There’s a great series of Rocky & Bullwinkle episodes where they attempt to operate a ranch that Bullwinkle purchased. Moose and squirrel travel west only to find out that Bullwinkle bought a “worm ranch”. The rest of the series hinges on the pair learning to run the “worthless”ranch.
While pulling weeds the other day, I uncovered some earthworms beneath several large plants and thought about the worm ranch episodes. The whole premise couldn’t have been further from the truth (the “worthlessness” of the worm ranch part, not the idea of a talking moose and squirrel—we suspend our disbelief for that, jeez.)
Location, location, location, might be the mantra of real estate value, but if we’re talking about land’s intrinsic production capability, then the mantra becomes soil life, soil life, soil life. One of the most visible indicators of soil life is worms. Decades of intensive row cropping and chemical use depleted and compacted this farm’s soil. When I could get a shovel to penetrate, I’d only bring up a slab of lifeless—worm free—clay.
We raise pigs (there’s a picture or two on the website, you know—some words about them here and there), but the pigs and their regular paddock changes over pasture and cover crop all fit into a larger scheme: soil building. The cover crops prevent erosion, provide the shade and moisture retention for fungal life to break down organic matter, and put down root systems that feed soil microbes with sugary and starchy excretions. When pigs graze and disturb the cover crops, the plants’ roots die back, leaving organic matter in the soil, which becomes food for more soil organisms—most noticeably, earthworms.
Earthworms convert the organic matter into plant-available nutrients. They eat their way through the soil, digesting organic matter and leaving a trail of castings—worm manure. Earthworms can produce their own weight in castings in a day. Their borings aerate the soil, providing routes for oxygen and water to enter. There are thousands of other organisms at work in living soil, but earthworms are an easily visible indicator of soil life.
I have years to go in soil building, but I’m glad to see more (any) worms. We have a pig farm on the surface, but part of our future success in farming depends on building up our livestock underground.
Former Marine Infantry Officer. Iraq Vet. Interested in Regenerative Agriculture at any scale.
Odyssey Farm, LLC.
The Odyssey Farm Journal
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