Are earthworms everywhere?

Discussion in 'Gardening & Plant Propagation' started by DJ in WA, Aug 26, 2006.

  1. DJ in WA

    DJ in WA Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I have seen earthworms in the lawn, but not in the garden. About 50 feet of dry land separate the two. If I start layering the garden with mulch, do I need to seed it with earthworms, or will they somehow appear?
     
  2. naturewoman

    naturewoman Well-Known Member

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    You know,this is a great question. Can we make this an earthworm thread?

    I just put in a lawn this summer, and before putting in a lawn, I noticed that after every rain, I had pine needles and other debris sticking up out of holes in the ground. I found out it was earthworms pulling the debris down in the holes. When I put down my lawn seed, the worms gathered it up and pulled it down in their holes in most of the lawn area (not all the area though), so my grass came up in clumps, with bare patches all around. Some areas seem to be devoid of worms and the grass came up evenly spread as I had scattered the seed. Now that the lawn is established, I still walk across it and find myself walking on hard and uncomfortable mounds of earth, where the worms have built up a mound at their holes.

    Is there any way to discourage worms from living in a lawn, and encourage them to go to garden areas? I apparently have a lot of worms here, and not where I want them.

    Is there a reason why they are in some parts of the lawn, but not all?
     

  3. Paquebot

    Paquebot Well-Known Member

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    DJ, earthworms are NOT everywhere nor are they meant to be everywhere. For instance, there are no native earthworms in the states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan, and most or all of Illinois. Entire New England and pretty much all of Canada also has no native earthworms. Every worm in those places are European species.

    Naturewoman, what you have are nightcrawlers, worms which can destroy in one year what Nature made in 10,000 years. I don't mind them in my gardens as they can take care of 2 or 3 inches of shredded leaf mulch in a single season. Besides, it was I who introduced them here in August 1963. Supposedly wasn't a one in this city before then.

    Martin
     
  4. gilberte

    gilberte Well-Known Member Supporter

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    We've got lots of worms in our gardens, nothing better for fertilizer than worm casings. And worms are great at turning into a deep fried perch dinner :)
     
  5. jehehmeyer

    jehehmeyer Longing for home!

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    Earthworms are great for lawns. They provide oxygen and fertilizer for the soil. As discussed in another post, you have nightcrawlers.

    DJ, go ahead and seed your garden with earthworms. You will see the benefit quickly.


    Jim
     
  6. tallpines

    tallpines Well-Known Member

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    We were the FIRST to break ground in our never before cultivated woods here in Wisconsin.

    NO WORMS----until we started "planting" them in our garden beds :)
     
  7. Paquebot

    Paquebot Well-Known Member

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    Earthworms, mainly night crawlers, are especially damaging to the northern forests. It's only been in recent years that they've become a major problem in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Eventually they will change the entire ecosystem to something else but nobody knows yet what that will be. I know for certain what they can do here and I keep them well-fed to do it!

    Minnesota: www.extension.umn.edu/extensionnews/2002/EarthwormsDamageTheSoils.html

    Wisconsin: www.wnrmag.com/stories/2005/aug05/eworm.htm

    Martin
     
  8. DJ in WA

    DJ in WA Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Interesting. I wouldn't have guessed that such large areas haven't had native earthworms. Just assumed anywhere with water and organic matter would have them.

    I will definitely seed my garden with them. So, what to get? Are you saying that nightcrawlers aren't the best? From one of your sites, Paquebot, I read that nightcrawlers go deeper into the soil. Would they be best to keep the soil loose? And how to tell a nightcrawler from an earthworm? I assume they are a certain length.

    I'm probably overthinking this, but as long as I have a chance to start fresh, I might as well try the best. I do have redworms (composting worms) in the compost pile, but I understand they don't go down in the soil.
     
  9. Paquebot

    Paquebot Well-Known Member

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    DJ, it indeed is the nightcrawlers which are doing most of the forest damage. There are 3 types of earthworms as far as feeding zones. The most harmless type are those which are usually only underground and in the top 6 to 8 inches of soil. They are going through eating the organic matter which is in that zone, mainly plant roots. There are probably 15-20 different species of those but all live in the same zone.

    Next comes your seemingly harmless little redworms or red wigglers. They spend all of their life just at the soil surface but under whatever organic matter is on top of that. And that's what they live on. In the case of the forests with up to a foot of organic duff, they remain there until there's nothing left to eat. Their food does not need to be dead, as anyone feeding kitchen scraps to them knows. Thus seeds and seedlings are fair game. They may be little but they are constantly producing cocoons and multiply like crazy. Their castings are so fine that they are either blown away by the winds or washed away with the rains since there is no softer soil to absorb it. What's left is barren soil, usually silt or clay in glacial areas. However, the good thing is that they are not cold-hardy so they can only destroy the forests in warmer zones.

    Then come the big guys, the nightcrawlers. Given a chance, they are real gluttons and will eat 24/7. The only time they would not be eating is when they are gathering more food. They have deep vertical holes to well below the frost lines. They gather food to their permanent holes for casual dining later. For example, they love the dry skins and wings of maple seeds. They may gather up to a dozen at night and then spend 4 or 5 days eating them. They will collect a bird feather and it will slowly disappear over the period of a few days. If there is a thick layer of leaves, they don't even have to gather anything but just remain and eat until they see daylight. If that's a foot of forest duff, no problem for them, big problem for whatever developed there in the last 10,000 years. I've personally seen what they can do and can understand why they may be a big mistake. When I mulch between the potato rows with 3 or 4 inches of shredded leaves in April, there is nothing but some woody bits left in August.

    One would think that nightcrawlers are to be adding a lot of nutrients deep into the soil when so much passes through their systems. Nope! They push all of their feces out of the hole which then create mounds called middens. As miniature fertilizer factories, they are effective only in soil where the manure is not going to be washed away. One must also remember that it is so fine that it is virtually ready for plants to use it. Therefore it is just as easily lost via wind or rain. If your garden is one that is not affected by water run-off, everything will stay right there for when you next till the soil.

    You'll recognize a nightcrawler when you see it. An old one may stretch out to a foot. Touch it and it will retract to 5 or 6 inches. Dark purple head area and a flattened tail are two features. That tail is their anchor and it's not often that they will stretch out far enough to where their tail won't quickly serve to pull them back in case of danger.

    During and after rains, one will often see nightcrawlers traveling across highways, streets, or sidewalks. That usually means that there is no longer enough food in the home area and they take off looking for better pickings.

    Nightcrawlers soil aeration would be minimal. Under less-than-favorable conditions, they will simply plug the hole and sleep or ride out a flood. And, remember that the hole is straight up and down. For aeration, it's the middle-zone worms that would do a better job since they work in the particular area where the roots need oxygen.

    Understand all of that? I've been watching and studying the same nightcrawler colony for 43 years. Amazing little monsters! I am able to both praise them and curse them but I know that we will never beat them in a fair fight.

    Martin
     
  10. suburbanite

    suburbanite Well-Known Member

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    There used to be foot long prairie worms in the northern prairies but they have been destroyed by tilling. They were thought to be extinct until one was found in eastern Oregon? Washington? sometime early this year or late last year.

    It is good to know that about nightcrawlers. I think I only have earthworms here.
     
  11. Ravenlost

    Ravenlost Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Whenever I dig in the flower bed I find nightcrawlers. First one I ever found was so large I actually thought I'd dug up a baby snake at first. Closer inspection revealed it's true nature.

    I need to get some worms going in the raised beds in my garden. I have nightcrawlers in my flower beds and under the trees by the pond in the front yard, but no worms of any kind in my garden. It's on my list of things to do in the garden.
     
  12. Paquebot

    Paquebot Well-Known Member

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    That would have been the Palouse worm and closer to 3 feet than one. Here's the link to the latest finding: http://palouseprairie.org/invertebrates/palouseworm.html

    Even the ordinary nightcrawler can indeed get big. I don't know the exact lifespan but I've seen the same monsters show up at certain holes for several years running.

    Martin
     
  13. jnap31

    jnap31 garden guy

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    That was fascinating thanks for the link Paquebot
     
  14. DJ in WA

    DJ in WA Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Thanks for the summary, Paquebot. I think I’ll find some middle zone earthworms. In the fall, I plan to put some partially composted animal bedding/manure on rows where I will leave drip lines. So I don’t plan to till. Hopefully the worms can do it for me. Here’s more info on worms for those who are into this.

    http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07721.html

    http://www.crop.cri.nz/home/products-services/environment/earthworms/types-earthworm.jsp

    http://www.mandakzerotill.org/books/proceedings/Proceedings 1990/bill becker.htm

    http://www.michiganfarmbureau.com/farmnews/transform.php?xml=19990315/earthworms.xml&xsl=print
     
  15. Jenn

    Jenn Well-Known Member Supporter

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    sorry didn't read all thread so might be repeat- I moved to cen Tex and saw nary an earth worm for almost the first year even in holes I was digging. However they were vigorous and many under the mulch and compost I added. Guess they were down with all the soil moisture And away from pesticides the prior owners probably used.
     
  16. rwood

    rwood Well-Known Member

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    This makes sense.

    I just had to move a compost pile to put in a new raised bed in my new house and I had an interesting observation.

    It was a big pile that took up about 2 x 2 yards and was about 3 feet high. I guess it was about half way through composting but hadnt beened turned in months (if ever). There was a pile of bricks, like a wall, running through the middle of it. I moved the compost from one side of the wall (into my garden beds) and then took the bricks down, they went down about 6 inches under the original soil level. What i had was an amazing cross section of the compost pile, about 3 feet high.

    I noticed almost immediately that there were three kinds of worms in three areas fo the pile. The boundaries were somewhat blurred, but there were;

    1. little red wrigglers near the surface, where the material was rotting down

    2. then there were the "Normal" worms throughout the pile, but mainly in the middle
    3. Then the big guys last of all down near the original soil surface and below. I found a few of them throughout the pile they they seemsed to mostly be in the soil.

    Interesting little things. My garden beds smell and feel fantastic now that the compost is turned in. Im in AUstralia so its nearly spring here, cant wait to see how the garden produces.

    Thanks for the info.
     
  17. suburbanite

    suburbanite Well-Known Member

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    Wow. Now I have another worm puzzle to contemplate--are the worms in Australia and New Zealand imports from Europe, or related natives to the European worms?

    I would never have thought worms to be such a deep subject! :p
     
  18. rwood

    rwood Well-Known Member

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    Couldn't help but google....

    Australian Earthworms
    Australia has one of the most ancient and poor soil structures of any country on earth. Australia's earthworm population is small when compared to places like Europe. Our worms are generally poor soil builders and unused to improved pastures and composting situations. Many European and Asian worms have been accidently introduced to Australian soil over the centuries and it is these varieties that you will find in farmland and compost heaps the native types generally sticking to unimproved land.

    Of the 3000 or so earthworm species identified worldwide, about 300 are native to Australia


    The giant Gippsland earthworm (Megascolides australis), is one of the most fascinating of Australia's 1000 native earthworm species. These giant earthworms average at 80 cm long and 2 cm in diameter but can reach 3 metres (12 foot) :cool: . They have a dark purple head and a pinkish-grey body.

    They live in the subsoil of blue, grey or red clay soils along stream banks and some south or west facing hills of their remaining habitat which is in Gippsland in Victoria, Australia.

    These worms live in deep burrow systems and require water in their environment to respirate. These worms rarely leave their moist burrows. They have relatively long lifespans for invertebrates and can take 5 years to reach maturity. They breed in the warmer months and produce large egg cocoons which are laid in their burrows. When these worms hatch they are already 20 cm long. They can sometimes be heard in their habitat making gurgling sounds underground.

    New Zealand Earthworms
    The 173 species of New Zealand's native earthworms are another ancient remnant of Gondwana. Many of them are related to native worms of southern South America, the Falkland Islands, southern South Africa, New Caledonia and Australia.

    Worms are unable to pass through salt water, and it is unlikely that birds assisted their migration, as worm cocoons are laid under the surface of the earth. As with the native frog, worm migration to New Zealand is best explained as across land before separation from the Gondwana continent.

    The most spectacular, and New Zealand's largest worm is the gigantic North Auckland worm, which reaches up to 1.4 metres (55 inches) long and 11 millimetres (0.4 in) in width. The burrows are up to 20 millimeters in diameter, reaching a depth of 3.5 metres. The Maori worm (or milk worm) can exceed 300 millimetres in length.

    The most extraordinary thing about Spenceriella gigantia is that it luminesces at night, so brightly it is possible to read by the light from one worm.

    How interesting!
     
  19. Pony

    Pony Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Now I am wondering if night crawlers can be considered invasive. Should we smoosh them if we see them in the forest?

    There was a big ol' nightcrawler in the horseradish bed yesterday! I streeetched him out to a good 7 inches. (Well, that's big by MY standards!)

    I am also wondering what (if any) "aerating" life forms were in the soil here on the prairies before the worms were introduced.

    Pony!
     
  20. WisJim

    WisJim Well-Known Member Supporter

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    That may become a criminal activity in the future, due to the devastating effect earthworms are having on forests. They destroy the "duff" or layer of rotting vegetation that a mature forest depends on for soil and moisture retention.