Charles Darwin Wrote The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through The Action Of Worms In 1881. Worms Are Still At It Today!

Darwin’s book, published in 1881, explores the crucial role earthworms play in shaping the fertile topsoil we see. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Darwin recognised worms not as mere pests, but as vital architects of the Earth’s surface.

Worm compost can replace peat - there are three types of earthworms, this one is a compost worm.It is part of a rich soil biodiversity.
Worm compost can replace peat

By vegetable mould he doesn’t mean mouldy vegetables. He is talking about the soil formation process that worms create. It’s being used in the same way as we now talk about leaf mould. That is where it means a soft friable material such as soil. The word is derived from the Middle English word “molde” or “mould,” which referred to earth or soil.

This might be a book that is nearly 150 years old but we can often learn from these old books. It never ceases to amaze me how much more insightful the people of the past are compared with our inherent understanding today. Clearly science has now advanced, but they understood a lot and in some senses understood the basics better than many gardeners today.

Today we recognise three worms types as described in this related article

Darwin’s Key Worm Observations:

  • Burrowing & Casting: Worms continuously churn through the soil, ingesting organic matter and depositing castings (their excrement) on the surface. This process aerates the soil, facilitates drainage, and mixes nutrients.
  • Denudation & Formation: Their burrowing also contributes to gradual erosion, known as denudation, gradually revealing layers of rock over time. These eroded materials, along with castings, contribute to the formation of hills and valleys.
  • Preservation & Food Chain: Worm castings protect buried objects, like ancient tools or bones, from further erosion. They also nourish plants and other soil organisms, contributing to the overall health of the ecosystem.
  • Mental Capacity: While acknowledging the limitations of worm intelligence, Darwin suggests they exhibit some level of decision-making in their burrowing and feeding habits. I’m not suggesting they are intelligent beings, but that they make decisions when feeding in the soil.

Overall Impact of Worms On Soil

  • Shifting Perspective: Darwin’s work revolutionized our understanding of soil formation, highlighting the unseen but vital role of these humble creatures.
  • Conservation & Sustainability: By emphasizing the importance of earthworms, the book advocates for practices that protect soil health and maintain a thriving ecosystem.
  • Legacy: This landmark work cemented Darwin’s reputation as a keen observer and innovative thinker, inspiring further research on soil ecology and influencing agricultural practices to this day.

In essence, Darwin’s “The Formation of Vegetable Mould” is a fascinating window into the hidden world of earthworms and their remarkable contribution to the fertility and evolution of our planet.

Research sources

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