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.


Important Rules for Beginning Earthworm Farmers

  1. Number lugs prominently.
  2. Gunny (burlap) sacks, cut in quarters, should be free from alkali or any caustic.
  3. Place quarter of sack in bottom of each lug.
  4. Place not more than two inches of compost in bottom of lug, on top of quartered sack.
  5. Empty spawn bricks into the lug, eighteen to a lug.
  6. Feed about one tablespoonful of corn meal, walnut meal. (Cottonseed oil may be used).
  7. Place on top of this another one-quarter of gunnysack. (Feeding may also be done by placing the gunnysack on top lug first, sprinkling the food over it).
  8. Sprinkle about one ounce of seed barley over top of gunnysack.
  9. Contents of lugs should be kept moist at all times, the quantity of water used may be judged by amount of evaporation.
  10. To facilitate harvesting egg capsules and earthworms, contents of lugs should be allowed to dry out.

Care and Harvesting

  1. For best results, lugs should be reversed every fortnight.
  2. When reversing lugs, remove barley growth, re-feed and re-barley with fresh seed.
  3. Lugs should be reversed every two weeks thereafter.
  4. When reversing is completed, water thoroughly, using about two quarts of water for each lug.
  5. It is not advisable to fill lugs higher than three-fourths of their depth. This is suggested to reduce the weight. A full lug will weigh in the neighborhood of fifty pounds. Lowering the contents will reduce this weight to as low as thirty pounds.
  6. In transferring breeding stock from one lug to another, the top sack of the first lug may be used as the bottom carpet for the new lug. Bottom sacks remain serviceable for about three weeks.

A potential commercial field which was not discussed in the body of this work is that of the extraction of oil from earthworms for medicinal use.

I have repeatedly experimented with earthworm oil and have found it has exceptionally fine penetrating proclivities.

I purposely refrained from mentioning this subject in the lesson devoted to markets for earthworms, principally because the experiments I have so far carried on (in co-operation with a number of chemists) have not progressed sufficiently to warrant a lengthy discourse on the subject.

That earthworm oil has medicinal value is, however, an accepted fact, but to date myself and associates have not found a satisfactory method to employ to extract the oil in sufficient quantities to raise it to meet even a small commercial demand. I have used very primitive methods to extract the oil, which must be done by heat -- to which earthworms are very susceptible. The method used was slow, tedious and annoying, though I have managed, by painstaking efforts, to garner well over a gallon over months of experimenting.

At the present writing experiments are being prepared which will employ electric heat.

On the whole, I feel confident that, in time, a suitable and wholly satisfactory method of extracting earthworm oil in sufficient quantities to warrant its consideration in commerce will be available. When that time comes, which I hope will not be in the too distant future, I shall make it a point to advise all interested readers of this book. Should the reader desire further information on this subject of earthworm oil, I suggest he contact Dr. 0. M. Crause, 4575 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood, California, in care of The Associated Laboratories.

Another subject purposely left out of the preceding parts is that of kelp ore. This ore is, geologists say, the result of a cataclysmic earth disturbance that threw countless tons of kelp (seaweed) out of the sea. In time, this kelp became buried under many tons of earth, ossified and remained undiscovered for many eons.

Seaweed -- kelp is a Saxon word meaning charred seaweed -- is one of the oldest plants known. It antedates by millions of years the first forms of plant life on land -- the mosses. It is potent in minerals, contains 14 of the 16 elements in the human body, and is especially well impregnated with iodine, iron and phosphorus.

Kelp is recognized today by progressive physicians as a food supplement of high nutritional value for man, beast and fowl.

Of the 82 known elements, 35 are found in the sea, and of these 35, kelp contains 27.

I have been experimenting with kelp ore for over a decade and use it, in solution, myself and recommend it to my friends.

Using kelp ore in conjunction with earthworm culture is advisable, but, due to its many recommendable qualities, due to the fact that much of its potency can be taken off in solution for human consumption and the residue used for earthworms, I must regretfully refrain from going into its use by earthworm farmers at this time.

Considerable detail is necessary to clearly explain the use of kelp ore, the benefits derived and why. To cover this, I am preparing a small Paper on the subject. Persons writing the author may receive this information.

The greatest events of an age are its best thoughts. It is the nature of the thought to find its way into action.
-- Bovee


THE purpose of these final words regarding our friend, the earthworm, is to draw together a number of loose ends that were inadvertently left out of the main body of this work. In addition, the writer wishes to explain briefly the physiology of plants, particularly that dealing with the roots of plants, for it is in the root zone that the earthworm plays its major role.

In Lesson One, Part One, we saw how all life began on this planet in the waters. Only superficially was it mentioned that the origin of plants was also in the water.

First of all, let us differentiate between animals and plants. Off hand, the average person would say that animals are sensitive and mobile; that plants are not sensitive and are rooted or stationary.

Such a definition is satisfactory, though it is not correct. Among the zoophytes (Greek; zoo - animal: phyte - plant) there are immobile animals and sensitive plants. These latter respond to vibrations of the air around them and to the touch of a foreign body. In addition, there are marine animals that remain stationary from birth to death, and marine plants that travel extensively.

So we see that neither movement nor sensitiveness are essential distinctions when we are pinned down to it and asked to explain the difference between animals and plants. However, men of science have an infallible method of classifying them, and that is by the manner in which they acquire nourishment. Animals "eat"; plants "absorb" food.

Generally speaking, plants have two sets of "mouths" -- their roots and leaves, or, in the absence of leaves, stalks or stems.

We are especially interested in the physiology of roots because of our friend, the earthworm. It behooves us, therefore, to spend a little time on roots so that we shall all have a clearer picture, a sound foundation, from which to visualize the work of the earthworm in the root zone.

There are more varieties of roots than there are plants, and there are many thousand species of plants. There are roots that store water for the plant (many desert species); roots that store food (potatoes, onions, etc.); roots that support plants and plants that support roots, like the banyan tree. There are roots that are parasites, some of which never need contact with the earth. There are others, like the wild fig tree -- which is a relative of the banyan -- that comes to life high on the trunk of the eucalyptus. As the fig tree grows, it sends shoots of new roots earthward. Here they burrow into the soil, eventually supporting the tree itself.

The earth's first plant life was in the form of moss. It was in this age that roots originated! Gradually, through hundreds of thousands of years, evolution developed other and sturdier-rooted mosses. Then, during the Devion Period -- a geological era in the Paleozoic Age -- ferns, clubmosses, horsetails and trees so large that they would make California redwoods look like celery stalks in comparison, grew and prospered for countless centuries.

From the very beginning of plant life on land, roots have performed a dual role -- as support for the plant and as a feeding apparatus for the plant.

The fundamental purpose of roots is to gather water and certain salts from the soil, which, through the chemistry of the plant's system, becomes nourishment.

The outstanding peculiarity of roots is not observed without close investigation. This peculiarity is to be found in the myriad of hairlike, fibrous fingers through which the nourishment for the plant is sucked up. The brush or "tap roots" common to many plants are almost exclusively engaged in anchoring the plant in the soil.

The small, hairlike, inconspicuous roots (which may be observed by washing the root area carefully) are the real "mouths" of the plant. However, nourishment is not actually sucked up by these hairlike roots. The expression is used merely in a figurative sense. The action is entirely chemical.

Water is attracted by the plant roots by the sugary content of the minute cells of which the roots are composed.

Plants take nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen from the soil. Carbon, another highly essential element needed by plants, is received through the leaves and (or) stalks.

The leaves or stalks compose the second set of the plant's "mouths." These are filled with a substance of very peculiar properties. This substance was named chlorophyl by the Greeks and means "green leaf."

Chlorophyl is an ingredient in the cells of loaves, stems and stalks. It is the chemical that breaks up the carbonic acid gas in the air which the leaves "breathe." From this breaking up process carbon is extracted, mixed with hydrogen. The oxygen is set free, for enough oxygen is taken in by the roots to satisfy the plant's needs.

Chlorophyl is the substance that makes plants green. It is developed by the plant as needed, but it cannot be developed without sunlight, or a satisfactory, albeit inferior, substitute. Take light from plants and chlorophyl disappears. Example: when soil is piled around the stalks of celery just above the ground, the portion covered becomes white. Lack of light has forced the chlorophyl up the stalks.

Sunlight and chlorophyl are as important to plants above the soil as roots are under it. And it is because of their importance that plant life, from the tenderest orchid to the sturdiest oak tree, spread their leaves and branches about so haphazardly. Each is endeavoring to absorb as much sunlight as it possibly can.

Not only do the leaves of plants "breathe" moisture through their pores; they must also prevent the plant from losing too much water through them -- but I fear I am getting too far away from our real interest, roots. Persons interested in this subject would do well to consult their local librarian for suitable books on this especial subject.

We have already seen how the earthworm, by its constant eating, pulverizing what it eats and excreting it as castings, unconsciously, but with extreme efficiency, prepares the soil so that its mineral and chemical qualities are more easily absorbed by the tender roots of plants.

This pulverization, this trituration into a fine powder of every minute morsel the earthworm swallows, ultimately results in, (1), a healthier plant; (2) a plant richer in chlorophyl; (3) more fertile, healthier seeds; (4) rapid, even growth, and (5) if edible for man or beast, a plant richer in food elements.

These advantages are the natural outgrowth of the burrowing earthworm, substantiated by men of science, and therefore not mere words to befuddle or annoy the reader.

Writing in Soil Science, October, 1935, two members [W L. Powers & W. B. Bollen] of the Oregon Agricultural Experimental Station, said, in part, "... Earthworm castings were found in the fir forest under the litter in the crumbmull on top of the mineral soil. The castings were collected from the surface on cut over land where there was a little litter... The work of the earthworms appears to have little effect on reaction. There is evidence of a build-up in base exchange capacity, and the nitrogen and organic matter are much higher in the casting than in the parent soil." (The italics are mine.)

In an accompanying table the percentage of organic matter and nitrogen were as follows.

Maple and grass litter Soil Casting
Organic matter 73.14 6.52 34.66
Total nitrogen 0.228 0.672
Clarence Burnham, research fellow in soils, assisted in the determinations.)

The fact that these investigators found that nitrogen was much higher in the earthworm castings than in the native soil, is a point all persons interested in plant culture will find extremely enlightening.

Nitrogen is the first fertilizing principle to become depleted. But with earthworms functioning in the soil, nitrogen content is increased and will continue to remain as long as there are enough earthworms burrowing in soil containing traces of it. And not only will the earthworms triturate it and make it available for the plant roots, but it will quite probably be brought to the root zone by passing through the alimentary canal of many earthworms.

Let us shift our line of thought for a few minutes.

The new word incorporated in this work for the first time -- Soilution -- may be misconstrued by casual readers as pertaining to the so-called new water culture method. This method, in addition to being currently known under various and attractive trade names, is also called, chemical culture, hydroponics, tank farming, tray agriculture and what-not.

Hydroponics has been sweeping the nation lately under the guise of being "new." It is not new -- by seventy-five years.

"First of all," writes D. R. Hoagland of the University of California in the February, 1938, issue of The Pacific Rural Press, "it should be recalled that plants have been grown in solutions containing the essential nutrient salts (plants, of course, will not grow in pure water, so the term water culture is not accurate), by hundreds of investigators during the past three quarters of a century. Their purpose in growing plants in this way has been to study the laws of plant growth, under controlled conditions. During the same period, another method of artificial culture has also been extensively employed by investigators, that of growing plants in silica sand irrigated with nutrient salt solutions."

Writer Hoagland is not at all optimistic about this "new" form of plant raising. What few favorable comments he does make he offsets with "however, without expert knowledge of the water culture technique, commercial success is unlikely."

And again, "Contrary to some statements, plants are not protected against diseases (except soil diseases) or insect pests by growth in water culture. Also, it has not been proved that food produced by water culture has in general nutritional value superior to that of feed produced by soil, with respect to mineral content of the food."

Writer Hoagland also tells us that "most amateurs are not in a position to make mixtures of nutrient salts for themselves, and various firms and individuals offer for sale small packages of salts ready to dissolve. Some of the prices are from twenty to fifty times the original cost of salts."

I believe the following letter is worthy of the reader's attention, therefore I include it here.

"... The subject (of earthworms), instead of being of minor importance, is one of the greatest of modern times. Words are inadequate to express the real importance of this lowly creature to the life and pleasure of man. The more one studies the matter, the more vast become the possibilities. In June of this year I will move to a small place I have at Barwick, Georgia. There I hope to experiment further, as there are eighty pecan trees, ten years old, on the place that I want to treat with castings and earthworms to see what can be accomplished in a backward grove.

"This morning I measured petunia plants with branches twelve and one-half inches long, leaves three and one-quarter by two and one-quarter inches. The plants are growing in a box that has been full of earthworms since last spring, working in manured soil.

"These plants were from a bed that had been enriched both last year and this year with various fertilizers, in which companion plants of the same age and specie have branches only three and one-half inches long and leaves only one and one-half by one and one-quarter inches.

"I have been showing these to some ladies who have flowers, as I feared they would not believe me if I told them without (showing them) the living proof. In fact, it almost looks impossible, but I know the particulars. I wish I were capable of taking a good photograph of these plants while they show such a vast difference in size and thrift.

"Perhaps we can work out a plan which I can put into operation when I move to Barwick. It should be very interesting, for there are a lot of rich estates in and around Thomasville, eighteen miles from my future home, such as those of the late Hon. Robert Bingham, one-time ambassador to England; Mrs. Howard Payne Whitney, Ruth Hanna McCormick and others, who might become interested in the use of earthworms for their landscape projects.

"At Albany, Georgia, not far from Barwick, there are many more such estates and great game preserves, consisting of as many as 20,000 to 30,000 acres, owned by wealthy people from the north...

"I have made a living with hens, and feel that with the information in Part II of Our Friend the Earthworm, I can make more than I have in the past. As to housing costs, that is a low item in this section -- less than twenty-five cents per hen under usual conditions -- but your feeding plan is a lot cheaper and more in the way Nature intended...

"I see no way of improving your books, unless it would be that you impress your readers with the fact that your writing is very condensed, and for them to read the book over and over; or rewrite them in more extended form, for the subject is broad and far deeper than casual notice makes it appear -- as broad as every square foot of tillable soil on the surface of the earth.

"I am fifty years of age, far too old to try all the experiments I would like with them before my allotted time shall end."

Thus writes R. A. Caldwell from Faceville, Georgia.

Thought means life, since those who do not think do not live in any high or real sense. Thinking makes the man.
-- A. B. Alcott

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

Community development | Rural development
City farms | Organic gardening | Composting | Small farms | Biofuel | Solar box cookers
Trees, soil and water | Seeds of the world | Appropriate technology | Project vehicles

Home | What people are saying about us | About Handmade Projects 
Projects | Internet | Schools projects | Sitemap | Site Search | Donations |