Adventures in Gardening: The Benefits of Worms

by David Soper

I've seen worm castings for sale in nurseries and, while writing my book, did a little independent research. I purchased a six-pack of annuals, (petunias, if I remember) and planted half in our garden in our normal fashion. I normally fertilize each plant, mixing it in the new root hole, as it is planted. These were, in scientific lingo, my "control group."

The remaining half, the "experimental group", were planted in vermicompost enriched dirt. We watered everthing just the same and they all were planted in full sun and side by side, the environments were as close to identical as I could make them.

But, the plants were very different by the end of the season. The worm-aided plants were significantly larger and had also bloomed somewhat more. We were convinced, and now every new plant coming on board is introduced to an environment rich with vermicompost.

Producing the vermicompost was simple and it was fun. We constructed a worm box per the directions in the book "Worms Eat My Garbage." on sale at nurseries everywhere.

We told everyone about our new pets, the worms. Many of our friends were too squeamish to actually look inside the box, but a significant number, the gardeners, wanted a supply of worms to use themselves.

It wasn't enough to know it works, I wanted to know why it works so I went to the library. Here's what I found:
". . .they literally serve as colloid mills to produce the intimate chemical and mechanical mixture of fine organic and inorganic matter that forms their castings. In the mixing which takes place in the alimentary canal of the earthworm, the ingested materials undergo chemical changes, deodorization and neutralization, so that the resultant castings are practically neutral humus, rich in water-soluble plant food, immediately available for plant nutrition." Dr. Thomas J. Barrett writing in "Harnessing the Earthworm."

In short, they convert garbage to humus. Humus is possibly the most important chemical (along with humic acid) in your soil.

In the presence of small amounts of humus, plants are stimulated to grow beyond what would be expected from normal nutrition. Beyond that, heavy metals harmfufl to the plant (and to you and me) are often found in sludge, crop leavings and manures.

Humus has the ability to "fix" the metals so the plant doesn't absorb more than it needs. Later, it releases the heavy metals when the plant needs them. Lastly, somehow humus can help when the soil is too acidic or too alkaline.

So where do you get this humus? Composting is a great start. Essentially, composting converts plant material to a humus. Vermiculture is just a more efficent way to end lup with a product even richer in humus than conventional compost.

David Soper, The Garden Guy, writes and lectures on gardening topics. Check out his books at

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