Many factors affect the type of soil on which living things depend. Soil can be hard or soft, the difference being the amount of space between the soil particles. To retain water and prevent erosion, soil needs to be somewhat compacted. However, if soil is too hard or compacted, water will run off before plants and animals are able to absorb it. The water and air levels become so low that the soil cannot support plant or animal life. Earthworms are particularly valuable to both maintaining good quality soil and enriching poor soil. Worms move through soft soil but ‘eat their way’ through harder soils. In doing so, the soil is aerated, allowing water and air to penetrate. They turn rotting plants and animals into vital fertilizer.
Earthworms are fascinating creatures. They move with tiny bristles along the sides of their body; they are photophobic (do not like light), have one brain and five hearts. Earthworms breathe when oxygen from water or the air passes through its skin. Worms must always live in a moist (not wet) environment or they will dry out or drown. Earthworms can produce their own weight in soil every 24 hours. Earthworms are both male and female. Red wigglers are the worms used in a vermi-composter or ‘worm bin’ because they do not mind ‘crowds’ of other worms. Earthworms do not do well in a vermi-composter because they like to burrow deep into the soil.