Homes & gardens: The earth moved
They do backbreaking work and respond to music. Yet still we turn our noses up at humble garden worms. Christopher Stocks celebrates an underground movement
Sunday 06 February 2005
Had Darwin gone gaga? Not a bit. In 1881 he published his observations in The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms, With Observations on Their Habits. It became a bestseller, and its conclusions are as relevant today as they were more than a century ago.
The American writer Amy Stewart is someone else who's been bitten by the earthworm bug, and her book, The Earth Moved (Frances Lincoln, pounds 14.99), is published later this week. What sparked her interest was a worm bin, those plastic tubs which swallow your kitchen scraps and (at least in theory) regurgitate liquid fertiliser and rich, dark compost for your garden. In the spirit of other popular-science writers such as Bill Bryson and Jared Diamond, Stewart has burrowed, ahem, deep into her subject and unearthed some fascinating stuff. Did you know, for instance, that one endangered Australian worm can stretch to 10 feet? Or that there are bright- blue worms sprinkled with yellow spots in the Philippines?
Worms, as we know, are the gardener's (and the farmer's) friend. They aerate the soil, break down organic matter and keep the earth in constant (though admittedly rather ponderous) motion. As Darwin pointed out, "The plough is one of the most ancient and most valuable of man's inventions; but long before it existed the land was in fact regularly ploughed by earth-worms." Most people have taken Darwin's words as a typically engaging metaphor, but recently some ecologists have begun taking them literally. The result is the so-called "no-till movement", whose principal tenet is that the less the earth is disturbed, the greater the worm population, and the higher the number of worms the better the condition of the soil. For anyone who, like me, has done their back in digging, it's an appealing idea, but no-till has yet to be widely adopted. Perhaps that's hardly surprising as most gardening manuals still advocate deep digging to improve soil quality - despite mounting evidence that undisturbed earth is up to 60 per cent more productive.
So it seems that we should all be taking more care of our earthworms. If only they were a bit more cute and cuddly. As Amy Stewart says, "Are we so focused on image, on appearance, that we can only love the prettiest inhabitants of the garden and neglect the slimy but hardworking earthworm?"
After reading The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Darwin's friend Joseph Hooker wrote: "I must own I had always looked on worms as amongst the most helpless and unintelligent members of the creation; and am amazed to find that they have a domestic life and public duties!" By the end of The Earth Moved, you may be inclined to agree.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings
- 2 HeForShe campaign: Iceland to follow up Emma Watson speech with UN women's rights conference – for men only
- 3 Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
- 4 Teenagers irritable because early school hours mess with their biological clocks
- 5 Now we know whose fault it is if you end up being murdered in Thailand
Before They Pass Away: In pictures
Pride: Are US film censors pandering to homophobia?
Kylie Minogue Kiss Me Once tour, London O2 - review: Pop princess still reigns supreme
Miranda Hart and Sarah Millican named highest-selling female comedians
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'
Isis, we are told, is a 'clear and dangerous threat to our way of life'. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
The Osborne Ultimatum: Chancellor’s benefits freeze bombshell will affect ten million households
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
- < Previous
- Next >