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The importance of worms

By Sara Venn

Here we reflect on the small actions we can take to support our worms…

That headline might sound a bit facile but the reality is it’s not just our insects that are disappearing but it seems farmers are concerned about the amount of earthworms there are in our arable fields across the country and there is real fear for our earthworm populations. Like insects, we assume that earthworms will just be there but the degradation of our soils, conventional big farming methods including ploughing and chemical use, is obliterating the top soil that we rely on for our crops. It’s frightening to think that so much of life on our planet relies on those top 6 inches or so of our soil. Travelling across the country it’s becoming more and more obvious that there is an issue with soil health. Fields are often a pale brown sickly colour and many country roads appear covered in soil where heavy rain has eroded it and it’s spread into the lanes that surround the fields.

Where this degradation of soil is happening there is a remarkable decline in the amount of worms in the soil, which in itself will not be supporting soil health. Soil relies on worms as they feed their way through it, creating passages of air within the soil, aerating it as they go and supporting good oxygen levels within the soil, which is vital for crops and for the other creatures that live in our soils.   A good soil sample will be teeming with life. A mere teaspoon of soil will contain as many tiny lifeforms as people on the planet, and from tardigrade to nematode, they are all vital in the soil food web that we, as humans, rely on for so much.

So how do we support worms and ensure there are plenty of them in our soil? Well of course the first thing is to ensure soils are filled with healthy, organic matter that will feed them and any crops that are in them. Working to no dig principles is certainly proving to support the soil and earthworm populations and growing organically and without any artificial inputs is important.

But along with all these things what is becoming more and more apparent is that ensuring soil is covered is the best way to avoid soil erosion and therefore support soil health. Fields left fallow and unused with the soil bare suffer badly with erosion as there are no crop roots or mycelium communities to bind the soil together and stop it washing away. So cover crops, underplantings and green manures all really support healthy soils and therefore healthy earthworm populations.

Whilst all this research is being carried out at farm level, it’s important to act on it as community gardeners, small producers and gardeners in our own spaces. As Incredible Edible continues its work as a movement of kindness, it’s vital that extends to the land that feeds us and all the flora and fauna surrounding us, because as a local solution to a huge global issue, this is one we can all support, from field scale farmers through to balcony gardeners.

We’ve got information on building your own wormery, so log in or sign up to our website to access our composting and wormeries section.  Do you have any great techniques for supporting the worms in your growing space?  We’d love to hear about them so get in touch and we can share and inspire others to show our worms some kindness.