Editorial: Subterranean Livestock

Earthworms are among the many subterranean animals, soil fauna, that inhabit our sands, silts and clays. Fauna, by the way, was the sister of Faunus, a god of nature and fertility, worshipped by farmers and herders. We should have such respect for the microbes, beneficial nematodes, termites and earthworms who help regenerate our soils.

The earthworm, in particular, is deserving of our attention. Tireless and methodical, earthworms constantly ingest organic materials and soil, producing humus, a storehouse of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, micronutrients and more. Among other functions, humus buffers soil pH, adsorbs toxic materials, improves soil structure and moisture holding capacity and modifies soil temperature. One of the greatest authorities on humus, Selman A. Waksman, suggested that it represents the most important source of human wealth on the planet because it stores so much of the earth's available energy for plant growth. We can thank earthworms for much of the humus in which healthy food is grown.

Farmers the world over agree: earthworms are indicative of health soils. Think of them as livestock beneath the surface. A farm with little or no livestock to recycle local biomass would benefit from more earthworms to fill that role. Soil management systems that cultivate thriving earthworm populations are ideal, but vermiculture offers a way to produce humus outside the soil system for incorporation.

Vermiculture recognizes that earthworms are insatiable when it comes to consumption of organic materials. When we put that appetite to work, the earthworms are happy, and people have greater access to an affordable luxury item - humus. Vermiculture can be a do-it-yourself, backyard operation. This Ag-Sieve furnishes some important information on vermiculture, but keep in mind that innovation to fit particular production contexts and means must be adapted. Small-scale farmers and urban gardeners alike could benefit from intensive vermiculture. In this way, we can create humus, and wealth. Long live earthworms!