Earthworms - Invisible Plowmen
It has long been proven that earthworms and soil microflora play a major role in the decomposition of organic matter that has got into the soil, in its enrichment with humus and all other plant nutrients raised from the deep layers of the earth by the root system. These animals are the main soil improvers, and their function cannot be completely compensated by anyone or anything. The presence of worms in the soil is an indicator of its fertility and health. Naturally, this indicator is directly related to the amount of organic matter that enters the soil.
Earthworms or earthworms (lat. Lumbricina) - a suborder of small-bristle worms from the order Haplotaxida. They live on all continents except Antarctica, however, only a few species initially had a wide range: a number of representatives spread due to human introduction. The most famous European earthworms belong to the family Lumbricidae.
The body length of representatives of different species varies from 2 cm (genus Dichogaster) to 3 m (Megascolides australis). The number of segments is also variable: from 80 to 300. When moving, earthworms rely on short bristles located on each segment except the front. The number of bristles varies from 8 to several tens (in some tropical species).
The circulatory system of worms is closed, well developed, the blood has a red color. Breathing is carried out through the skin rich in sensitive cells, which is covered with protective mucus. The nervous system of earthworms consists of a poorly developed brain (two nerve nodes) and an abdominal chain. They have a developed ability to regenerate.
Earthworms are hermaphrodites, each sexually mature individual has a female and male reproductive system (synchronous hermaphroditism). They reproduce sexually using cross fertilization. Reproduction occurs through cocoons, inside which eggs are fertilized and develop. The cocoon occupies several front segments of the worm, standing out relative to the rest of the body. The exit from the cocoon of small worms occurs after 2-4 weeks, and after 3-4 months they grow to the size of adults.
The food consumed by earthworms is first ground in their throat and then transferred to the intestines. Here the digestive process occurs with the help of enzymes. Part of the food is aimed at providing worms with energy and contributes to their growth. The rest of the food is excreted in the form of granules. The soluble nutrients in these granules are more beneficial than the food consumed by the worms in the beginning. These secretions are rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and nitrogen.
In winter, earthworms hibernate. Due to the fact that frosts instantly kill earthworms, they prefer to dig deeper into the ground, where frost does not penetrate. In spring, when the temperature reaches a suitable level and the earth is saturated with rainwater, earthworms are very noticeable. At this time, the mating season begins for them.
They breed very quickly, producing about a hundred young worms per year. In summer, worms are not so active. There is very little food at this time, and the soil is devoid of moisture, which can cause the death of worms. The autumn period is again characterized by the activity of worms. At this time, the reproduction of offspring begins again, which lasts until the onset of winter.
Earthworms live relatively long. Some manage to live about a decade, if they do not become victims of birds and moles. Another threat to their lives is the pesticides so widely used in horticulture today. Some worms die due to extreme heat or frost. Worms can also die when the soil becomes dry or when there is not enough food. All these conditions shorten the life expectancy of earthworms, which are the best helpers gardeners.
When we see a flowering garden, we understand that to some extent this is due to earthworms that enrich the soil with nutrients. These creatures process organic substances in the soil, turning them into nutrients that are easily absorbed by plants.
When earthworms dig earth, they at the same time plow it, which allows the roots to grow, providing healthy growth to plants. Plowed soil absorbs water and holds it inside. In addition, air circulates better in such soil. The movements of earthworms raise nutrients deep in the soil to the surface. Nutrients enter the upper layers of the soil, making it easier for plants to absorb them.
In addition to the benefits that earthworms bring to plants, they also serve as food for birds. In early spring, birds fly to the gardens in search of worms, because at this time of the year there are still no fruits or seeds that could serve as food for them. If the earthworm is placed in a container into which light does not penetrate, it will live in it for about two weeks, provided that peat moss is previously placed in the container.
Earthworms are millions. They are divided according to their properties and location. They can be divided into: earthworms, red, field, nightworms and red hybrids. In one garden you can find several varieties of worms at once.
Earthworms come in a variety of colors and sizes. Their color is characterized by shades of gray, black, red or red-brown. Their length, as a rule, is 5 - 31 cm. And in some cases, you can find worms of incredible length of about 370 cm, such as, for example, individuals living in Australia. For worms, moist soil rich in nutrient-rich organic matter is ideal.
The food for earthworms is insects, rotting animal remains, manure, lettuce and watermelon rinds. In most cases, earthworms avoid alkaline and acidic substances. However, their nutritional preferences depend on their type. Nocturnal worms, as their name suggests, collect food from the surface after dark.
the remains of herbs and organic matter make up the diet of worms. Having found food, they begin to dig the earth, holding the found food in their mouth. Worms really like to combine food with soil. Many earthworms, such as red worms, climb to the surface of the soil in search of food.
Gardeners can help earthworms multiply by adding organic matter to the soil. When the organic content in the soil decreases, earthworms go in search of another soil with more favorable conditions, otherwise they will simply die. Proteins from the remains of worms turn into nitrogen and feed plants. However, this benefit is very short-lived. The death of earthworms implies a deterioration in the state of the garden, they play such an important role in feeding the soil.
Production of vermicompost using worms
Anyone who does not want to spend money on the purchase and breeding of imported worms can produce vermicompost with ordinary earthworms. They are not as productive as the California ones, but for a personal plot their fertilizer will be quite enough. In addition, domestic earthworms are familiar to our cold weather.
- Put together a box without a bottom measuring 1x1 m, height 60–70 cm. Place the box on a pallet of boards or slate. Put in a box a layer (40-50 cm) of fermented manure or compost (only without chemicals!) With chopped food waste and plant debris, smooth and moisten well. Cover with burlap or straw and leave for a week.
- Look for an accumulation of earthworms (in moist places, under stones), put them in a bucket together with the ground in which they live. In the compost, which is in the box, dig a few holes and topple the earth with worms in them, level and cover with burlap or straw.
- Water the compost periodically with room temperature water to keep it slightly damp. After a month and then every 2–3 weeks add a layer of vegetable and food waste (15–20 cm).
- The upper, 20-centimeter layer is the habitat of the worms, and everything below it is the biohumus processed by them. In autumn, remove the top layer and put it on the bottom of a new box, cover it with a half-meter layer of compost for the winter, protect it from rodents, overlay it with spruce branches, and sprinkle it with snow in winter. And the bottom layer - vermicompost - use for fertilizing the soil, in the spring - for growing seedlings, producing infusion for spraying plants, etc.
- In the spring, remove the spruce branches and start feeding the worms again.
Breeding worms in the "incubator" is rather tedious. The question arises: isn’t it easier to overturn a bucket of worms directly into the garden? It turns out, no. First, worms are prone to migration and, if their freedom is not restricted, will creep away. You can’t explain to them that they should live here. Secondly, plants also need mineral fertilizers. But earthworms are not to their taste. Where "chemistry" is used, the number of worms is sharply reduced. And finally, what will the beds filled with food waste look like?
Those who are not eager to breed worms can buy ready-made biohumus. A three-liter package with a normal fertile layer is enough for a quarter hundredths. If the land on the site is depleted, the amount will have to be doubled or tripled.