Friend Earthworm

Practical Application of a Lifetime Study of Habits
of the Most Important Animal in the World

by George Sheffield Oliver, B. Y. P.

Part I

Lesson 3

Habits of the Newly Developed Earthworm

Why Nature's earthworm will not function -- How the newly developed, prolific hybrid earthworm was developed -- New earthworm does not form mounds on lawns or golf course -- Leaves its casting under the surface near the root zones -- Characteristics of the new worm -- Retaining all favorable characteristics of both compost and orchard worm -- Has no unfortunate characteristics

SCIENCE has admittedly known and appreciated the work of the earthworm for well over half a century. Many farmers, orchardists and gardeners have realized that in soil in which earthworms lived, plant and vegetable life prospered.

There are scattered instances where farmers who fertilized land with decayed animal matter hauled from the neighborhood of the stables attempted to transplant the compost-bred earthworms. These attempts have been recorded, but, to this writer's knowledge no sincere effort was ever made to discover why such earthworms perished when moved.

Consistent experiments and research work brought to light the fact that earthworms are as much in need of the food on which they were raised as the fish is in need of water. It was found that compos-bred earthworms demanded decayed animal matter; those raised in soil containing decayed vegetable matter demanded humus.

The author's first efforts to develop a satisfactory cross-bred earthworm were made in 1927. Selected specimens of earthworms found in various sections of the United States were studied, bred and interbred.

Observation, most of them coming under practical conditions and circumstances when the author was engaged in landscape artistry, showed that the brandling possessed many favorable qualities which if transferred to, and retained by, this cross breed would be very advantageous.

Chief among these favorable qualities was the fact that the brandling never deposited its excretions above the surface of the soil.

This quality has two very important advantages.

First, no mounds are formed on the surface of the soil. Such little hillocks, while they are far from detrimental, cause lawns and golf courses to become uneven, sometimes unsightly, and, in the case of a golf course, ill-suited for the enthusiast of mountain billiards.

Second, by leaving all its castings under the surface of the soil near the root zones, the roots of plants and vegetables have easier access to the chemical and mineral elements pulverized by the earthworm's digestive tract.

Early experiments with the brandling, recorded in copious notes, showed that it appeared completely contented in a tray, box or can; that, as long as it was well supplied with food, heavy-laden with any and all sorts of decayed animal matter, it was a prolific breeder.

Another characteristic of the brandling was its habit of living close to the surface of the soil, seldom going below six inches. Such a burrowing earthworm will cultivate the soil only around the upper roots of the plants and vegetables, and while this may produce satisfactory results for some plant life, the author's desire was to develop an earthworm that would penetrate deeper into the soil.

Search for a promising earthworm to mate with the brandling produced no satisfactory results until a variety of orchard worm was found while matured trees were being transplanted.

This worm was large, and apparently spent much of its time deep in the ground, often down to ten and twelve feet.

A number of these worms were procured, carefully fed and studied. Observations showed that they burrowed as deep in the experimental trays, boxes and cans as they could get.

Being satisfied that this type of orchard worm would make an ideal medium for experimentation in the hope of producing a fertile cross between it and the brandling, healthy specimens of both were selected.

These were placed in a special soil mixture, approximately one-third soil, one-third vegetable humus and one-third decayed animal matter. Such a composition of inorganic matter -- that is to say, matter devoid of organized physical matter -- contains all (and theoretically more) of the vital elements necessary for plant life. These elements, however, are not always available to the roots of plants, as was explained in the introduction to this work.

Henry Drummond (1851-1897), an English philosopher and writer, pointed out that "... The inorganic or the mineral world is absolutely cut off from the plant or animal world... No change of substance, no modification of environment, no form of energy, no chemistry, no electricity, no evolution of any kind can ever endow a single atom of the mineral world with the attribute of life. Only by the dipping down into this dead world of some living form (Drummond obviously referred to the roots of plants, and we may safely add earthworms) can those dead atoms be gifted with the properties of vitality. Without this contact with life they remain fixed in the inorganic sphere forever."

Some form of life, either plant roots or earthworms, must bridge the gap between inorganic and organic (or living) matter before the inorganic matter becomes available to plant life.

In the course of time, the worms having copulated, the egg capsules were extricated from the soil and placed in a separate container. When these hatched and grew to near-maturity, the weaker and less promising were culled out.

During the first six months, about a thousand cross-breeds which had been selected as breeders were mating and producing fertile eggs.

While this experiment, as it appears here in cold type, seems to have been the personification of simplicity, it should be realized that a full five years were consumed in these experiments. However, the results obtained in orchards, nurseries, gardens and poultry houres have proved that that quintet of years was worth every discouraging set-back. These set-backs were too numerous to be listed here. Suffice it to say that there were times when Nature appeared to be stubbornly antagonizing all plans, figures and calculation.

I call this cross between the orchard and compost worm "Soilution". Its chief features are:

  1. A prolific breeder.
  2. A free animal, no longer a slave to one environment.
  3. Its castings never form objectionable mounds above the surface of the soil.
  4. It is not an extensive traveler or migrator.
  5. It makes exceptionally good fish bait, for it is lively and lives for many hours when impaled on a fish hook.

Lesson 4

Potential Markets for Earthworms

Know your business -- Unsound to enter any business without knowledge of it -- Fishermen are possible customers for earthworm breeders -- Types of worm best suited for fishermen -- The orchardist needs the services of the earthworm farmer -- Orchardist is best customer for earthworm culture bed -- Farmers are potential earthworm buyers -- Poultrymen can save money with earthworm culture beds -- One poultryman's opinion -- The home gardener is always interested in beautifying his garden -- Earthworms as garden beautifiers

IN discussing the potential markets for "Soilution" earthworms it behooves us to deal with facts and not become lost or confused in a maze of over-enthusiastic statements, over-zealous predictions; neither should we imagine that overnight wealth awaits all and sundry who would enter this new development of a natural resource that has been active on this planet long before man himself arrived.

That there is a wide and varied market for active, prolific earthworms is a fact too obvious to question. But these markets cannot be attained by a mere snap of the fingers. Financial security may also be assured, but certainly not by any magic power concealed in or about the culturing of worms for commercial use.

It is economically unsound for any individual to enter any type of business without at least a working knowledge of, or experience in, the business he or she selects. This economic rule, though undoubtedly it has its exceptions, is founded on sound logic and clear reasoning, and is the basic reason why beginning earthworm farmers should start on a small scale.

It should be borne in mind that the amateur earthworm farmer must thoroughly sell himself on the virtue of the earthworm. To accomplish this, he must study and understand the life and habits of his product. This may be accomplished by growing his own plants and vegetables as demonstrations with and without "Soilution" earthworm culture.

Once he has thoroughly sold himself, none can destroy the knowledge he has acquired nor the facts he has learned through personal experience, study and observation.

The tyro "Soilution" farmer must realize that it takes time for plants, shrubs and vegetables to show the benefits derived from the persistent and efficient work of the earthworm around the root zones.

Many forms of plant and vegetable life show a marked improvement in from thirty to sixty days after earthworms have been placed in the soil around their roots; in some instances, however, an entire growing season is required to prove the full merit of this type of culture.

And so, in justice to all persons contemplating entering this interesting and profitable line of endeavor, it is sincerely hoped that readers of this book will not invest large sums of money in worm farms under the assumption that they will be financial lords overnight. To use a common expression, "it just isn't in the cards."

Assuming that the foregoing facts have been accepted, let us now turn our attention to the potential markets for selectively bred earthworms.

When the subject of earthworm farming is ushered into a conversation and discussed as a business, the ordinary person will usually recall the difficulty he experienced in finding worms in his garden the last time he planned a fishing trip.

Too many potential "Soilution" farmers imagine that every fisherman for miles around might be a good customer of one who could supply him with fat and active earthworms for bait. They fail to realize that many other potential earthworm farmers have reasoned in the same channel, with the result that competition has become both keen and cut-throat during the annual fishing season, resulting in a highly undesirable commercial and unsound economic condition.

A few years ago the prevailing price of earthworm fish bait was one dollar for a six ounce can containing from forty to sixty mature worms. The depression, plus absurd competition, brought the price tumbling down.

Competition was so keen in Denver, Colorado, that an earthworm price war resulted in six ounce cans being retailed for five cents.

The price of a can of earthworm bait in 1937 in California ranged from thirty to fifty cents for a can containing not less than fifty mature worms.

However, there is a pleasant and encouraging side to this type of unrestrained competition. Inefficient earthworm farmers are forced from the field, and men employing ethical business principles remain.

These are the men who thoroughly understand the remark of Phil D. Armour, of meat packing fame, who often said, "Any fool can compete, but it takes intelligence to organize and produce a better article."

When the smoke of the Denver price cutting war had cleared away, a lone worm farmer remained in the field. He had refused to reduce his prices, principally because he contended he had a better earthworm for the followers of the piscatorial sport.

Being a fisherman himself, the Denver man knew he could catch more fish with a small, active worm than he could with lifeless sections of large worms. This man's belief has been frequently substantiated by tests carried on by both amateur and expert fishermen, in soft and hard water, in lakes, rivers and gurgling streams.

The "Soilution" earthworm, properly fed and properly placed on the hook, will live and remain active for many hours. In various practical tests, "Soilution" has competed with other types of earthworms, as well as with amputated pieces of earthworms.

It is apparent, therefore, that the entrance to this particular market for "Soilution" earthworms should be carefully planned and thoroughly examined before making a decision. This suggestion is especially sound if the prospective bait-worm farmer contemplates gambling on the necessary investment required.

The progressive poultryman and game bird producer are promising prospects for "Soilution" culture beds, for both, particularly the poultryman, are rapidly learning the value of properly fed earthworms as an aid to better poultry and better eggs.

An example of the interest shown in worm culture beds by modernly progressive poultrymen is emphasized by the following paragraphs extracted from a personal letter to the author late in 1937.

"Six years ago I knew very little about the poultry and fruit business. Today I own a flock of 1,500 splendid birds and have been exhibiting at many of the poultry shows throughout the West during the past three years, and I believe I have garnered my share of blue ribbons. Incidentally, my fruit tops the market and I give the lowly burrowing earthworm credit for much of my success.

"In educating the public in the value of selectively bred earthworms under control, you are doing a commendable and highly educational work -- a work that should prove beneficial and profitable to all progressive people who depend on the soil for their living."

This poultryman had a "Soilution" culture bed for five years. His records show, and they are substantiated by similar tests made by other poultrymen, that a laying hen will consume from five to seven "Soilution" earthworms daily. This amount is seemingly the limit of both her capacity and her appetite for them.

Similar tests on ducks produced startlingly different records. One small flock of carefully watched growing ducks consumed a gallon of earthworms daily and repeatedly quacked for more.

At this point the reader may ask why, if earthworms aid in producing better hens and, therefore, better eggs, poultrymen have not turned in greater numbers to the operation of earthworm culture beds. This question, which is a reasonable one, deserves more than passing attention here.

There are two very sound answers.

First, many individuals have entered the poultry business with the false assumption that all that was necessary to do was to feed anything the feed store operator sold or recommended. In the past decade, starting in the crazy twenties, hundreds of thousands of Easterners and Middle Westerners were induced to trek to California and enter the poultry business. From 1920 to the year of the crash, a countless number of otherwise steady minded persons proved susceptible to the poultry raising bug in the southern portion of the Golden State. A vast majority of these individuals knew no more about poultry raising and breeding than an Amazonian native knows about a full dress suit.

The most, many of these would-be poultry raisers contributed to the industry was a number of discouragingly black pages in their own personal book of experience. Many of them found that their dream of fortune became a nightmare of misfortune.

In a lesser degree, these conditions prevail in various sections of the United States and emphasize what has been said in the third paragraph of this chapter.

The second reason why so many poultrymen are laboring long hours and using feeding methods that should be classed as belonging to the horse and buggy age, is the admitted fact that many poultrymen, in many sections of the United States, are indebted to or are actually in hock, to the feed man. These men dare not change their system of feeding their flocks for fear of reprisals, ethical enough, it must be gnanted, from the feed man.

This is a discouraging situation, undoubtedly due to our nationally strained economic system. What hope there is for these men, what exit there is from their present position, are subjects more in keeping with a book on political philosophy or economic reform than for this volume.

Suffice it to say that the free-from-debt-to-the-feed-store poultry man is at liberty to purchase his poultry necessities, at liberty to operate his business, without being forced to abide by semi-dictatorial orders from outsiders. Undoubtedly this man has left behind him the former methods of more or less haphazard feeding and has gone forward.

Through the assistance of the earthworm, the progressive poultry man can produce eggs for less than ten cents a dozen -- a surprisingly low figure. In addition, he can increase the productive longevity of his birds and reduce the mortality rate of his pullets -- a rate that has exceeded fifty per cent in the state of California, according to reputable reports.

Inasmuch as a single laying hen will consume about 2,000 breeding worms annually, the poultryman must operate a fairly large sized culture bed.

Therefore, the progressive poultryman may be considered by earthworm farmers as a very good potential customer.

The truck farmer, the suburbanite with a small vegetable garden, the nurseryman, the home gardener and the orchardist -- all of these are potential buyers of properly bred, properly raised and properly fed earthworms.

Of this group, the one most in need of the earthworm as a natural cultivator and fertilizer is the orchardist, then the truck farmer, the small vegetable gardener, the nurseryman and the home gardener, in the order named.

To state that an orchardist can reduce his overhead practically fifty per cent by impregnating his soil with earthworms, may bring the cynical charge that such a saving is absurd. Yet the following facts, carefully examined, checked and re-checked, should cause the most cynical to realize that the immortal Charles Darwin did not exaggerate when he said that the earthworm is one of the world's most important animals.

Late in 1937, the following article appeared in the Valley News, Montrose, California:

"Near Redlands, California, is an orange grove that people come miles to observe. It demonstrates a unique natural method of orchard culture.

"This 40 year old grove stands out among its neighbors in a way that even a layman can see. The foliage is thicker, a richer green, even at the top where others of its age show thin foliage and bare twigs. The trees are well filled with fruit and records show that they produce crops just as outstanding as their appearance. But the truly remarkable thing about this grove is the fact that these results are obtained with less labor, less water, and less fertilizer than is used by any of the neighbors.

"The present owner took possession 17 years ago. Since that date, no plow, harrow or cultivator of any kind has been allowed in the grove. Weeds have been eliminated by hand labor. At first this caused extra expense; but since no weed is allowed to go to seed, a few hours labor once a month is now all that is needed.

"The absence of mechanical cultivation is the first puzzle which this grove presents to horticulturists, for the necessity of soil conditioning has long been recognized. Actually this need has not been ignored here, but the owner depends, not on machinery, but on the world's finest and most efficient plow, the lowly earthworm. He has created conditions which are favorable to earthworms and in response they have multiplied until they are more numerous than in other groves. Their network of burrows has aerated the soil far more effectively and much deeper than mere surface cultivation could hope to do. At the same time, the feeder rootlets, which in an orange tree are very near the surface, are left undamaged, and therefore ready to absorb a maximum of food.

"Even more puzzling to the orthodox grower is the fact that this grove thrives on less than 50 per cent of the water required by others. The answer once more is explained by the burrowing habits of the earthworms. They prefer the cooler soil under the trees and dig most of their burrows there, with very few out in the sunny spots. During irrigation; a large proportion of the water enters the soil through these burrows, with the result that most of it goes under the trees where the roots can use it, while much less than usual is wasted out beyond the root zone.

"But the fact about the grove which seems hardest of all to comprehend is its fine health in spite of what seems to be a very inadequate fertilization plan: a little synthetic nitrate occasionally, nothing else in 17 years. Once again the earthworms furnish the answer, this time by their digestive processes. Earthworms depend for food on dead organic matter, leaves, old roots, etc. Through digestion these substances are changed in character so that they are highly soluble and when ejected are immediately available as plant food. A close examination of litter under the trees reveals thousands of leaves which have been completely consumed except for a delicate skeleton composed of their veins. The worms have put this material back into the soil, for reuse by the trees. Without them, it would be a very long time before the same material would become available for plant food.

"The earthworm's gizzard triturates large quantities of soil which the earthworm takes into its body for two purposes -- one to make his burrow by eating his way in; the other to obtain from his food all the essential elements necessary to produce fertile eggs.

"New surfaces are thus exposed to the dissolving action of the irrigating water, and plant food elements are released which would otherwise remain locked up inside the grains of soil. Couple this with the fact that earthworms work to a depth of 6 or 8 feet, constantly bringing new dirt from these levels to the surface, and it can easily be understood how trees can thrive for a long period without the addition of new feed elements to the soil.

"Earthworms are nature's own means of soil building and conditioning. No orchard or garden can do its best without them. There are many kinds, some much more effective than others, and the study of their use and culture will repay anyone who grows fruit and flowers."

The foregoing concerns fine, cultivated fruit trees, and the reader might consider them so developed that they respond easily and quickly to such experiments. While it is admitted that the antecedents of these trees have been more or less pampered by orchardists for many generations; that man, in his desire to force them to bear more and more fruit, has grafted and pruned and fertilized and sprayed; the fact remains that they have not responded to earthworm culture more easily or rapidly than the woody perennial trees growing wild on mountains and in forests.

Seedling pine trees have been impregnated with "Soilution" for the Forestry Service in the Sierra Madre Forest Reserve. Each treated tree is clearly marked and identified. The pines treated have grown in two years to a height usually requiring five years to reach.

On March 23, 1937, a wet, heavy snow blanketed the region Many four year old pines, whose soil was not treated with earthworms, were almost carried to the ground by the weight of the snow upon their branches.

On the same day, four small Conifer pines, which had not been impregnated with "Soilution", were bent double, while those which had been supplied with the elements Nature intended them to have, stood perfectly straight. These necessary elements were made available to the roots of the pines through the pulverizing action of the earthworms.

An ambitious earthworm farmer may very easily demonstrate the ability of the earthworm as a cultivator, triturator, chemist and distributor. He may do this on his own premises and interest all visitors desirous of improving the quality and quantity of their gardens, orchards, farms or truck patches.

Once the earthworm farmer has aroused the interest of these individuals, he may place demonstrations on their property where they may see for themselves how the earthworm improves plants.

Controlling Production

There is a method of controlling egg production of "Soilution" Earthworms which makes it possible to have a crop every month in the year, but this information is given only to people who wish to go into the business commercially.

The Earthworm

Little brown earthworm under the sod,
A trusted worker in Nature's plan,
Fulfilling his destiny, obeying his God,
Living his life as a friend of man.

East, where the Nile flows down from the hills
Covering the sun-baked thirsty soil,
An important place in the scheme he fills,
Bringing new life by his humble toil.

West, where the pioneer follows the plow,
Turning the sod to the sun and rain,
This little brown brother is doing his bit
To nourish the roots of the growing grain.

North, where the snow lies still and white
And the blustering wind blows cold and chill,
When the spring thaw comes you will find him at work
And October's Harvest can go to the mill.

South, where cattle roam Argentine's plains,
And grass grows tall 'neath the summer sun,
This busy fellow is doing his best
To make "two blades grow in the place of one".

-- K.J. MCCREEDY, Los Angeles

Table of Contents
Part I
-- Introduction
Lesson 1 -- History of the Earthworm
Lesson 2 -- The Habits of the Earthworm
Lesson 3 -- Habits of the Newly Developed Earthworm
Lesson 4 -- Potential Markets for Earthworms

Part II -- Introduction
Lesson 1 -- What Is Food?
Lesson 2 -- The Life Germ and Better Poultry
Lesson 3 -- Economical Poultry Housing
Lesson 4 -- The Interior of the Economical Hennery
Lesson 5 -- Intensive Range
Lesson 6 -- Putting the Bluebottle Fly to Work
Part III -- Introduction
Lesson 1 -- Natural and Man-Made Enemies of the Earthworm
Lesson 2 -- The Trout Farmer's Problem
Lesson 3 -- Feeding Problem of the Frog Farmer
Lesson 4 -- Housing the Earthworm Stock
Lesson 5 -- General Care and Feeding of Earthworms

My Grandfather's Earthworm Farm
Eve Balfour on Earthworms
Albert Howard on Earthworms
The Housefly

See also:
Vermicomposting resources

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