Earthworms may not be the most glamorous creatures in your garden, but they play a vital role in maintaining healthy soil. These wriggly wonders are nature's little underground engineers, improving soil structure, nutrient cycling, and water retention. In the UK, where fertile soil is sometimes limited, it is crucial to encourage earthworm populations for sustainable gardening practices.
The Role of Earthworms in Soil Health: Earthworms are ecosystem engineers, diligently working beneath the surface to enhance soil fertility and structure. Here’s what they get up to!
1. Soil Aeration: Earthworms create tunnels as they burrow through the soil, facilitating air movement and increasing oxygen levels. Adequate soil aeration promotes root growth and helps beneficial microorganisms thrive. *Often tree roots will follow the burrows the worms have made – after all these are the paths of least resistance.
2. Nutrient Cycling: Earthworms consume organic matter such as decaying leaves, dead plant material, and microorganisms. They break down this organic matter in their digestive system, transforming it into nutrient-rich castings. These castings contain essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in water soluble fore - readily available to plants.
3. Soil Structure Improvement: By consuming organic matter and mixing it with mineral particles, earthworms help create a crumbly soil structure. This allows for better water infiltration, reduces soil erosion, and enhances root penetration.
4. Water Regulation: Earthworm burrows act as conduits for water, preventing soil compaction and improving drainage. During heavy rainfall, these burrows help absorb and store excess water, reducing the risk of waterlogging.
How to encourage and look after the worms you have…
1. Organic Matter: Earthworms thrive on organic matter, so add compost, leaf litter, and well-rotted manure to your soil regularly. These organic amendments provide a food source for earthworms, encouraging their population growth.
2. Mulching: Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as straw or wood chips, around your plants. Mulch helps retain moisture, regulates soil temperature, and provides earthworms with a protective environment.
3. Avoid Chemicals: Limit or eliminate the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. These substances can harm earthworms and other beneficial organisms in the soil. Opt for natural alternatives and focus on improving soil health through organic practices.
4. Reduced Tillage: This is a great excuse to abandon your rotavator and give up your spade… No Dig is the key. Digging and turning over the soil can disrupt earthworm burrows and damage their delicate habitats. Instead, use techniques like no-till gardening or shallow cultivation to preserve the earthworm's underground ecosystem.
5. Moisture Management: Maintain appropriate soil moisture levels, as earthworms require a moist environment to survive. Water your garden regularly, ensuring the soil remains damp but not waterlogged.
6. Companion Planting: Embrace companion planting techniques, where certain plant combinations create favourable conditions for earthworms. For example, planting legumes like beans and peas can fix nitrogen in the soil, benefiting both plants and earthworms.
Encouraging earthworms in your UK garden is a sustainable and eco-friendly approach to nurturing healthy soil. By recognizing the valuable role these wriggly creatures play in maintaining soil fertility, structure, and water regulation, we can foster a more vibrant and thriving ecosystem. Incorporate the suggested practices of organic matter addition, mulching, reduced chemical use, and moisture management to create an earthworm friendly environment.
There are 27 UK species of Earthworm so if you want to give the process a kick start add Wiggly Garden Worms which are deep burrowing worms (Lumbricus Terrestris) into your soil. They will establish over a few years into clay loam or turf and if you have a really rich mulch or high organic matter content you can also add Wiggly Composting Worms into your soil – especially useful in your raised beds https://www.wigglywigglers.co.uk/products/turbocharger-worm-power The other way to really encourage your earthworm population is to set up a wormery or any composter that is set on soil as the worm eggs will go out into your soil and benefit it at the same time that you make the very best Black Gold!