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Worm misinformation on soil test

Posted by pt03 2b Southern Manitob (My Page) on
Sun, Feb 6, 11 at 0:18

As I have been politely asked to refrain from correcting misinformation on another thread and to start my own, I shall heed that advice.

Here is a conversation about the misinformation about worms from a thread on GW in 2008.:

"5) Life. How many earthworms per shovel full were there? 5 or more indicates a pretty healthy soil. Fewer than 5, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, indicates a soil that is not healthy."

attempt to correct misinformation:

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Soil Quality Agronomy Technical Note No. 11 really says:

"Many people consider earthworms to be an indicator of soil quality because they respond to and contribute to healthy soil. For earthworms to be abundant, a field must meet several conditions that are also associated with soil quality and agricultural sustainability: moderate pH, surface residue for food and protection, and soil that is not waterlogged, compacted, droughty, or excessively sandy. Not all healthy soils will have earthworms."

Maybe there is another link that supports what you state or maybe there are two Natural Resources Conservation Services."

rebuttal to correction:

"As Xxxxx well knows there are not two Natural Resources Conservation Services of the USDA, but may not be aware that there are numerous publications from that source that can appear to be contradictory. The particular article that states that may take some time to find, again."

reply to rebuttal:

"If/when you find it, I'd really like to read it. Seems to me that after more than one year of telling you of the existence of the contradictory information, you would have cited your source or modified your post, but alas it appears not to be the case. I'm sure the USDA would also like to know they have contradictory data out there.
In the mean time, how about leaving that part out of your "simple soil test" posts, or at least modifying it to take out the reference to the USDA. At least then it would be a one persons opinion thing. And while you are at it, maybe also add a note about seasonal/diurnal fluctuation in earthworms and their movements so that anyone who follows your "advice" doesn't panic get overly concerned when no earthworms are found.
"

There has never been a link provided to an article that supports the 'no worms = unhealthy soil' claim.

If any person wishes to dispute the accuracy of this information, please feel free to do so, I will not be offended to be corrected.

Lloyd


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

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Lloyd,

I suppose if one cites a specific source they should be able to produce it but, must we qualify every statement to death? Must we get to the point where if we make ladders we need to post warnings to not stand the ladder in unstable ground?

I know I've been lazy and didn't include every little if, and or, but but, isn't everything about Soil, Compost and, Mulch local? Don't we all come to realize that locality issue at some point?

I've missed some of the conversation that has brought you to this uncharacteristic point and I'm going to be real happy to stand to one side but, I've got some one accusing me of being petty and vindictive just because I'm asking questions about the terms being used on another post.

Perhaps I've reacted badly to that accusation. I'm tired of being placed in the mean box simply because I ask questions. It's time we all stop and consider that the motives of folks 'round here aren't evil.

I'm guilty. I've reacted badly. I want to share in what others have learned and of what they have found to be true and maybe I can part some of the things I've found to be of value. I think that's what everyone else that makes the effort to come here hopes to do so too.

For myself, I promise to grant others the benefit of the doubt here on this forum.

to sense
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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

  • Posted by pt03 2b Southern Manitob (My Page) on
    Sun, Feb 6, 11 at 1:53

Hi rott...Thanks for your insight. I honestly believe the "accusation" you are referring to was targetted at me. You just got in between a couple of posts and were 'collateral damage'. I could be wrong though and will let the person that made the statement calrify this if he/she wishes to.

I believe I have been consistent since day one regarding clarification of the "worm" claim so I do not see this as being uncharacteristic. All I asked for (and still ask for) is proof to back up the 'no worms = unhealthy soil' claim. Most credible people on most forums will always give clarification if asked for it so including "every little if, and or, but" isn't always necessary, that is the nature of a conversation, ask questions if one is unsure.

I believe that if a person is going to attribute a claim to a bona-fide institution, then they ought to be able to provide links when they are asked for them. Espcially, as in this case, the instituion in question has a clear and concise publication completely opposed to the claim being made.

I respect people and give them the benefit of the doubt until such time as they demonstrate to me that they no longer deserve my respect or they remove all doubt as to the quality of their information. I expect there are many here who disregard most everything I say, I have no problem with that.

Lloyd


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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

Lloyd,
You didn't look hard enough.
I found over a hundred posts, right here on GW, that say that exact thing.

"5) Life. How many earthworms per shovel full were there? 5 or more indicates a pretty healthy soil. Fewer than 5, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, indicates a soil that is not healthy."

So, with that many references, it must be true ;-)

Besides that, mine are VERY frisky ;-0

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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

  • Posted by pt03 2b Southern Manitob (My Page) on
    Sun, Feb 6, 11 at 2:14

...slaps forehead with palm... ;-)

Still working on those pumpkin seeds for ya. I may have to trade a bit of compost for them. No problem though, I have lots of compost!

Saw your recent pic of the pile 'o manure, are you going to have to expand your bins or are you just going to incorporate into the raised beds?

Lloyd


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Whacko or Whack Job

Yeah, I bit off way more than I can chew, I am just such a freakin' compost whacko, that even though my Compost bins are completely filled up and all of my beds are topped off, I couldn't resist having another 10 yards of steer manure delivered to mix wih the 10+ yards of leaves I had sitting under that tarp, and lets not mention all the bags I still have in that gigantic trailer OY VEY

Not Whacko...more like Whack Job ;-)

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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

  • Posted by pt03 2b Southern Manitob (My Page) on
    Sun, Feb 6, 11 at 3:07

That windrow is a beaut! You can never have too much compost I always say. But wait a minute...is that ((GASP)) frost on those bags and the distant roof tops??!! I thought Oregon was the land of perpetual composting weather??!!

We managed to get to almost the freezing point so I took the snow blower over to the multi's so's I could get at 'em. Couldn't turn them but I managed to throw a couple of months worth of kitchen scraps into them. I'm getting sick of winter.

Lloyd


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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

Well Lloyd I attempted to bring it up once but soon got tired of bumping my head against the wall. Go digging for worms in my yard/garden two weeks after a rain and good luck buddy! Five shovelfuls of soil for one worm is more like it. Yet I can till up a spot and plant any thing I want and it grows well. My soil is silt loam northern prairie prime farming soil. Of course after a rain at night the crawlers come out but 5 per shovel? no not even 5 per square foot. So now I just smile and turn my head. You are just tired of winter, ehy! ;)

Curt


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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

Of course, what does "healthy soil" precisely mean? I think what most people think of is a soil with a lot of silt and consequently OM build-up, and thus many earthworms. As Lloyd's link correctly points out, there are many other soil structures that support plants but not worms.

Not to mention that apparently large portions of north america never had earthworms until a few centuries ago, or less. They are introduced in those regions.


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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

Hey Lloyd, stick to your guns. The interwebz are full of so much BS that asking for citation regarding a claim is de rigueur.

Anecdotally, I have "healthy" soil (my definition being healthy plants and healthy consumers thereof), but few lumbricus.


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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

More unnecessary blather about something that is of little value and in reality contributes very little worthwhile information.


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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

Oh, I don't know if it's unnecessary blather. In fact, I think this right here is a good example that hits the nail on the head:
"And while you are at it, maybe also add a note about seasonal/diurnal fluctuation in earthworms and their movements so that anyone who follows your "advice" doesn't panic get overly concerned when no earthworms are found."

If you say something that's not really true, there is a real and significant potential for people to expend time, money, energy and worry over fixing something that doesn't need to be fixed. That's a bad thing. Also consider what often happens when you try to fix something that ain't broke.

Confusion of terms is also a real concern. To dig up the structure, texture thing on the other thread let me throw out a little hypothetical scenario:
If someone does your test and finds out that they have more clay than they want (whether that really is a problem or not is irrelevant. In the mind of the information seeker it is and that's what they're acting on), they think they're dealing with a "structure" problem and head merrily off to Google.
They learn that they can fix "structure" by adding gypsum in some cases. Of course, that only works when there is a structure problem due to an imbalance of sodium with other cations. But, you see, they don't know that. They just learned from Kimmsr's test that too much clay is a problem with their "structure". They googled "structure", found a fix for "structure" and now they're going to add gypsum to reduce the clay content.
Of course that won't work but people come to a forum like this to answer questions about topics that they don't fully understand. (otherwise they wouldn't be asking). Now they're likely to be spending time, energy and money to fix something that ain't broke because someone is using the wrong term. Words do indeed matter. Knowingly and willfully spreading misinformation is a disservice to those who just want to get an answer to their gardening problem and get on with their day.


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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

We just have to hope that an answer-seeker here can parse the didactic and inflexible advice from more balanced and nuanced counsel.


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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

  • Posted by pt03 2b Southern Manitob (My Page) on
    Sun, Feb 6, 11 at 12:37

Turkey trots to water.

Some might say the "unnecessary", in "unnecessary blather", would be redundant. Is there ever necessary blather?

The world wonders.

;-)

Lloyd


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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

  • Posted by ericwi Dane County WI (My Page) on
    Sun, Feb 6, 11 at 12:40

I have never eaten a worm, but I did eat an ant once. It was on a ripe red raspberry, that I picked off a cane in our patch one summer. It tasted terrible, & after that, I have been careful to look over the raspberry before I put it into my mouth. Regarding worms, we have them in our native soil, but I don't see them in the soil around our blueberry shrubs, where the pH is maintained between 4.5 and 6. I don't know if the soil beneath our blueberry shrubs is healthy, but the shrubs are healthy, so I am inclined to say that the soil is healthy, also.


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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

My take on earthworms......Where there is a fresh abundance of organic mater and sufficient moisture, earthworms tend to be more abundant. Now when that soil is extra dry or frozen, the worms go elsewhere. Like right now .....if I were to dig for worms [likely frozen], I might not find any!!!

I remember when I had a new submersible well pump installed, the man dumped in some chlorine in the well and then pumped it out. It seemed hundreds if not thousands of worms came out of a small grassy area in my lawn!!!

Now another thing along the line of not posting things that are troubling without some proof. I have read on more than one source that microwaves "ruin" water. Some of it likely goes back to an "urban ledgend" that Snopes laid to near rest. I wish those scare people were required to produce some proof.


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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

  • Posted by jolj 7b/8a-S.C.,USA (My Page) on
    Sun, Feb 6, 11 at 16:33

This is great! The persons that I have learned the most from all on the same thread.
5 earthworms per shove full of soil sounds like a good rule, earth worms will stay in the best soil they can find.
But no earth worms proves nothing unless you put earth worms in your soil a few week ago.
I have no earth worms at all & I turn my soil with shove & tiller. I use coffee waste(I know some of you are tired of hearing about this CW)& CW bring in the Japanese beetle & green fruit grubs, but no earthworms. So how do I know, I have healthy soil.
1) It grows every thing that I transplant, most that I plant from seeds( plant some seeds to deep & learned the hard way).
Every seed that comes up, grows.
2) I have no disease or physiological disorder in four years of growing here.
3) Only a few bad bugs, none slowed my crops from producing more then I could eat & put up, So I gave most of it away.
4) I lost plants to freezing & not watering as often as I needed too. My large garden is 16 miles from my home on my farm, so I water it one or two times a week, even with mulch, sometimes that is not enough in 105F heat & sandy soil.
I plan to seed my newer beds with earth worms come spring, to work the waste coffee that I have spread 12- 18 inches deep on the site of the new beds.
But I do not care what they do after they compost the waste. They can stay or go as they see fit. They are not pets, just hired workers who get paid with all they can eat.


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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

  • Posted by pt03 2b Southern Manitob (My Page) on
    Sun, Feb 6, 11 at 23:10

Keep in mind seasonal and diurnal variations. There are peaks and valleys as far as population numbers go, so that would also reflect on the number of worms being around at any given time of the year. Steve Solomon had a graph about this but I can't find a link to it right now. :-(

I have fields that when I am cultivating, I have a 'carpet' of seagulls following in my trail. At other times, on the same field, there will be nary a one. The quality of the soil has not changed, it's just a variance on the worm population or soil conditions (moisture/temperature) that determines if worms will be 'present'. If I have an option, I will try to defer tillage until late afternoon/early evening on a sunny day, seems to be less carnage at that time.

So, my take on the worm test? Having worms (or even worm casts) present, usually means that your soil is favorable for worms and that generally denotes decent soil. The absence of worms (or worm casts), just means that there are no worms, it does not necessarily mean your soil is not healthy.

Lloyd


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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

The absence of worms (or worm casts), just means that there are no worms, it does not necessarily mean your soil is not healthy."
Exactly, and contrary to what some here seem to think I never said anything that would not also support that. The presence of earthworms is an INDICATION of the presence also of the Soil Food Web. Since earthworms live on soil organic matter the absence of them may indicate your soil does not have sufficient levels of organic matter to be a good healthy soil. Then too, some soils with very large amounts of organic matter will not have any earthworms because it is a swamp and the soil is too saturated with water for earthworms to live in, much less many plants although some have adapted to that environment.
As it states, very clearly in that sentence, "5 or more INDICATES a pretty healthy soil." because the environment created is one that the earthworms would find immensly liveable.


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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

  • Posted by pt03 2b Southern Manitob (My Page) on
    Mon, Feb 7, 11 at 13:02

To borrow a phrase from Jon...Oy Vey!

Kimm, you have put the following line...

"Fewer than 5, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, indicates a soil that is not healthy."

...in your soil test since I've been on this forum. Just do what I suggested in 2008, drop the "fewer than 5" sentence entirely, it is not correct.

And if you are finally going to fix that error, why not just change the structure/texture thing as well. Then we can let these threads slowly drift off.

Lloyd


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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

I agree with Lloyd.

If one is going to post "scary" things, the onus is on them to provide decent proof.


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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

To be honest Kimm, I like the sentence you posted here:
Since earthworms live on soil organic matter the absence of them may indicate your soil does not have sufficient levels of organic matter to be a good healthy soil.
I think it would be a reasonable substitute for:
Fewer than 5, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, indicates a soil that is not healthy.

Now, that structure/texture thing.....
;)


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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

The NRCS should have stated that less than five worms indicates that there is no food source present in that soil for them. This might seem like a simplistic statement, but it just makes common sense to me...

Let's take my experience in the last ten years as an example. In 2001 we moved to a property which had not been 'gardened', therefore the soil had never been amended. DH went digging for worms in the spring to go trout fishing. After 14 holes, he gave up. Not one worm. Yet this soil wasn't that bad - after all I started gardening and everything grew well.

In subsequent years I added UCGs and some compost. Now all DH has to do is go out and take the crown of a plant, jiggle it a bit to make the soil vibrate underneath, and out come the worms. No shovel required.

So maybe it's that the soil is 'healthier' when the worms are present due to a food source and not that it is 'not healthy' when there is less than 5.

I'll crawl back into my hole now....


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RE: Worm misinformation on soil test

  • Posted by pt03 2b Southern Manitob (My Page) on
    Wed, Feb 9, 11 at 17:33

"The NRCS should have stated that less than five worms indicates that there is no food source present in that soil for them."

A problem with a statement like that though, is if the test is performed when the worms are not naturally present due to seasonal or diurnal variation, then it means little.

I would suggest this line (along with an appropriate link);

"They are not essential to all healthy soil systems, but their presence is usually an indicator of a healthy system."

...courtesy of the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the USDA and leave it at that.

Lloyd


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