WHY WORMS ARE
The National Academy of Sciences has calculated that topsoil on
cropland in United States is being lost at least 10 times as quickly as it
can be replaced.
we continue with our current modern mechanized, chemical and organic
practices, by the year 2014 we will be unable to properly feed 60 percent
of the world’s people- those who will be living in developing countries.
What happens when we come to rely on just few crops for our food? “
Blackman’s questioned rhetorically..
“Every time we in the United States eat one pound of food that
has been grown by U.S. mechanized, commercial agriculture techniques, six
pounds of farmable soil are lost due to wind and water erosion. The
average food item in the United States travels approximately 1,400 miles
to reach our plates”.
Blackman presented startling statistics to the audience. “Is it
better to grow foods locally? Did you know that our food imports have
risen by 50 percent in the last ten years? One third of the fruit and 12
percent of the vegetables consumed in the U.S. come from other countries.
What is more useful- fuel or food? A
field full of just one one plant type is a disaster waiting to happen,
having the potential to be destroyed by a single predator or diseases.
Yields on eroded agricultural land have been from 20 to 65 percent lower
than would otherwise be possible.
“It’s estimated, that Nature undisturbed would take 2,000 years
to make six inches of fertile soil (humus) on her own”,
However, humans can greatly speed up that process by changing their
methods of gardening and farming and using worms to accelerate the process
of creating topsoil.
Worms benefit soil in several ways. They transform organic
materials in the soil into the form that can be easily absorbed by plants.
Their tunnels keep the soil loose to allow proper circulation of water and
gasses. Soil with a high level of organic material and lots of worms
produces fantastically rich vegetation, he said.
When gardeners apply chemicals to the soil for fertilizing and pest
control they kill the microbes that break down organic material and they
kill the worms that transform it.
After a period of time the soil is no longer healthy enough to grow
plants on its own. You’ll need more and more chemicals and the soil will
get poorer and poorer.
The gardener needs to choose, Blackman said. Does he want to create
healthy soil that grows healthy plants year after year or does he want to
use chemicals that will help grow plants today but will impoverish the
soil for the future?
“An acre today takes more fertilizer to give fewer yields than
that same acre did forty years ago,” Blackman said. “Modern tilling is
destroying soil life. The dust blowing in the wind behind the tillers is
the dead soil community. Not a sustainable practice”.
This, in a nutshell, is what sustainability is about, he said. The
soil is a treasure we need to pass to future generations. It isn’t
something to use and to throw away.
Blackman focuses on one thing- feeding the soil and making the soil
healthy so it will grow healthy plants. Worms do this by turning compost
into nutrients that are more readily available for plants to absorb.
Healthy plants are stronger, provide more nutrients and resist insects
without the use of insecticides.
Twenty years ago George bought 50 pounds of worms and truckloads of
horse manure. He let the worms turn the horse manure compost into the best
humus you can find.
The combination of double digging and vermiculture (use of worms)
allows gardeners and farmers to grow more and healthier plants in much
smaller spaces than conventional gardening techniques that depend on
chemical fertilizers and insecticides.
Double digging is a technique George learned from French gardeners,
which involves loosening the soil as much as 2 feet from the surface. This
allows plant roots to grow down instead of spreading out.
The gardener can plant his plants much closer together and to get
unbelievable harvest from the small space. The double digging also helps
to protect the worms in the wintertime.
Blackman likes to use red wiggler worms because they multiply so
quickly but they do not easily survive Illinois winters. When the soil is
loosened to this depth, worms can burrow deeper and protect themselves
from the cold.
Ironically, our common night crawlers are not native to North
America. They were brought by European settlers hundreds of years ago.
George prefers not to use these worms because they multiply very slowly.
Introducing worms into your garden isn’t a simple thing. Worms
like to eat well-composted organic material. The compost feeds the worms
and the worms feed the soil. People
commonly will have compost containing leaves and lawn clippings. You can
also incorporate household waste such as vegetable and fruit peelings. Do
not, however, put in any meat scraps or bones if you want to get good
A compost heap generates heat while the organic material is
decomposing. Do not put your worms into the composting heap because the
heat will kill them. Worms should be in your garden soil and finished
compost is added to the garden soil to feed the worms.
If you have never made compost before, here are some tips.
**Make the pile at least 3 x 3 x 3 feet. Smaller amounts will
decompose eventually but a pile of this size or larger will generate more
heat and will decompose more quickly.
Keep the pile moist like a sponge. The bacteria that perform the
decomposition need water to live.
*They also need air. Be sure your pile has access to air and turn
the material often.
*Feel free to alternate layers of fresh green material and older
dry brown material.
*If your pile is new, adding some topsoil can help start the
*When the pile no longer generates heat and the organic material
has turned into a rich dark brown substance it is finished and ready to
apply to your garden.
We’re losing topsoil at a great rate. That means that over the
last 200 years we have lost most of the topsoil that once existed in the
Midwest. Our current
practices of commercial agriculture depend on chemical fertilizers to
provide nutrition to the plants and chemical pesticides to repel insects
but they do nothing to replenish the soil.
The Center for Sustainable Community is dedicated to the idea that
everyone involved in agriculture either as a provider or as a customer
must pay attention to the way our current agricultural practices are
effecting future generations.
Things will not change over night but if everyone does their small
piece we all can make things better together and leave the world a better
* * *
For more information on the Center of Sustainable Community, write
to 123 Crescent Lane, Stelle, IL
60919; call 815-256-2204, email email@example.com, or see their Website at