Organic Growing with Worms

(A short sample) 

By David Murphy

About the Author

David Murphy is an Australian.   He is a retired tanner who developed a deep interest in recycling organic wastes to repair degraded agricultural soils by natural agents and practices, striving to provide the means of developing a naturally renewable soil fertility.   For eight years he was Vice President of The Australian Worm Growers Association, a founding member of Compost Victoria and Chair of the Compost Quality Portfolio.  He works as a Consultant to Industry and Government within Australia and Internationally on stabilising organic wastes for producing beneficial soil additives by large scale Vermiculture and Aerobic Composting.   He is a recognised authority on organic waste stabilisation.  



To Mother Nature

Who always knows best

© David J. Murphy 2013

This book is copyright.   Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of private study, research, criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission.   Enquiries should be made to the Author at

Murphy, David 1938 –

Organic Growing with Worms

ISBN 0-9579091-0-02

Also by David Murphy

Earthworms in Australia

The Wisdom in Soil


Photography, except where otherwise shown, Margaret Murphy.

 Author's Note


I would like to thank a few people.  The first is my wife Margaret.

Then, (not in any order) Robby Watt, Clive Edwards, Neil Inall, Peter Cundall, Peter Ellyard, Ron Hall, Peter Rabbidge, Des Ferrow, John Buckerfield, Tim Parsons, Patrick Murphy, Jack Payne, Anton Barton, Richard Murphy, Coby Thompson, Peter O’Neill, Chris Carroll, John Sabine, Kevin Wilkinson, Neil Fauser, James Elder, Ursula Murphy, Glen Stephenson, and Toby Bainbridge, all of whom had an influence on me and this book’s content, often without knowing it, but nevertheless making their contributions.

There are a few others who I specifically invited to make a contribution but who did not take up the opportunity.   They could and should have contributed and the book may have been the better for it.  When you read this you will know who you are, so don’t complain to me that you weren’t included or maybe I didn’t report you quite correctly.

I apologise for the fact that I may jump from Imperial measurements - inches, feet, pounds etc - to metric - kilograms, metres and so on, and back.  It is because the example I am quoting is from a time prior to adoption of the Metric system in Australia, or an American example which would be in Imperial and should be faithfully reproduced.

 I also use "s" where my American friends use "z".   This is because as an Australian, I recognise that we speak the correct version of the Queen's English, where they speak a strange Americanised version (they would probably write Americanized) .  

No apology for that though.                                                                                  



“The future depends on what we do in the present”.

So spoke Mahatma Gandhi around 70 years ago.

The great thing about time is that the present is always with us.  If our forebears mucked up their present, we can learn from their mistakes and fix it in our present.

We need to understand that our present is a particularly critical one in Earth’s history. How we behave now decides the quality of mankind’s future. The Global Warming Greenhouse is not an if or maybe and there are no lifeboats.  It’s a bitter reality and the question is :- ”How bitter will the reality be ?”

Worms can sweeten this bitterness.

Of the problems facing this world of ours, two of the major ones are that we don’t recycle our organic wastes and our agricultural soils are severely degraded.  Both of these problems are man-made, the one by laziness, foolish opportunism and expediency; the other by interfering in the natural order in a foolish, short-sighted fashion.  By fixing the first we provide a partial solution to the other.   

Rarely understood is that by causing our agricultural soils to degrade and to lose their structure, a huge amount of carbon dioxide has been displaced from the soil into the atmosphere, where it forms part of the Greenhouse phenomenon.

Worms can be pivotal in correcting these problems, and in using them to do that, you can make a major contribution to stopping the Greenhouse Clock.  

Worms played a major role in establishing a fertile Greenhouse-free world; they can play an equally major role in re-establishing it.

Worms are Masters of Organic Growing; they are Masters of Soil Fertility; they are Masters of Organic Waste Recycling. 

Very broadly, there are two types of worms.  Compost worms which are the link in recycling organic waste into the soil and Earth worms, which are the renewers of fertility in a complex soil ecosystem. All life on our Planet, relies on the soil of the Earth.

Soil fertility and waste recycling are closely linked in the natural cycle of life. But; of all the animals on this planet, we alone are the ones whose wastes are not made available as the food of other, lesser, animals down the food chain.

Remember the old jingle “Every flea upon it’s back, has another flea to bite him and upon that flea, another flea, and so ad infinitem !”  That’s the way it was in nature with waste disposal until we came along and broke the cycle.  We stuff it in plastic bags and bury it where it will create a variety of poisions.

By recycling with worms – becoming worm farmers and farming with worms (which are quite different concepts) – people can play their part in returning our organic wastes to the natural order in environmental preservation, softening the severity of the Greenhouse.

We can solve the man-made problems !

In 1881, Charles Darwin wrote “Of all animals, few have contributed so much to the development of the world, as we know it, as these lowly organised creatures”. The really great thing about truth, is that it stands the test of time. Nothing has changed since 1881, and that statement is just as true now as it was then.

The book Organic Growing with Worms tells how to establish a worm farming (vermiculture) business on a starting stock of only a few thousand worms. What you are reading now isa small part of it.

However, it is not a book confined to worm farming but, perhaps more importantly, its message is to uncover some of the benefits of farming with worms - definitely not the same thing. The nature and history of earth worms has been to contribute to the provision of productive soil, and by constant recycling of nature’s wastes, renewing soil fertility, century after century.

We humans see ourselves as being at the top of the food chain and we have sought to divorce ourselves from it, as not being part of it, not recycling our “wastes”, spurning the natural order, using and abusing, manipulating nature, thinking our superior intelligence conferred a God-given right to ignore the fragile ecology in which we live. To refashion nature to our way, to change millions of years of established order in a few short lifetimes.  But the ecology in which we live is an ancient and totally enclosed system.  If we were to continue our rapacious lifestyle unchecked, our planet would become uninhabitable and we would self-destruct. We can’t just move next door - our neighboring planets don’t support life as we know it. As we trash this place, we have to live in it ! We really have to work more respectfully with Mother Nature. But, we need to do this fairly quickly if we want to avoid stern punishment.

Worms form an essential part of an ecological system which provided the framework in which our environment evolved.  “The Land” is the very pivot of a healthy and life sustaining environment.  We have the opportunity to undo some of the damage we have done, even to partially restore this environment without necessarily going broke in the process.

By understanding and using earth worms intelligently, by going along with them, and fostering them, but only as a component of a wider regime of changes, these incredible creatures can provide the means of restoring health to the land. This can be achieved simultaneously with us continuing to earn our living from the land, but at reduced cost and decreased labor input.

Earth worms used to be vital to the very survival of humans.  When our ancestors were making their way in the world, spreading out to new lands, in history long past, it was the incidence of worms in the soil which dictated their migratory routes and settlements, because often only worm‑populated soils were sufficiently fertile to produce the food necessary to sustain life.

It would be true to say that it was worms which decided where many of the major cities of the world would be built, because it was usually on the better land, the land with worms in it, that people settled, and it was from these small settlements that the major cities grew ‑ covering our best land.  This pattern of development continues and more and more of the better land goes down under bitumen and concrete, year after year.  As we become more and more dependent on the farming of marginal land and in order to maintain the food production needed to sustain life as we have come to know it, this marginal land gets flogged harder and harder.

We have displayed a very cavalier attitude to “The Land”. Many of us forget that without good renewably fertile soil, our economies will collapse. We will starve. Over the last 100 years we have made short sighted and radical changes to our treatment of the land, but most particularly about the time directly after the second world war. A little less eager would have been better !  The Mohikan Indians, before instituting any change, considered first, how this change would affect the next seven generations of their people.   What a contrast to our view of How is this going to affect this year’s profit & loss statement ?, or How will this affect my chances of being re-elected in two or three years ? Or very often this might make the Bank Manager happy !

To boost soil productivity we have developed and vigorously used farming methods which have destroyed the soil ecology and structure, pouring on synthesised fertilisers year after year, more and more.  At first, these practices paid off, because the synthesised fertilisers were applied to already fertile soil, but the soil has been in decline ever since.

More recently, in some recognition of the errors of our recent past, the words “sustainable fertility” have become commonly used. To me, they portray an idealistic concept and the biological equivalent of perpetual motion, or financially like an inexhaustible bank account.  It doesn’t happen. To take out, you have to put in ! The resource must be renewed periodically.  Therefore I don’t use “sustainable” fertility and instead use “naturally renewable”, a feature provided by earth worms

                                                                                                                       AN OLD FARMER’S COMMON SENSE

An old farmer once said to me: ‘Used to be that the only test needed to  see if the soil was good was to walk on it. If it was soft and springy beneath your feet, it was good, because it had worms in it.  That land would be good land and would always grow good crops’.

How can you argue against that sort of logic ?  It’s a well established fact that if you have worms in your soil, then there can’t be much wrong with it and it will be productive. In fact, if there were more of the appropriate worms in the soils of the world, much of the content of this book would be unnecessary. Farmers would be better off and the need for manufactured fertilizers would be greatly reduced – even eliminated.

Really, none of this is new, and everybody knows it. That being so, then why has it become necessary to promote earth worms ? Why is it that we have to go a good country mile to find pasture that is soft and springy beneath our feet ? Why is it now necessary to educate people, farmers and home gardeners alike, to the benefits which earth worms can bring ?

The reason is that we have been educated to the “necessary” use of manufactured fertilisers to make our soils productive. Unfortunately, this greater productivity is frequently short-lived and farmers increasingly find that, to achieve a profitable result, they have to use more and more fertilisers. They find themselves on a treadmill.

The fact that the soils of the world were fertile for millions of years, back beyond our recorded history, when manufactured fertilisers didn’t exist, seems to have been overlooked. We have been led to believe that we can work the soils better than nature. Many aspects of this belief are currently shown as being far from the truth.

Unfortunately for worms, they don’t have a Public Relations team.   They don’t have a lobby group.  They are diminutive little creatures which do their work silently and out of sight.  They’re not hi‑tech.   Their work represents no great breakthrough for science or industry.   They’re good for fishing, but....

The truth is, worms are excellent for fishing, but fishing isn’t all they’re good for.   There’s a lot more to worms than that !

Dry land salinity is seen by most people to be the most serious form of land degradation, but this is not so. It is possibly the most evident given the clearly visible creeping cancer because of the dead plants and the white salt encrustation.

The real culprit in the degraded agricultural land problem is loss of soil structure.  For example, in Australia for every dollar which dryland salinity costs in lost agricultural production, loss of soil structure costs $212. (Source: “Regreening Australia,” CSIRO Occasional paper No.3) Richard Eckersley). 

So severe is this loss of structure that on occasions New Zealand glaciers are tinged pink with Australian inland soil !  But, Australia is not an isolated example. The same is true of the monocultured agricultural soils of America and the entire world.

The task of refurbishing these soils is massive but it can be achieved with time and dedication. Every farmer needs to involve himself and work to reincorporate vegetative matter into the soil so that organic life can return, bringing with it that vital soil restructuring. Worms, their activity and their products can play a leading role in this project !

Worms can do more than help in restructuring degraded agricultural land.   Through this book you will discover how worms can help develop a beautiful and abundant garden for you; make money for you; how they can improve soil productivity; and, also importantly, how they can be significant in developing solutions to some of our society’s most serious environmental problems.

However, try not to lose sight of the fact that worms should not be looked upon as an independently operating super organism. They are a part of an incredibly interrelated and complex system, sequential links of which rely unequivocally on each other for survival. Take out one link, and the survival of the links on either side will be threatened. Indeed, ultimately they will collapse because their lifeline has been interrupted.  A ripple effect will go up and down the chain, so that ultimately, the whole chain will disappear.  But, even though it is an incredibly complex organism, once the soil biota has been destroyed, restoration can be achieved. It is not an easy job, but don’t lose heart.   It can be done if you, personally, do your bit   


It is interesting to note how the increasing wealth and sophistication of mankind affects the environment.

It took 2 million years for the population of the world to reach one billion.  Those of us born before 1950 have seen more population growth over the following fifty years than occurred in the preceding 4 million years. On Monday July 19, 1999 the world’s population reached six billion. It hit seven billion on October 31, 2011, barely 2 years later.   After that, the rate begins to slow though because eight billion won't show until 2025 and nine by 2045.    Dr. David Suzuki speculates that probably the world’s population will ultimately stabilise at around 10 billion.   Go to and watch the Birth Clock – it’s almost frightening ! 

These population increases occur mainly in seaboard cities and as they occur, more land is required on which the extra numbers can build their houses. (To calculate how long it will take for a doubling of population, divide the percentage increase into seventy).  Of this rapidly increasing world population, a high proportion is also increasing in wealth. As wealth increases mankind develops more sophisticated tastes and demands a more varied diet.  The wealthy portion looks to add meat.

Up to now grain made up a substantial portion of the world diet - mainly rice. 50% of the world’s grain production is rice and 95% of that is eaten in the country of production.  One kilo of grain eaten required one kilo of grain produced.  But to add meat to the diet, the formula changes.

If we want to eat a kilo of chicken, we must feed out five and a half kilos of grain.  A kilo of pork requires just short of nine kilos of grain and a kilo of beef, fifteen.  To get that beef onto the family dinner table takes over nine thousand litres of water per kilo ! (That includes processing as well as growing). A dairy cow takes around 120 litres per day !

So, our rapidly increasing, more wealthy population demands more food to be produced which requires more land from a shrinking availability which is also diminishing in its ability to yield harvest.   That’s a one way street if ever there was one ! Countries of small total land area are particularly affected by the population explosion.  A good example is Japan.  Over the past 30 years Japan has lost half of its total cropland and relies more and more on imported food.

Every year, in Australia, as much as 75 billion tonnes of topsoil are washed into the sea as a result of unsustainable farming, which equates to the loss of around 25 million acres of productive land.  Watch a river flowing by, note the colour of the water and realize that you’re watching millions of tons of topsoil on it’s way to the sea !  As a result, we can maintain current levels of food production only with the application of phosphate and other fertilisers, but phosphate reserves are likely to be exhausted well before the end of this century.  Forty per cent of the world's food is produced with the help of irrigation; some of the key aquifers are already running dry as a result of overuse.   Bores in The great Artesian Basin in Australia used to send a jet of water high into the air.  Now those same bores have to be pumped. (Source:Guardian/UK>

Increasingly we demand more from the land than it can give and the end result is destruction of the means of production. Soil structure is ravaged by constant additions of synthesised fertiliser. Common amongst these is urea which is used as a means of pumping nitrogen into the soil in a steroidal fashion. Just what disastrous effect this has on soil structure can be assessed by the knowledge that urea was used during World War 11 for the quick construction of air strips on Pacific islands.

It was used to destroy vegetation and compact the soil.  It was used to destroy the soil biota and structure ! Now it is used as fertiliser ! Come On !  What’s happened to the brains ?!   Maybe urea is not applied to agriculture at the same rate as then, but what about the buildup of resultant acidic salts over time ?

Even in our refined, learned and sophisticated society, at a time in our history where we know so much, we continue to display the hunter gatherer mentality.  Having destroyed land or consumed it for housing, we move on to subjugate more. We clear more land. We slash and burn forest, rain forest and scrub.

This is in addition to the three million hectares cleared each year, just for firewood !

Don’t forget also, that the best land is already gone, buried underneath the concrete and asphalt we know so well.  The new land opened up is constantly less able to meet the demands of an increasingly hungry society.

Our existence is no longer a cycle.   Mankind is the only animal which does not utilise its waste to invigorate and support another form of life.   We live by straight line consumption and it is absolutely not sustainable !  We harvest our agricultural land to feed our cities and that’s where the food cycle stops !

The organic waste from cities is denied access by useful life forms. It is buried in such a way that it is deliberately made to be anaerobic in bags of plastic film.  It is treated in such a way that it contributes materially to our destruction.  By burying organic waste in landfill tips, over time, a high proportion of the carbon - the most prolific element in life forms - is converted to methane gas which will percolate up through the tip capping into the atmosphere. There it works to warm our planet. That very same carbon should/could be used to rejuvenate our soil !

In soil, carbon creates life.  In landfill tips it creates poison !

In spite of this knowledge being known by all governments, (even by Primary School children) there are still government employees actually paid to plan, build and operate landfill tips for organic waste !

Some readers will be commenting mentally ‘But that methane is being tapped off and burned in industry’ and they would be right ! But methane extraction is only successful at extracting at best 60%.  The first 20% (when it is developing and accumulating) and the last 20% (when it is diminishing), cannot be extracted economically. It 's deliberately allowed to escape to the atmosphere.

This is the only living planet we know of.  The only one blessed with life sustaining water and a predominantly temperate climate. It was the combination of these factors that saw the present life forms evolve - us and what supports us.  It is paradoxical that we, the most sophisticated and intelligent of these life forms now threaten the existence of the very fundamental life sustaining system - that of the soil.

The old story about flogging a dead horse is very aptly applied to our soils - globally. But this horse isn’t quite dead yet. Certainly, if we don’t stop flogging, it will die. It will become sand and blow away. But; unlike a dead horse, soil can be rejuvenated.  But, do we have to wait until we are in an extreme global food crisis before we act decisively ?   Please stop for a moment and give this concept some good logical thought.

Did you know that for every one kilogram of wheat produced, because of the total loss of soil structure, the aggregates and biota, no less than seven kilograms of topsoil is permanently lost ? We commit more firmly each year to farming the subsoil.

Waiting to fix the problem until we are in crisis is exactly like waiting until you have lung cancer before you stop smoking.  But, the decline in soil health can be reversed and the death avoided. All it needs is common sense and respect for ourselves and subsequent generations.

For once, let’s be proactive instead of reactive !

A good example of being proactive is “Tandou Farm” in central New South Wales, Australia.  Tandou is in an 8” rainfall, fierce sunlight zone, and draws its water from the Menindee Lakes complex.

Tandou is a property of 200,000 acres, 44,000 acres of which is irrigated.  Having respect for the scarce resources of the land in which they live, the Management of Tandou have installed a drip irrigation system. Underground drippers ! Tandou laid 3000 miles of underground irrigation drippers !  At present the underground dripper system serves an area of 2000 hectares but is being extended as costs permit.   The result is that in spite of the huge area irrigated, the amount of water drawn off by Tandou is equivalent to only 100mm potential loss to surface evaporation from the Menindee Lakes. Compare this to the 1500mm actually evaporated from the lake surface every year !

All of Tandou’s organic wastes are composted professionally on site by qualified operatives, sent from Australia to be trained in America.   Between 3,000 and 5,000 tons of compost are produced annually, depending on the productivity of the year.   The compost is used on site to enrich the soil.

It is this type of forward thinking by the users of our natural resources which has to become dominant in the way we utilise our waste resources.  We have to stop flogging this poor planet of ours and revert to the natural means, to the Master, the Earthworm, and his workmates, to revive our lands and to produce our food stuffs.

The foregoing is a reprint from Organic Growing with Worms by David Murphy.  For more go to

A little extra to show where worms actually fit in the picture. . . . . .

In the download you have just read, I refer to the importance of a microbial population in the soil. In fact, without bacteria, there would be no soil !  Soil is made up of small to minute particles of rock, ground small during the last ice age and degraded organic matter.   Without bacteria, no degradation of the organic matter.  No soil !    The greatest vector for producing bacteria and distributing them in soil is earthworms.  Everything in these writings, short or long eventually points back to worms.  John N. Parle, a Research Scientist of the Department of Agriculture, based in Hamilton New Zealand 1963 published “Microorganisms in the Intestines of Earthworms” and showed that he had found a total population in Lumbricus terristris of 474 billion soil benevolent bacteria living in the gut. But, later research has shown that that figure may have been understated by a factor of 50. Multiply that out and then try and picture that number of bacteria in your mind !

Parle also discovered (1959) that because of the presence of worms in the soil, the number of bacteria per gram exceeded 25,000,000 !  To really learn what it’s all about you should buy yourself your copy of Organic Growing with Worms at the website.