3 little worms have on soil. By the end of two weeks the contents of the jar will appear homogeneous.

Sources:

http://www.compostguy.com/worm-composting-basics/

http://www.learnerscience.com/documents/earthwormsciencefairproject.html

http://books.google.com/books?id=LtADhgNw1gYC&pg=PA38&lpg=PA38&dq=science+fair+projects+with+earthworms&source=bl&ots=3qkKLCtBF2&sig=qahPAQdYVEAXK51_QdJsRM2EfLI&hl=en&ei=aUWeTbrYFKGX0QG4xOnWBA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CGsQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q&f=false Book titled- Championship Science Fair Projects: 100 Sure-to-Win Experiments By Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

Photos from Wikipedia

 

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