There are worms on my balcony, and it’s all Amy Stewart’s fault

by Fern on March 15, 2012

in Book Review,Reviews

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Have you ever heard of the book The Earth Moved by Amy Stewart? If you haven’t for some reason, it is a fascinating dip into the world of Oligochaeta and the oligochaetologists who study them. In other words, the book is all about earthworms and the…unique…people who have dedicated themselves to studying worms. You would think that earthworms would make a pretty boring subject matter for a book, but the book was so popular and got so much praise (from big shots like Anne Raver at the New York Times) that Amy’s publisher decided to re-release it. Hence the review copy I recently received.

So, how do I go from reading a re-released copy of an immensely popular book on earthworms to becoming the proud owner of 1,000 red wiggler worms? That is for another post. The very next post. I promise. But I want to share a little bit about The Earth Moved.

Normally, the books I review here have pictures. Lots of pictures. In fact, I kind of think that gardening books need lots of really fabulous pictures to be worth reading. In my mind, they’re like cookbooks in that regard. They must have pictures! This book has no pictures. It is not a “how to,” or “inspirational” book in the usual sense. Amy would probably even say that this isn’t a gardening book, and I tend to agree with her. Though it should be of interest to all gardeners.

So what is The Earth Moved? It is Amy’s exploration of the subterranean world beneath her garden, beneath all of our gardens. What the heck are worms doing down there? Amy set about to find out, and she shares her adventures, from the pages of Charles Darwin’s The Formation of Vegetable Mould (a less well known book by the same guy who first described evolution) to the role earthworms played in the banning of DDT in the U.S. in the early 1970s.

Earthworms do all sorts of fascinating things. For example, earthworms are involved in sanitizing sewage at a treatment plant in Pacifica, CA. The same red wigglers that home vermicomposters use in their bins are being used to get rid of harmful bacteria in sewage. Perhaps less disgusting and surprising to experienced gardeners, professional petunia growers also use worms in their business. They have found that growing petunias in a mix of 80% soilless mix and 20% worm castings (i.e. their poop) produces petunias ready for garden centers 1-2 weeks faster than just straight soilless mix.

There are also many fascinating types of earthworms. For example, there is a giant earthworm living in Washington state that smells like lilies. It’s called the Giant Palouse Earthworm (Driloleirus americanus). They’re two feet long! But that’s not even the craziest earthworm Amy wrote about. Keep an eye out for Amy’s story of blue worms with yellow spots. Yep. You read that right. Polka-dotted worms.

I haven’t even scratched the surface (get it?) of interesting things Amy unearthed (ha ha) about earthworms. I think every gardener, even container gardeners (especially container gardeners!), should read and will thoroughly enjoy this book. If you don’t think small-space container gardeners need worms. Stay tuned for my next post…

p.s. Amy Stewart owns a bookstore in Eureka, CA and is a passionate advocate for independently-owned bookstores. Normally when I talk about a book I link to Amazon, but I thought I’d link Amy’s book to IndieBound, a website she turned me on to for locating the books you want to read at a local, independent bookstores. Check it out and give your local shop a try!

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I received The Earth Moved as a free review copy from the book’s publisher. Here is more information about my book review policy.

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