The Intestines of the Soil

‘Dear Garden Doctor,

I have no worms in my garden soil. I just started my first compost pile, my friend tells me it won’t work as I don’t have worms in my garden. I have lived here for 2 years and have rarely seen any. My husband says there won’t be any worms to get into my bin and I should buy some. Do I need worms to start composting and why do people associate worms with good soil?

Totti, Bali.’


Aristotle described worms as ‘the intestines of the soil’ which is essentially what they are.

Earthworms slither through the soil, digesting and recycling dead or decomposing organic material back into soil,distributing nutrients and improving the soil structure, recycling nutrients in the process and rendering those nutrients bioavailable for easy uptake by the plants. They also eat living organisms such as nematodes, bacteria and fungi.

After organic matter is digested the earthworm releases waste called castings, which are full of nutrients in a form easily absorbed by that plants. It is one of the most primo fertilisers I know of. If you incorporate compost and other organic matter into your garden beds, the worms will be effectively fertilising the garden right there in situ. I see it as a natural fertiliser machine operating underneath your garden beds – surely worms are a gardener’s best friend!

But the gift of their work doesn’t stop there. Their constant burrowing aerates and loosens the soil, creating pathways for water and allowing for oxygen exchange with plants roots and other soil organisms. Earthworms improve the soil on so many levels that you really cannot afford to not have them in your garden.

Charles Darwin, the famous evolutionary biologist noted that

“It is a marvellous reflection that the whole expanse has passed, and will again pass, every few years through the bodies of worms. The plough is one of the most ancient and most valuable of man’s inventions; but long before he existed the land was in fact regularly ploughed, and still continues to be thus ploughed, by earthworms. It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world as these lowly organised creatures.’ – The formation of vegetable mould, through the action of worms, with observations on their habits (1881).”

So now we know why worms are so good for the garden, all that’s left to do is attract them, which is a simple case of ……if you build it, they will come!

Adding organic matter to the soil will attract the worms. With a consistent food source the worms will breed like mad. If starting a fresh batch of compost it may take several months before you notice the worm population arrive and then start to increase. If composting in a bin, make sure the base is open and in contact with soil, this is crucial as it will allow the composting critters easy entry inside to do their work. Worms especially like shredded leaves, Lucerne hay, sugarcane mulch or shredded paper mulch inside the compost. The best tip to keeping them happy is to feed them with compost              and spread mulch around the garden and don’t dig too much – research has shown that the more soil is rototilled, the fewer the worms in it.

To efficiently compost, always make sure that the pile is kept moist. For compost in a bin, take the lid off when it is raining and let nature do the work of watering the heap. Make sure to balance the compost with layers of differing materials. If composting kitchen scraps, create layers with dry materials such as leaf mulch and garden clippings. Think of your compost as if you’re making a big healthy sandwich for your garden, which is literally what you are doing by the way. Making the healthy ‘compost sandwich’ is just like making a real one, built up from the bottom with different layers of various organic ingredients.

Position the compost in a warm sunny position. Heat and moisture combined with the right balance of organic material will lead to a much faster, efficient composting process. With worms having little to do but eat, they will shift a large amount of material in a short space of time. Finished compost can be added directly onto the garden beds or gently forked in. It can be top dressed over the lawn and sprinkled around pot plants.

One other thing worth adding is to avoid doing things that will harm worms. Residue from toxic chemicals found in weed sprays and pesticides will have detrimental effects on the organisms living in your soil. It would be hard to live somewhere that the soil is literally killing you. Try to do your weeding by hand and regularly mulch the garden with organic material. The benefits of mulching are two-fold, you are stopping weeds without using poison and you are also improving the soil through nutrient cycling organic material back through it. Spraying poison around the garden should be the option of last resort and avoided if possible.

As your soil improves over time and with regular additions of organic matter and compost you should begin to find plenty of worms taking up residence on your garden. Using compost and worms are the most efficient methods to develop a self-sustaining garden. The benefits of nutrient cycling organic materials through your garden is good for your garden and the whole environment. You will notice your rubbish bins won’t be as full as now you’re composting kitchen scraps and less space will be wasted in landfill rubbish tips. Soon enough you may find that you are able reduce or do away with chemical fertilisers altogether and rely on solely sustainable organic methods.

As for the lack of worms in the garden and compost, just remember…..


If you build it, they will come!

Dr. Kris

Garden Doctor



Copyright © 2017 Dr. Kris

You can read all past articles of Garden Doctor at