The Benefits of Earthworms and How to Attract Them

Joel Salatin is in awe of the benefits of earthworms and worm castings on Polyface Farms, where the hard-working critters boost soil health and increase farm productivity. He offers tips on how to attract earthworms to your farm or homestead.

  • Worm in Soil
    Worms aerate soil as they burrow, and deposit mounds of fertile castings when they emerge.
    Photo by Dwight Kuhn
  • Worm Cocoon
    Worms incubate in small cocoons until conditions support their hatching. Each cocoon is slightly larger than a pinhead.
    Photo by Heidi and Hans-Jurgen Koch
  • Harvey Ussery
    Homesteading expert Harvey Ussery maintains vermiculture beds beneath his greenhouse paths so his worms can work year-round.
    Photo by Norm Shafer

  • Worm in Soil
  • Worm Cocoon
  • Harvey Ussery

What fascinates you? What warrants your fixation? At the risk of being dismissed as certifiably weird, may I humbly submit the earthworm as deserving of both fascination and fixation? Raise worms and reap a copious crop of worm castings, which will improve soil health and increase aeration, all while holding true to no-till, organic agricultural principals.

When my parents purchased farmland in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in 1961, the soil was thin, infertile and completely unproductive. Not a single earthworm was to be found. Today, several inches of new topsoil support vibrant farm production and high earthworm populations.

In many ways, earthworms are a litmus test for soil fertility. Anyone who farms or gardens should be awed by these fertility facilitators. Several icons in the sustainability movement have been students of the lowly earthworm — Sir Albert Howard, J. I. Rodale, Bill Mollison.

Howard pointed out many benefits of earthworms, noting that earthworm tunnels provide ventilation for air and water to penetrate the soil, and that earthworms “condition the food materials needed by the roots of plants.” Howard went as far as to call earthworms “the ideal soil analysts,” claiming they can “furnish the gardener with a report on the state of his land far more instructive than anything the soil scientist has so far provided.”

The Dirt on Earthworm Anatomy

An earthworm is a sightless creature with a gizzard, an alimentary canal, and a body made of rings surrounded by bristles. Earthworms don’t move by zigzagging like snakes. Rather, they compress and expand with their rings and bristles, moving straight through the soil.

Most people think ants are strong for their size, but earthworms are the ultimate hulks. Weighing only one-thirtieth of an ounce, they routinely move 2-ounce stones — equivalent to a 150-pound person moving a 9,000-pound boulder.

4/12/2019 2:35:12 PM

Another great book about earthworms is “The Earth Moved” by Amy Stewart. And if you like manure management and humor try “Holy Shit” by Gene Logsdon.

4/12/2019 10:54:06 AM

I use cardboard. Plain brown cardboard with no packing boxes. And brown paper bags. I cover them with grass clippings and leaves and straw or whatever I have available. When you peel it up there will be fish bait

5/14/2018 6:58:08 PM

I shred all my waste paper and use it as mulch in the garden. The worms come squirming - they love paper!

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