Worms: my new best friends

Worms are fascinating and such great critters to have in the garden!  AND, with it being crazy spring gardening season, I’ve spent significantly more time with them lately than with most of my human friends.  Many of the humans I HAVE spent time with recently have probably learned more about worms than they ever wanted to know.  Did you know that they have five hearts?  That they breath through their skin?  That their skin needs to be moist for them to be able to breath? (The reason that they come up out of the soil when it’s cloudy and rainy is not because they get flooded out – it’s actually because on cloudy/rainy days they can actually come out of the soil and survive.)  That worms don’t have eyes?  That if you cut a worm in half you WILL NOT get two worms? (If you just cut of the end of its tail, the rest of the worm will probably survive, but if you cut a worm in half in the middle, both halves will probably die.)   They are fascinating creatures who help our gardens by eating all sorts of dead organic matter and turning it back into nutrient-rich soil, and also by digging tunnels through the soil which help air and water get to the roots of our plants.

Not only have I been fascinated by worms in the past few weeks, I’ve spent lots of time exploring them with super fascinated kids.  Digging in all of the different gardens, the kids have dug up lots and lots of worms (a great sign of healthy soil)!  Some of them love the worms right away, while some others find them gross at first (though many have been converted to worm friends once they know how cool they are).  I had a couple of grade 2ish kids who were working wearing gardening gloves but who asked if they could hold a worm with their bare hands, but as soon as I came near their bare hands with a worm, they moved their hands away.  It took all they had to keep their hands out and to actually hold the worm, but they finally did and thought it was pretty cool.  Some worms have definitely suffered a little bit from the enthusiasm of a zillion kids who want to hold them, but generally the kids have moved them safely away from scary things like trowels and little hands and have been pretty respectful of our little garden friends.  Kids also tend to be pretty fascinated by the fact that worms are hermaphrodites (they still need 2 of them to reproduce, but all worms have both male and female parts).  Ooo, and the kids were also fascinated by watching a worm poop while I was holding it (as was I, having never actually witnessed a worm pooping).

And talk of worm poop leads me to my new favourite worm book:  Yucky Worms by Vivian French.

It’s a super fun kids’ book in story form, about a boy and his grandma gardening together, but also teaches a ton of worm facts.  Some of the worm facts are woven right into the story, and there are also tons of diagrams and side-bars with more in-depth info.  And it talks about worm poop, which just entertains the younger kids to no end.   I’ve used this book in combination with the dig-week at the new garden (where I had teachers read the book while I dug with half of the class, and then we’d switch – having 20+ little kids with trowels in a tiny garden can get sorta chaotic, so splitting them up when possible tends to be a good idea) and I’ve also used it during my Meeting Worms activity, where I bring a worm bin to a classroom and do a worm intro activity there.  It’s really great to read the book and also give the kids a chance to check out some real live worms and get to hold them – they can then try to figure out which end is which, see if it’s an adult worm (if it’s got that wide band around its body – the clitellum – then it’s an adult), etc.  I also really like the book Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin – a fun read that kids really like – but it’s way more fictional than factual.  Still a good one to keep in the repertoire, though.

It’s cool to see too, how I can run pretty much the same worm activity with kindergartens, grade 8s, and everyone in between, and they’re all equally as interested.  Admittedly they get more grossed out as they get older, but even with the grade 8s, over half we’re willing to hold the worms.  You even get the same giggly, squirmy reactions from the kids who are holding them, whether they’re 4 or 14.

Most of the worms I deal with are either red wrigglers that we have in the worm bin, or regular garden earthworms (probably Pink Soil Worms, though I’m not entirely sure) .  But there have been some crazy big worms (probably Dew-Worms/Nightcrawlers, though again, not sure on the worm ID) in the Waterfront Children’s Garden recently!  This one on the picture was probably about 25 cm long, but one that we saw last week with the grade 8 group was at least 30 cm long and about 1-1.5 cm thick.  And a super fast mover!

That is one BIG worm!

And now that you probably know more than you ever thought you wanted to know about worms…

Happy growing!

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