Most farmers know very little about earthworms, which is not so surprising since they live in the soil most of the time and seem to serve no other purpose than as snacks for chickens.
But earthworms are more than just chicken food. They’re nature’s original farmers.
Earthworms perform a variety of activities in the soil that give long-lasting benefits to plants and the soil. According to research, they improve the soil by adding nutrients, increasing drainage, and creating a more stable soil structure.
Earthworms love to feed on plant waste such as dead roots, leaves, grasses and manure of cows and chickens. When they digest these materials, the nutrients in the waste, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, become concentrated in their poop. As this poop gets left behind in hundreds of locations during the worms’ daily journey through the soil, they break down into highly nutritious clusters of nitrogen and other nutrients for plants to absorb.
The worm tunnels also serve as a drainage system for the soil. Plants, especially during the rainy season, are at high risk of root rot from heavy rains. These tunnels help water drain up to six times faster than soils without earthworm activity, preventing flood damage on plants. They also loosen the soil for plant roots to dig deep and establish a sturdy root network.
The benefits of earthworms should make us think twice. A few years ago in Tamil Nadu, India, the price of synthetic chemical fertilisers spiked following a shortage of supplies. Conventional farmers who had been using synthetic fertilisers struggled to produce healthy crops because they could not afford the threefold increase in fertiliser prices. But sustainable farmers who had been growing their vegetables with the help of earthworms felt no impact from this problem. Their yields were beautiful and consistent because the earthworms were replenishing the soil with their nutritious poop.
Just because we don’t see what earthworms do, we shouldn’t discount their importance. So much of plant health is dependent on soil fertility, drainage, and composition, which earthworms provide. Earthworms are like a farmer’s underground tractor, loosening the soil for roots and spreading nutrients everywhere. It must be our responsibility to care for them.