It's planting time—do
you know where your earthworms are? Pennsylvania no-till farmer Steve Groff counts
the many, wriggling benefits of no-till
By Steve Groff
May 5, 2005: One of the many great things
about no-till farming is that it protects and promotes earthworm
populations. I like to think of earthworms as providing free
soil tillage services—if you can create good conditions
for them, they'll be out there working and improving your
soil 24 hours a day, with no labor and no use of fuel or equipment
on your part.
The spring is a great time to check on how
your earthworms are doing. The other night—it was the
last day of April—Cheri and the three Grofflets and
I went out and walked the fields in the evening just before
dark. Conditions were perfect: recent rain, no wind, temperature
at 60 degrees.
<<< Nine square
feet of soil on the Groff farm, where Steve has been practicing
no-till since the early 1980s. Lots of worms!
Here's what we saw. In our fields, the number
of worms was incredible. They were big and healthy-looking.
We were taking pictures, and in one picture I later counted
30 worms. In another picture, covering an area approximately
3' x 3', there were a total of 17 worms. Overall, we estimated
an average of two to three worms per square foot in the 2.5-acre
"We spent over
half an hour observing them. It was fun seeing the worms pull
residue into their holes—at some moments you could actually
hear the residue moving." >>>
We also got a good look at what the worms
were eating. I'm currently testing forage radish as a cover
crop, and in this field I had planted a mixture of oats and
forage radish last September. I took several pictures of worms
eating decomposing forage radish roots. I'm glad to see the
worms love them!
<<< In cold
weather, a soil search will turn up worms of all ages—mature,
young even eggs-- but by late spring most worms are mature.
The pictures show how much of the residue
the worms have eaten since the start of spring. Actually the
field is now barer then I'd like it to be but at least the
residue incorporation method was better than with steel.
Nightcrawlers are extremely
beneficial to soil as they bring up nutrients from the deepest
parts of the ground. >>>
There were so many worms that I had a hard
time getting the kids to leave the field. We spent over half
an hour observing them. It was fun seeing the worms pull residue
into their holes—at some moments you could actually
hear the residue moving.
<<< Dana Groff
with a monster!
Another interesting thing was that I discovered
the worms don't seem to hear anything. We could talk normally
without startling them, but if you made sudden movements they
dove into the ground. If I stomped my foot on the ground,
all the worms within 25 feet dove for cover! As you can imagine,
the kids loved doing that. I had to stop though, since I didn't
want to disturb the worms too much!
Worms going after a
decomposing forage radish. The worms like the radish so well
they've incorporated most of the residue from the cover crop.
Next we went over to our neighbor's plowed
fields to look for worms. We walked over a third of an acre
and saw exactly three worms, total. For the sake of comparison,
I again took a picture of a 3' x 3' square of earth, but this
time there wasn't a single worm in the picture. Need I say
<<< Nine square
feet of soil in a neighboring, plowed field. No worms!
Steve and Cheri Groff and their three children
own and manage Cedar Meadow Farm in Holtwood, Penn., growing tomatoes,
pumpkins, sweet corn and other crops on 225 no-tilled acres. Steve
Groff is also a participating farmer in The Rodale Institute's No-Till