The re-turn of the worm

I rent these fields from Our John’s uncle. And when I first took them over they had been cropped in corn or beans or wheat for at least fifty or sixty years. Since the 70’s  chemicals have taken over as the main source of herbicides, fungicides, pesticides ( the suffix cide means to kill so you get the picture) even synthetic fertilisers (often made from oil)  that ultimately draw goodness out of the soil, not add to the soil, rendered this ground inert.

Not one living thing, certainly not any earthworms could be found and the ground actually smelt like the underside of a road – you know that smell when they scrape the tarmac off a road — when there are roadworks in town?

The rain water pooled, did not drain properly and the soil was silty.

From October to May the ag land is quite bare to the elements, awaiting its new crop. You have seen our surrounding fields – you will never find an earthworm out there. None of this is natural. To heal land  into rich pasture is a long, long process.  Most of it conducted by nature.

Imagine my delight – after seven years of growing pastures in this soil – I have found numerous earth worms.  And in large numbers too. The soil has begun to heal.

Some  interesting facts about earthworms.

And it is all thanks to this stuff. Manure.  (Though this is destined for the compost heaps down the back.)

Here is a patch of pasture that shows the amazing fertilising power of a dollop of manure.

See how rich the surroundings are. And if I were to dig down under there I would find many precious earthworms. This is quite the best news.

Thank you, cows.

And pigs of course. All my pigs are vegetarian so their manure is also easily digested into the soil.

You all know how worms work so I won’t go into it but you can imagine my delight at finally seeing multiple worms in the soil. Worms mean this work of decomposition is happening at a rapid rate now.

To jump from manure to carrots and parsnips is a wild one. But I love mashed parsnips and carrots. It is the best way to use up the old root vegetables while the new ones grow.  The manure I use in the gardens has to be composted for a year first. Though my Dad swears that if you plant a tomato into a cow pat you will get the best fruit ever!

Actually he said his mother used to keep a tin bucket and shovel by the gate in the old days and if a horse in town was seen to poop in the street the Mums would send their kids out to scoop up the steaming piles and add it to the compost down the back by the vegetable garden.

Worms in the soil means the natural underground cycle of composting organic matter is now intact and working. Long live the worms!!

I hope you have a lovely day.


70 Comments on “The re-turn of the worm

  1. My grandfather said the same about running out into the street to collect horse manure. I think of that daily, as there are police stables nearby and plenty of dung on the streets. If I had a garden I’d definitely be out with a bucket, though I believe that horse manure must be well rotted or it will kill plants. Great news about the worms 🙂

    • Yes, horse manure needs lime and a year! I used to have it in NZ for my vege garden – it takes much longer to break down though I am not sure why.. c

      • I wonder if it’s because they only have 1 stomach for digesting, so it hasn’t been broken down as much as a cow’s food? At least I think a horse only has one stomach, I’m possibly showing my animal ignorance here! Have you ever thought of having a horse to help on the Farmy, C? But I suppose it would eat too much hay.

        • Yes, a horse has only one stomach and they are not as efficient at digesting their food. I’m sure a good draft horse would be helpful, except it would require getting the kind of farm implements for horse/oxen drawn work and the horse would also require the extra hay each winter. There are more small farms now that are using horses for the plowing, cultivating and harvesting of their acreage, the manure dropped in the fields is an added benefit. It would be more than possible to train one of the bobbies to yoke and the job of pulling farm implements but it would be time comsuming and would remove one or two from meat production.

          We had masses of earthworms at the house before we had to leave. It was always wonderful to dig into the soil and see them. Many a warm, rainy, spring evening would see many on the surface conjugating (breeding). There is only concrete, asphalt and gravel where I’m living at present, so no plants except in containers and no earthworms.

      • Actually if you pile the horse manure out of the sun and turn it regularly it breaks down relatively quickly to a rich brown earthy smelling soil. Considering one full size horse produces about 8 tons of manure in a year it’s a good thing! I think if your pile includes bedding – straw or wood shavings, it might take a little longer. It’s done wonders for my garden soil.

  2. earthworms are wonderful healers, long live the earthworms on the farmy 🙂 Laura

  3. Wonderful! When the soil heals and is healthy, the crops are – and then we are.
    I am as giddy as a schoolgirl when I see big, fat earthwards here on our little acreage – and I am mostly flowerers and herbs. I can imagine your joy.

  4. What a bunch of gardeners we all came from! My Grandpa believed sheep manure was the secret to his tomato harvest. He added water to make “soup” which he spread over the beds. Thank goodness he did this in very early spring because you didn’t dare open a window for a number of days following the “treatment”.

    • Yes! Compost Tea! We have a big batch of that going here. Our tea is water, manure and worm castings, aerated with a pump for two days, and it’s going on the plants in the garden today! We will continue with the “treatment” throughout the growing season. Great stuff!

    • Haha! Yes, when I was in grad school I lived near great farm areas. Even with the car windows tightly shut, I couldn’t drive fast enough or hold my breath long enough to get from my place out into ‘the county’ through the [beautiful to LOOK at] fields that had been freshly sprayed with green manure in the season. So worth the results, but almost intolerable for a short time. 😉 Then again, no worse than the stench of industrial smog used to get consistently before EPA regs. The cycles of modern life, eh!

  5. Long live worms and seeing them make me want to go cat fishing! OH how I loved to fish in my prior decades. And yes, I cleaned and ate it too until the waters in the lakes here became too loaded with mercury. Now I just dream of fishing.

    Mashed parsnips and carrots – I may have to try that. What’s the ratio you like best?

  6. I understand your excitement. The soil I started with here for our gardens was almost dead. Three years and lots of compost later, I have worms in my soil now too. I was so happy to see them. 🙂

  7. I have, in the past, wondered about you and worm keeping. My sister did for a few years a long time ago and the refuse from the worms can be grown in directly… doesn’t require it to be composted first. And her gardens were amazing. But then I decided you likely don’t have time to maintain them, what with all your other critters to look after.
    And I have no clue what the underside of a road smells like, but I can imagine it’s not pleasant… lol
    But my question is… if there hasn’t been a trace of earthworms for nigh on 50 years, then where does the first one in your field come from? ….Regardless, I join the chorus in “Long live the earthworm!” ~ Mame 🙂

    • I did have a worm farm for years but now the kitchen scraps are needed for the pigs and chickens and milking cows and so on – the worm farm lost that battle.. c

  8. Congratulations on finding earth exciting….Its good to know that nature does have a way of recovering.

    talk about manure..when we had Daisy Donkey and her friend Maya a few years back none of the manure or straw went to waste. My grandmother said that horse poo should be put into a bucket  with water and left for a few weeks ..then you strain it off and then add more water so that you can water your plants in the garden….it didn't half pong!


    Sent: Tuesday, March 28, 2017 at 2:49 PM

    • We used to do this with seaweed. Maybe I will try it with cow manure? They do this on the dairy farms in NZ. Collect it , mix it with water and spray it on the resting fields..c

  9. Very good news that your soil is being restored. We have composted for years and I find lots of smaller red worms in the bins.
    My father always said chicken manure was the best for his tomatoes. Do you have an opinion on this?

    • Very high in nitrogen and can burn the roots so do not put chicken manure close to the stem but after it has broken down it is fantastic stuff in the garden.

  10. Yeah!! Good job for bringing back healthy soil to your part of the world!

  11. Us too Celi, we had nary a worm, or a bee when we moved in and started gardening in the mountains. Not because of the nastiness of industrial cropping, as in your case, but because we had only rocks to farm on. We had to buy and grow our soil, and now we have worms! It is very, very exciting!!! We also never saw a bee to help in pollination at first either, so got two hives. The bee operation has been a struggle, that’s for sure, as they have so many disastrous issues to deal with. Just lost one of our two hives a couple of days ago, and still don’t know what happened. It was the weaker hive, but had made it through the winter and looked alive and well, and then they were dead. All honey was gone and no brood, and the small amount of bees were dead on the frames. So weird! We are still trying to guess what happened! Beekeeping is a difficult endeavor these days!

    • was it a cold night? If they break and it goes back below 40 – 50 they can die of cold. Though with no honey left – were you feeding them sugar water? How miserable. I am sad for you. I found spring my worst period for bee disasters – as you will remember. Hopefully hive number two does ok. c

      • Yes, we had a three to four night cold snap where the temps when back to below freezing at night. But we left them lots of honey for the winter, and fed them sugar water all winter right up until now. Maybe it was the cold snap that did it. That’s what Jack is thinking too.

        • That is exactly what killed my last bunch – and they had survived a miserable winter – only to die in the spring after they broke their heating ball. So sad and you can’t fix that. That is up to the queen.

  12. I don’t know manure, but I love working with healthy soil in the spring, putting in plants and seeds. Kneeling down in the dirt holding the aromatic earth and feeling its rich texture, is good for the soul. Hooray earthworms!

  13. I love earthworms! They are such harbingers of goodness. When I was just starting my very first garden, I was young and by myself and so poor and the garden soil so terrible. I talked the old stockmen down at the Fat Stock Show into allowing me to collect the manure from the show cattle and haul it home to my garden. I was there for hours sholving manure. Those old guys chuckled at me driving away with (what seemed like) 100’s of pounds of manure in garbage bags in the backseat of my volkswagon. I had wonderful vegetables and the next year the old guys helped me shovle!

    • That is quite the sweetest story – I remember a friend of mine going quite giddy with excitement when another friend of ours came in with a huge hemp sack filled with sheep droppings collected from under her shearing shed. Those old men of yours – .. c

      • Oh I’m sure I was a pathetic sight. Can’t you just see it~ poor city girl gathering poo for her poor pathetic garden. HA! I probably just shamed them into helping me! But it was great fun.

  14. When I lived in Melbourne, I kept a worm farm so the little wrigglers could gobble up all my organic waste. They were amazing, they’d everything from vacuum cleaner dust to coffee grounds and teabags. The only things I couldn’t give them were citrus and onions. They gave me wonderful worm tea to dilute and use as fertiliser, castings to add to my vegie pots, and needed very little attention. They had a worm apartment block in my porch. I can’t keep them here, it’s just too hot. I have nowhere outside the house that stays cool enough, and they need too much space and are a little smelly for inside. I do love worms… Hurrah for your exploding population, hurrah for cow, pig and chicken poop and hurrah for soil with a bit of life in it.

  15. Hurray for the return of your earthworms, so very good for our soil and such a good harbinger of soil health. I love getting your weather reports, it lets me know what to expect in the next 48 hours. Though your temperature is usually about 4 or 5 degrees cooler, the rain, wind, and thunderstorms seem to come along. This has been a strange winter into spring with little snow, too warm. Let’s keep planting our trees and do our part to try to reduce the carbon, do our part to improve our environment.

  16. Yay for earthworms. I’m always happy to see them too. You have done a good job there. I have to buy compost here. No cows for miles. 😦

  17. As Joel Salatin says: “We shouldn’t treat our soil like dirt” And ok…I’m off to the store today to pick up some parsnips! 🙂

  18. So wonderful.. your soil is indeed healing, and the nature cycle is coming back.. this post put a huge smile on my face and I needed it.. all good here on the farm but some outside stress’s going on..

    I remember finding it so amazing on the tundra.. like your cow pie.. it was the shed antler, the poo or the butcher site that would help provide life and growth for the next ten, twenty or 100 years. Its amazing how a bone can feed its own eco-system for so many years to come in regards to the plants.

  19. Happy cows, happy pigs = happy worms and happy Celi… isn’t it? – And happy Fellowship!
    Thanks to your tireless efforts. Congrats!

  20. Worms! What wonderful news.
    Sadly I think you are preaching to the converted here. We all love healthy soil here in the lounge.
    But the more I learn of how many people know nothing of growing food, the more despondent I become. So many put even thinking about it in the ‘too-hard’ basket, and worse, genuinely don’t care.
    Guh! I feel so frustrated by the arrogance and ignorance.
    Carrots and parsnips mashed – food of the gods! Spread on Vogels toast and grilled with a hint of emmenthaller cheese. (Did I spell cheese right?) 😉
    Today I am happy for worms half a world away.

  21. We compost our horse manure — and with five horse plus two donkeys, there is a lot of it. In the fall, I start my special pile that is 50/50 manure and leaves. I use it in my garden for the flower beds and the orchard. We spread the rest on the ground, anywhere grass grows, and give some away to neighbors. People can’t believe how healthy all the plants look — I’m not a master gardener; it’s all that compost which I call black gold. …and earthworms love it too. I love seeing worms.

    • J & D > Even by the time they hit the ground, leaves are loaded with soil-making bacteria. Leaf mould is the stuff of gardening legends, but in our view leaf-and-manure compost is better. In our island fastness, we don’t have much in the way of leaves, but we have any amount of seaweed we want – we just have to collect it. This afternoon we got half a tonne from the beach, and added it into the compost heap.

  22. I think you should adopt one as a pet! You can call him Lowly, like the worm in the Richard Scary books. He can sleep with Sheila…😋

  23. Fantastic news! That has really put a smile on my face. I really CAN smell that smell you spoke of – so it is extra amazing that you have signs – huge signs! – of recovery!

  24. J > After so many years as a highway engineer, yes I do know that smell you refer to. It’s from anaerobic conditions underneath (and possibly methane trapped below the blacktop). Soil reduced to little more than inorganic particles becomes compacted (and thereby accelarating run-off, and reducing re-charge of groundwater). The thought of all that prairie land being like that is … heart-breaking. We’ve just today closed up (with an old carpet) a compost heap (combination of last year’s waste from garden, kitchen and livestock, and this winter’s seaweed), and that will work away for another year until it’s ready to go on the land – complete with thousands and thousands and thousands of worms – most of small and new and in clusters. We have compost that makes your heart sing with joy, and the imagination summon up a year of abundandant and delicious produce!

  25. Pingback: The re-turn of the worm | A Small Country Living

  26. Your title and this whole discussion give a whole new meaning to the phrase, ” turn the soil.” Also it sent me looking for information about earthworms, those amazing little creatures. Everyday a lesson here!

  27. Earthworms are greeted happily here as well. We’ve always had them as I think historically there was a dunny & garden out the back, but now with the new vege patch, compost pile and growing our own soil, there’s more.
    Parnsip & carrot smash… I think will now be on our autumnal menu. Yum

  28. Well the sour cream ad slogan A Dollop of Daisy here in the US has a new meaning for me now

  29. I was at a restaurant a while ago and they served whipped parsnips on top of a peppered steak, the contrast was delicious! We recently got the latest copy of Progressive Farmer magazine. For years this was for and about large ‘modern’ farms and farming methods. This issue is almost entirely about rejuvenating the soil, from grazing practices to cover crops to no till planting. They speak of organic content and how fast water percolates down – very encouraging.

  30. Great news Celi – Mother Nature is working her magic, as she does if we have the patience to let her.
    I love worms and everyone thinks I’m crazy, but they are so valuable for the soil and we couldn’t do without them. Long live worms!

  31. Most of my food scraps go into my worm box and I get great soil for my lemons and herbs and worm juice that helps fertilizing my plants. I love parsnips and often roast them with other veggies .

  32. Cheers for worms! Now there’s encouragement and hope
    I take it they didn’t do crop rotation back then? Maybe it’s because the farms were small, but farmers here always varied crops to save/improve their fields. Only prudent if you had no plans to sell.
    Worms do make you smile!

  33. How exciting to see the worms coming back. Congratulations. This is a significant achievement, and it does my heart good to see them. PS My mum used to mash parsnips and carrots together. Must be a Kiwi thing.

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