You may not have thought of the humble backyard as a good place to find a mate and get down and dirty, but for earthworms it is ideal. After autumn rains, lots of tiny earthworm eggs and baby worms are going to appear in your soil.
‘Earthworms can breed every seven to ten days if conditions are right and particularly after rains. After 21 days the eggs hatch, and after two to three months this next generation can breed, too,’ said Steve Corbett, CEO of the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife.
‘Earthworms really are the superheroes of the soil. They provide an essential service by transforming unwanted organic matter into deodorised, nutritious food that plants can use right away.
‘If you love gardening, earthworms are your new best friend. Earthworms pull dead organic material underground and eat it. What comes out the other end is a safe and natural fertiliser which actually contains more nutrients than regular compost. And they provide this at no cost to you.
‘As they tunnel around, earthworms aerate your soil – allowing air and water to penetrate. Plants love this as it allows their roots to spread more easily. These earthworm tunnels also improve conditions for beneficial soil bacteria and small organisms, which helps to keep your soil healthy.
‘A lot of what people throw in the bin, and which ends up in landfill, could actually be composted or put in a worm farm and used to benefit the garden instead. There are also a lot of simple things that you can do to encourage earthworms,’ Mr Corbett said.
• Put veggie peels, fruit scraps, eggshells, tea bags, dead flowers, and shredded paper in your garden compost and let earthworms dispose of them for you.
• Don’t put meat, chicken or fish scraps in the compost or garden – earthworms are vegetarians!
• Keep leaves you rake up as mulch for your garden – earthworms love to eat them.
• Avoid using pesticides, chemicals, and artificial fertilisers as they can make earthworms sick or discourage them so that they go elsewhere. A garden with no earthworms is a sign that the soil has become unhealthy or even polluted.
• If you have recently wormed your pet, collect any droppings from the garden and put them in the bin, as these chemicals can also kill earthworms.
• Worms don’t like strong flavours like citrus, pineapples, chilli, onions, garlic, or shallots. Fats, oils and dairy products should also stay out of the compost as worms won’t eat them.
‘Look for earthworms in the garden just after rain. Earthworms come to the surface during this time to find food and mates, without fear of drying out. If you’re raking leaves, re-potting a plant or digging up the garden, you should see them now. Generally speaking, you’ll see more earthworms during the wetter months, particularly during autumn and spring,’ said Mr Corbett.
Backyard Buddies is a free program run by Australia’s Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife. Each month, you get a Backyard Buddies email (B-mail) with tips to make your backyard inviting and safe for native animals. Sign up for B-mail and download a free factsheet about earthworms at www.backyardbuddies.net.au .