Night Crawlers as Natural Soil Conditioners

Final Report for FNC93-038

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1993: $4,340.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1995
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $5,990.00
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Currently farming 715 acres totally under a no-till system in a corn/soybean rotation. Prior to that I was on a ridge-till system for 10 years.

Labor in this project was done by two hired men and myself. Although personnel from the Iroquois County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) and others came to see what we were doing.

I would like to drastically improve my earthworm population (especially night crawlers) in my plot and fields. This in turn would improve the soil tilth, naturally aerate the soil, improve drainage, and neutralize the soil’s pH. (See attached “Land’s Best Friend” reprinted from “Landowner” for twelve very positive reasons.)

[Editor’s Note: “Land’s Best Friend” is a 4-page flier about earthworms. It was produced by the staff of Landowner and was included in the Proceedings: National No-tillage Conference, 1993, Cedar Falls, IA. p. 317-320. For a copy, contact the NCR-SARE office at: [email protected] or 1-800-529-1342 and reference project number: FNC93-038. For additional information about worms, see the ATTRA, National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service publication “Worms for Composting (Vermicomposting)” at: or call ATTRA for a free copy at 1-800-346-9140.]

I also want to be able to answer my question “Is inoculating fields with night crawlers a practical solution?” By experimentation and research, I would like to discover the most economical, practical, and effective method of building their population.

Some of the barriers involved included it being very labor intensive and the inability to clearly identify results. Careful seeding occurred, but I was dealing with a live organism that moves. I attempted to seed these night crawlers using various methods. I tried to seed them in a diamond-shaped grid in rows 30 feet apart with spacing 30 feet apart. Six to ten night crawlers were seeded per spot. Three distinct methods were used:
1. Just placing them on top of the ground.
2. Placing them on the ground and covering them with residue and
3. Drilling a 2-inch hole, 4-5 inches deep, placing them in the hole and covering them with a small amount of soil and/or residue. This was the most labor intensive and was a two-man job. Just placing them on the ground worked if the worms were lively and it was overcast. There were NO night crawlers on this field before seeding. On 23 acres, rye was planted to insure food and protecting over the winter and Roundup herbicide was used in the spring as a burn down. On 17 acres, no groundcover was used. Even after three years, evidence of middens and live night crawlers are seen after a rainfall. I know that they are doing my soil some good (see attached flier, “Land’s Best Friend”), but it was hard to weigh the impact.

Whenever you try something different, people ask questions. Several area farmers were wondering what I was doing and why. Local SWCD personnel and Sustainable Ag groups and no-tillers were all interested. I spoke as a farmer/moderator at the soil health conference in Decatur, Illinois and shared information with Dr. Eileen Kladivko of Purdue University. Dan Anderson from the University of Illinois printed some of my information in Agro-Ecology vol. 3 No 3, September of 1994 and Lessiter publications, publishers of the “No-Till Farmer” printed a handbook “The Farmer’s Earthworm Handbook” using some of my information. I would be willing to speak at future conferences.

Good Program. Maybe have a special program for multi-year projects where results can not be see just over the course of one year.

[Editor’s Note: Starting in 2005, the time period for carrying out NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher grant projects was increased to 21 months.]


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.