Ask Mother: The Word on Worms and Septic Tanks

MOTHER fields questions on worms and septic tanks, crabapple tree sucker, soil additives, fence posts, wash and rinsewater, composts and chickens.

| February/March 2001

Mountain Fences, Sandy Soil Suggestions, and Composting with Chickens.

Is it true you can use worms to help a septic tank operate correctly? What kind of worms would be best?

 — Don and Angie, Kansas

That one's new to us. The health of a septic system depends on the presence of anaerobic bacteria - primitive, single-cell life forms that exist in dark, stagnant places and are responsible for noxious gases like sulfur dioxide (which produce a rotten-egg smell), as well as the toxin that causes botulism in improperly canned food. Septic-tank bacteria, which cannot survive in the presence of sunlight or free oxygen, make a hard crust on top of the fluid contents to keep oxygen out. No self-respecting worm could survive there long because worms depend on oxygen to sustain life. Indeed, they exhibit many of the characteristics of higher life: They have distinct organs, move about on their own and reproduce sexually.

Many varieties of worm can thrive in the water flowing from a properly functioning septic system, which is clear, odorless and nearly sterile, so you may have seen worms wiggling around in the fluid or soil at the outflow of a septic system. But they didn't come out of the tank - they came up from the land.

The crabapple tree in my yard has a ten-foot sucker growing from the base. I would like to know how to root this sucker and transplant it.

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