A worm is a long, creeping animal, with a soft, often segmented body. They don't have legs but instead are covered in hairs or bristles that help them to move. They breathe through their skin, which must remain moist to absorb oxygen from the air.
They've existed for about 600 million years. There are about 34,000 different types of worm; many are so small you wouldn't be able to see them without a microscope!
Worms are hermaphrodite, which means they don't need another worm to reproduce. They lay their eggs, which hatch as little worms. Worms can live for up to 10 years.
Worms eat their own weight in organic waste, soil and minerals and excrete their own weight in castings daily, which makes compost and enriches the soil. One acre of worms can break up about 50 tonnes of soil. They don't eat living plant tissue, and so don't hurt plants either. They truly are a gardener's best friend! Some people even keep them as pets, feeding them on kitchen scraps just so the worms can make them lots of lovely compost for their gardens.
- Worms are about 1,000 times stronger than people (relatively speaking of course!)
- The longest earthworm is the African giant earthworm which can grow up to 6.7m (22ft) long.
- Worms are tough little creatures. IF you accidentally cut an earthworm in half while gardening only half will die. The peice with the saddle (the fater, pink part) will survive.
- When it's really cold outside in winter or baking hot in the summer, worms are able to survive by burrowing deep into the soil - at the same time escaping from light, which they hate.
- Charles Darwin studied worms for 39 years, and concluded that life on earth would not be possible without them. Mainly because they increase soil fertility so efficiently, but also because they reduce quantities of plant waste.
Find a worm in your garden. See if you can see the bristles or hairs. Try using a magnifying glass! Great for kids 2 years and up! It’s a nice activity for children under 2 when assisted by an adult. Children need to be gentle with the worms and hands need to be washed after handling. All worms should only be held for a maximum of 10 minutes. Worms need lots of moisture to survive!!!!!!
Wormery or Worm Farm
Age: 3 and up Prep Time: Half an hour to set up and several weeks of observation.
- a large clean glass or clear plastic jar
- moist soil
- old leaves
- vegetable peelings, tea leaves, overripe grapes
- some black paper and a cool dark cupboard
- Ask your children to cover their work surface with newspaper. Wash the large jar carefully. You may want to help younger children with this.
- Help your child to put a layer of sand at the bottom of the jar, about 1cm (0.4in) deep.
- Add a thick layer of soil, then add another think layer of sand, then another thick layer of soil. Ensure there is about 5cm (2in) of space at the top.
- Now for the fun part! Ask your children to go and find some worms. Before they put them in their jar, ensure they have a good look at them.
- They need to put the worms in their jar, and then add some old leaves, vegatable peelings, tea leaves and overripe fruit if you have any.
- Then they can put the lid on - with a couple of holes in the top - place black paper around the jar and put it into a cool, dark cupboard. Leave it for about a week or two and then observe what the worms are doing.
- Ask questions about the worm's physical attributes: Can they tell which end is which? How? Can they guess how a worm moves? Can they see the hairs on the worm's skin?
- What has happened to the vegetable peelings?
- What patterns have the worms made in the earth?
- You can give the worms most kitchen waste - all uncooked fruit and vegetable waste, tea leaves, coffee grounds etc. Keep meat, dairy, citrus and grains out of your jar.
- Worms are so vitally importanat for the gardener. They aerate the soil and improve its condition by breaking down rotting plant waste, while producing great compost. When children are collecting and observing the worms, they need to be aware that worms do not like to be dry or in the light for any length of time. Always ensure the contents of the jar are moist, not too wet and definitely not too dry. Worms 'breathe' through their skin, which must be damp for this to happen. The jar should not be put anywhere too cold.
- Earthworms are what you will find if you dig in your garden; red wigglers worms are what you will find in your compost or manure heap, or you can sometimes buy them in an angling shop. Use one or the other.
- Your children may wish to investigate the two main types of worm (earth and red wigglers). They can set up two jars and compare what happens in them.