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Earthworms Suppress Plant Diseases & Support Quality Food Production

Part of sustainable development is sustainable food supplies -- and that's where soil health comes in -- and that's where earthworms make their home. It's all connected to our well being!

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Science Review by Carolyn Allen Having grown up on an organic farm, I've always marveled at earthworms and their humble role in gardens and compost piles. Now we know -- they work hard for us, and we need to nurture them by removing toxins from the soil, and providing them with healthful habitat -- just like any other wildlife. Earthworms are a solution -- not an incidental extra in the web of life.

Sustainable farmers have understood for years that the density of earthworms is one of the most reliable indicators of soil health, but they have not known why.

Research at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has provided compelling evidence that the humble earthworm plays a significant role in suppressing several common soil-borne plant pathogens.

Earthworm densities have been regarded as reliable indicators of soil health, but their role in suppression of plant disease has not received much attention.

A greenhouse study was carried out with asparagus, eggplant, and tomatoes grown in pots infected with common Fusarium and Verticillium species known to cause serious plant diseases in these crops. In the pots that also contained earthworms, plant weights increased 60% to 80%, and estimates of disease severity declined 50% to 70%.

In general, plant weights were increased 60 to 80% and estimates of disease were reduced 50 to 70% when soils were augmented with earthworms.

The author speculates that the disease-suppressive benefits of earthworms are brought about by their impact on soil microbiological activity, and that “…strategies to increase earthworm densities in soil should suppress soilborne diseases.”

Source: Wade H. Elmer, “Influence of Earthworm Activity on Soil Microbes and Soilborne Diseases of Vegetables,” Plant Disease, Vol. 93: 175-179, February 2009

Edited by Carolyn Allen
| soil | agriculture | sustainable agriculture |

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