about this blog



I started this blog in 2008. It started mainly as a way of tracking the evolution of my dry garden, and that led to an interest in photography and in the creatures that live in the garden. It's still about the garden and wildlife, but now my passion is thinking about how we humans can learn to co-exist with wild animals and plants, especially in urban areas.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

a book about the power of worms, and photo competition alert

The problem with learning new stuff is that sometimes you just don't think of the right questions to ask. Or you just aren't curious enough. I knew earthworms were a good thing, and was always pleased to see them in the compost or garden. I noticed they were different sizes and colours, but never researched what species they were. And I never wondered how and where they live, as if wormholes were only to be found in space!

Reading The Earth Moved I discovered a rich, crowded, underground world, invisible to us who live above ground. This underworld is less accessible than the Marianna Trench - the deepest sea location on earth.


In their underground habitat, earthworms are giants. There are giant earthworms - I've seen them - but in this ecosystem even the smallest worms are giants compared to the other creatures living there - nematodes, bacteria, fungi, protozea, spiders, springtails, mites, ants, millipedes, scorpions, beetles and sowbugs. Sometimes these act as worm food, sometimes they live in the worm's gut. They have a complex relationship that soil biologists call a food web.

Scientists specializing in earthworms are called oligochaetologists. Darwin was the first to recognize the importance of earthworms, and he wrote a book about them. But even today, earthworms are still not appreciated fully, understood well, and not well classified.

Earthworms are incredibly powerful and important. They can exist in huge numbers. There may be a million worms in an acre of garden soil. By ingesting earth, passing it through their bodies and excreting it as rich fertile castings, they change the earth radically. By making the earth spongy and friable they enable it to hold and absorb water better. They enable the number of microorganisms and nutrients in the soil to increase. In short, they act like a plough.

from Wikipedia
One fascinating chapter describes a case where earthworms had a destructive influence on the environment. In a Minnesota forest the understory of ferns and wildflowers were dying and young tree seedlings weren't taking root in the soil. The reason: worms were eating the leaf litter that comprised the  previously damp, slowly decaying forest floor, causing it to become dry and inhospitable for seed germination. How did the worms get there? Nearby was a lake, and people fishing threw their leftover bait in the soil! The worms used for bait became a new invasive species, with no natural predators - the same story as any other problematic exotic species.

'Earthworms can be so beneficial, or so destructive. They are literally ecosystem engineers. They are at the very base of the ecosystem. Their actions drive everything else that happens.' (Cindy Hale, ecologist)

Earthworms can ingest pesticides and pollutants and survive. They have been used to monitor pollution in soil, and scientists are currently working on ways that they can clean up pollutants in the soil.

'Earthworms are the custodians of the planet. They were here for millions of years before we came along. They survived the extinction that killed off the dinosaurs. I imagine they'd do just fine if something came along and wiped us out, too ... we should remember one thing: we need worms more than they need us. (Amy Stewart)

If you want to know more, read the book. It's easy to read, fascinating and quirky.

Verdict: Very highly recommended.

The photo competition is run by The Nature Conservancy Australia. Australian citizens or residents are eligible to enter by submitting their favourite photos showing any aspect of Australia's diverse range of habitats. More info at 

http://www.natureaustralia.org.au/news/coast-to-coast-photo-competition.xml
and 
https://www.facebook.com/TNCAustralia/app_244041225639079

30 comments:

  1. I very much am an earthworm fan. Just today, my garden club went to one of my wholesaler daylily hybridizer farm to dig up rare daylilies for our plant sale next year. The woman owning the daylily farm has to reduce stock from 700 varieties to 400. So I took the club. But what I noticed when digging them was so many earthworms. I told the ladies to make sure they put them back in the hole. Why so many earthworms? The hybridizer mulched in a thick blanket of leaves. I think I would like a book on earthworms. I would find it interesting too.

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    1. hi donna, if you are an earthworm fan, you would love this book. And maybe we should start an international fan club!

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  2. That does sound like a fascinating book! I am so happy to turn over the soil and see plentiful earthworms, but that's so true that too much of anything can be harmful--especially when it doesn't belong and it displaces native species. I will have to check into that book. Thanks!

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    1. hi beth, lovely to hear from you.

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  3. The part that says worm can be destructive is new to me. What a book! Glad you read it and share it here. Thanks for sharing catmint! Happy reading books :-D

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    1. thanks steph, I never realized they could be harmful either till I read it in the book.

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  4. I didn't know that worms can be destructive. Sounds like an interesting book. Thank you for sharing this book. Happy gardening, Catmint!

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    1. thanks Satu, happy summer gardening to you.

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  5. Thank you for an interesting post, as usual! I have noticed over the years that the worm population has increased here as I've improved the soil. The downside is that moles now burrow everywhere to eat them! Your book sounds a very interesting read.

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    1. Hi Pauline, how interesting that moles eat them - it's the food chain in practice.

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  6. Catmint, apart from the zillions of ordinary worms doing their stuff in my garden - and their presence delights me - I also have what I take to be a native species, much larger, with a petrol-like sheen.
    Thank you. This is another informative post.

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    1. Dear Faisal, i also have that worm, it's quite different to the smaller browny grey worms, very loveable, and because it's larger can get stuck into phone books.

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  7. Wow Catmint, this sounds like an interesting read! I've always been a fan of worms in my compost pile and garden because I know that they are beneficial but I'd no idea of their number and amazing talents!

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    1. hi og, you might like to join the international earthworm fan club too! (IEFC)

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  8. I've been meaning to read this book for a while. I've read some of Amy Stewart's other books, they are always entertaining and informative. Thanks for the review!

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    1. Hi Jason, I wanted to read her other books, because she is so easy to read and so interesting. Unfortunately they didn't have any of her books in the library here.

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  9. Your books are always interesting:) Even in the desert, I have found ways to have a healthy balance of earthworms. I water certain areas that allow for some nice grub areas for our birds. Plus they benefit the plants. The trick is keeping our ground from turning hard:)

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    1. hi chris, interesting comment, I find as long as I mulch, the earth doesn't get hard and dry, but if it has, the mulch helps. when we visited the central Australia, even in the desert there were some damp spots.

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  10. A wonderful post Catmint. Sounds like a really interesting book.

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  11. I love the thought that they are the custodians of the Earth..I had read about how they can be destructive in forests...I value them in my clay soil as they continue to work that soil.

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    1. dear donna, they are amazing, I guess if they can cope with ingesting our poisonous pollutants, clay would be very easy for them.

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  12. Our earthworms only seem to survive, very happily, in our compost bin. That even an earthworm, if it is an invasive alien, can be a problem - is one nudge. The second is to realise that if global weirding wipes us out, the earthworms will Keep Calm and Carry On.

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    1. lots of nudges don't seem to be able to stop the express train.

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  13. I'm currently reading this book! It was a birthday gift. When I moved to my house 10 years ago, I bought worm cocoons and scattered them in the garden to help loosen and enrich the soil. I also worm compost and end up adding more worms to the garden every time I add in the compost. I love all of Amy Stewart's books. :o)

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    1. what a coincidence Tammy! Mine was a birthday present too. I've never thought to add worms directly to the garden, but it makes sense and it is certainly easier than digging hard soil. I'm dying to read more of Amy Stewart books.

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  14. I bet this is a very interesting book. I always rejoice when I dig in my garden and find an earthworm. I found a bright red one the other day - I really wondered about it. I am going to add this book to my 'must read' list.

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    1. bright red! I was lazy and so far haven't checked out the formal classification data of the worms in my garden, but intend to do it ... soon ... sigh ... so many intentions, so many plans ... I'm sure you will love this book Holley.

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  15. "The part that says worm can be destructive is new to me."

    Indeed, I always thought that it is very beneficial..

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  16. I bought a lot of earthworms last year to turn over my compost. They seem to like it there and have multiplied. I didn't know they could also be destructive. I like them a lot and will have to read this book.

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