James Pinsky: Hail to the mighty earthworm

James Pinsky

As a child, worms I and were great friends because they helped me with two things in my life: catch fish and kept pesky girls at bay.

Decades later, I’ve learned that the mighty and underappreciated earthworm does a lot more than catch fish and chase off pigtails. In fact, they may well be one of the most unsung conservation heroes on Earth, and ought to be celebrated more than revolted.

Earthworms, one of our planet’s original conservation specialists, play a pivotal role in altering soils structures, water distribution, nutrient activity, and ultimately plant growth.

So, just how do these quiet, tiny, and union-less do-good diggers accomplish these monumental tasks? The very smart and earthworm savvy Clive A. Edwards from  Ohio State University tells us,  on the U.S. Department of Agriculture website at “http://tinyurl.com/ydh8r9ab”>http://tinyurl.com/ydh8r9ab,  that earthworms stimulate microbial activity, “although earthworms derive their nutrition from microorganisms, many more microorganisms are present in their feces or casts than in the organic matter that they consume. As organic matter passes through their intestines, it is fragmented and inoculated with microorganisms. Increased microbial activity facilitates the cycling of nutrients from organic matter and their conversion into forms readily taken up by plants.”

Clive added that earthworms also mix and aggregate soil, increase infiltration, improve water-holding capacity, provide channels for root growth, and bury and shred plant residue. Shew, and I thought I was doing something wonderful when I weeded my garden – uh, half my garden … OK, I pulled one weed yesterday.

Did you know earthworms help improve our water quality as well? Uh, ewwwww? Nope, it’s true even if a Buckeye like Clive is telling us: “Earthworms improve water infiltration and water holding capacity because their shredding, mixing, and defecating enhances soil structure,” said Clive. “In addition, burrows provide quick entry for water into and through soil. High infiltration rates help prevent pollution by minimizing runoff, erosion, and chemical transport to surface waters.”

Now, a cynic may argue earthworms aren’t really conservationists at all and continuously dig their holes and hang out underground to escape their only real predators like birds and mammals, but I’d like to think of the humble earthworm as a horticulture hero more than a self-preservationist. Regardless, this might explain why earthworms are usually late for parties and other tree-hugging inspired fundraisers because they know as well as we do that it’s not just the early bird that gets the worm, but the early worm that gets eaten.

Nonetheless, after realizing how much work these things do, I suggest we nominate the earthworm as the mascot for Earth Day. After all, what creature does so much for every man, woman and tree than the earthworm? And … they still help me catch fish.

James Pinsky is the education and information coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District.  Contact him at 540.465.2424, ext. 104, or james.pinsky@lfswcd.org.

 

 

James Pinsky is the Education and Information Coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District. Contact him at 540.465.2424, ext. 104, or james.pinsky@lfswcd.org.

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