Nature's Workers: The Worms and the Bees
Written by Angus Stewart
There are many fundamental processes that occur in nature which are not immediately apparent to us, and two of the most important creatures carrying out these processes are the worms and the bees, nature’s workers. Both of these creatures perform essential roles in nature and thus also in the garden, and this article will look at what we know about worms and bees and why they are both such interesting and important creatures, not just in the garden, but on a global scale.
The work of the bees is far more noticeable to us than that of worms, and bees have long been recognised for their role in pollination and the useful substances they produce. Bees and honey have a long history in the mythologies of different regions, and there are artefacts depicting bee goddesses from early Aegean civilisations dating to the 7th century BCE. The structure of the bee hive and colony has long been studied, and beekeeping dates back many thousands of years. In the 18th century, the study of bees advanced enough in Europe to enable methods of harvesting honey without damaging the colony.
Bees also play a very significant role in pollinating flowering plants, a role which has gained more attention in recent times due to the phenomenon of colony collapse disorder occurring amongst western honey bees in the United States and Europe, as well as declining rates of all types of bee worldwide. This has been attributed to various causes, with no single cause yet discovered for colony collapse disorder, but pesticide use has been the focus of much attention, as well as infections with Varroa mites or other pathogens or diseases. Over the last five or six years, the European Union have banned a number of pesticides in an effort to reverse the decline in bee and other insect numbers.
Worms, on the other hand, have remained relatively unnoticed for a long time, but they play an equally important role in ecosystem processes. Indeed, it was not until 1881, when Charles Darwin published his work "The formation of vegetable mould, through the action of worms, with observation on their habits" that worms gained much interest as an object of scientific study. Darwin had actually been studying earthworms for many decades and was fascinated by them, and by publishing his work on worms he hoped to try to illuminate their complex nature and the immensely important work performed by these seemingly insignificant creatures.
At the conclusion of his work on worms, Darwin states: “Worms have played a more important part in the history of the world than most persons would at first suppose.” With the recent uptake of worm farming, the fundamental role of worms in composting and soil regeneration is becoming more widely known among gardeners and hopefully the general public – Darwin would be no doubt highly approve of the growth of worm farming over recent decades! Worms are an invaluable friend for gardeners, as they transform organic matter into nutrient-rich castings which are beneficial for plants, as well as aerating and gently turning the soil through their movement.
Encouraging these wonderful creatures in your garden or local area is easy and great fun. Worm farming is a great way to see up close how worms function, and it’s also an excellent way to reduce organic waste and create free, high-quality fertiliser. For the bees, plant lots of flowers for them to visit, including plenty of natives, and ensure you have a variety of plants that will flower throughout the year so the bees have a continuous supply of nectar. You can also make or buy a native bee hive with a range of different sizes and shapes of wood to suit the different species of native bee.