Homage to the Earthworm
Did you know that Charles Darwin spent his life enamored with worms?
“It may be doubted if there are any other animals which have played such an important part in the history of the world as these lowly organized creatures,” Darwin wrote in his final book (“The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Actions of Worms”, 1881).
And so, dear reader, it seems impossible that I might convey to you all the wonder of these industrious earth-dwellers in a few paragraphs.
Food Waste is a Major Contributor to Climate Change
But, let me start with a rule. In nature, waste equals food. The natural world doesn’t have a throwaway. Too much stuff that then gives birth to garbage and trash are human-created problems. And as it turns out, they lead to another human-created problem- anthropogenic climate change. Here, let’s chat for a minute about food waste. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, humans generate a jaw-dropping 1.3 billion tons of it a year.
Project Drawdown is an organization that compiles climate solutions and ranks them in order of importance. And, with all that rotting food, it’s not surprising that reducing food waste is #3 on their solutions list.
‘How can I reduce my food waste?’, you ask. Well, do not despair. I think you know who we are inviting to dinner. I hinted at it above. Yes, it’s a master of food composting, the earthworm. More specifically, we are calling on the red wiggler since they thrive in heaps of waste. And they won’t even try to escape (unless maybe you mess up the pH balance of their home).
Worms Bring Life to Soil
Besides just reducing your carbon footprint, earthworms help create the foundation for your garden to thrive.
In your garden, worm castings have a higher percentage of organic matter or humus than the soil alone, and the result is better water retention and soil aeration. The castings bind micronutrients like calcium and magnesium making them available to your plants. They are also rich in beneficial bacteria and plant growth hormones. These bacteria help fight soil-borne disease and repel unwanted insects.
When you have healthy, living soil, what grows in it will also be healthy and alive.
Setting Up Your Worm Bin
There are many YouTube videos that show you how to set up your own worm bin or straw bale worm system. A personal favorite is the Worm Factory. I’ve used it in hot and humid South Florida and the high desert of New Mexico as well as Colorado. And for a lazy gardener like me, it is in my opinion, the best system out there. Mine resides year-round in my garage.
With the Worm Factory, worms migrate up the trays to eat your food waste leaving behind mostly castings (and some worms) in the lower trays. Those lower trays can then be directly emptied into your garden or flower bed to enhance your soil, easy-peasy.
More than 2000 years ago Aristotle called earthworms the ‘intestines of the earth”. And while we humans both forget and then rediscover their greatness, they continue to toil away below our sightline, just doing their jobs.