Feuds over water rights clog the courts.  Governments impose oppressive regulations on landowners.  What can you do when the water police pound on your door?  Here are some tips on winning a water war:

The King’s Rule:     Under English common law, all farmers along a stream must share water equally.  Under Spanish law, the first farmer to settle on a watershed owns all of the water.  Spanish custom is the basis for most water laws in the western U.S.A.  For example, a person with “senior water rights” is often the descendant of an original homesteader = the first person to stake claim to a watershed.

A Napoleonic general once quipped:        “Spain is a land where small armies are defeated and large armies starve”.  To understand Spanish water law, you have to visit Spain.  After Switzerland, Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe.  Half of the land is rocky, barren, and dry.  Irrigation is essential throughout much of the Iberian Peninsula.  No water = no food, which is why Spanish water law is so strictly possessive.

Twisted Legislation:     Over the centuries, Spanish customary law has been widely = wildly interpreted so that modern laws now bear little resemblance to colonial practice.  Such extreme interpretations are the basis for silly regulations where governments claim to own the rain that falls on a farmer’s fields or prohibit a man from collecting water from his own house roof.  Thus, “you must have license to build a pond because the water belongs to the State”.

Take Them to Court:     If you have a combative personality, retain an experienced trial attorney and fight for your water rights.  The most common argument is that “God owns the rain” or, more practically speaking, a farmer owns the rain that falls on his land, but the State may regulate water that flows through or beside his property.  Thus, a farmer can build a pond on his own land but may not dam a common stream.

Justice for Sale:     If you have money to invest, consider buying water rights or shares in a canal company.  Alternatively, drill a deep well.  Over the short term, this is often cheaper than battling in the courts.  If you own canal shares then water regulations are mostly irrelevant because water law is designed to protect the “haves” from the “have nots”.

Beat Them at Their Own Game:     Another strategy is to play the system.  For this you need to read the law and clearly understand the legal definitions of “ponds” and other water control technologies.  For example, many water regulations exempt artificial fish ponds provided they are not directly linked to public waterways.  Meaning:  You can convert an “irrigation reservoir” into a “farm fish pond” by stocking your lake with fingerlings purchased from the nearest State fish hatchery.  Keep receipts in case the local water police try to regulate your pond.  Carefully screen pond outflows so fish cannot escape into State controlled waters.  Most states have programs and publications to help land owners manage fish ponds.  Ask your local fisheries officer or agriculture extension agent for more information.

It’s not a Window, it’s a Door!     Historically, French houses were taxed according to the number of windows.  Crafty homeowners invented the French Door to outwit local tax collectors.  Similarly, you can often dodge water laws by using “creative labeling”.  It is not an “irrigation reservoir” but rather a “water distribution structure”, “swimming pool”, “stock watering tank”, “fire control pond” or “wastewater treatment lagoon”.  Again, make certain that whatever structure you want to build meets official legal definition.  Ask for help from relevant government agencies and meticulously record their involvement.  Thus, you can pit competing bureaucracies against each other.  For example, if the water police hail you into court, the fire control district becomes your ally.

Exceptions Define the Law:     Water laws are all about “loop holes”.  Search for exceptions that you can employ to your advantage.  For example, many regulations exempt dams not more than 6 feet high.  As long as your “water control structure” is under the mark, the water police are powerless to harass you.

Household Water Supplies:     Cisterns and “potable water systems” are often exempt from local water regulations.  Many water laws fail to define or limit the size or capacity of these systems.  For example, when does a pond become a lake?  How big is a kitchen garden?  How much water do you need to fight fires or water livestock?  Is a 2 year water supply too much or not enough?  Do not be afraid to play the numbers, especially in these times of irregular rainfall and extended drought.  Climate change affects everybody.  Translation:  A jury is most likely to find for a homeowner with an empty cistern.

Grandfather Clauses:     Many activities are permissible because they were started or completed before modern laws were enacted.  Thus, your lakes, dams and canals may be “grandfathered” because they predate current water regulations.  “This dam is 100 years old; we are just repairing the spillway”.  Note:  The structure may be a 400-year old archeological ruin, but as long as there is physical evidence of hydraulic engineering it can be grandfathered in most jurisdictions.  Mere traces of ancient canals are sufficient to legally establish prior irrigation works.

The Texas Two-Step:     Sometimes the best way to win a water war is to side-step the issue entirely.  Thus, it is not an “irrigation structure” but rather a “sediment control basin”.  This is more devious than mere creative labeling.  Most soil conservation technology exists to manage surface water.  Thus, what is legal under a soil conservation plan may not be popular with the local water police.  And while the big government bureaucracies are battling each other, you are free to do mostly as you please.  Ask your local soil conservation officer about government services, grants, and low-interest loans for landholders.

Vote with Your Feet:      Sometimes the least expensive way to win a water war is to change jurisdiction.  Move across the border to another province or onto an Indian reservation.  Every state has different laws and Indian lands are governed by Tribal Councils.  What is unlawful in one jurisdiction is legal in another.  Shop around for a location with the most favorable water regulations.  Big corporations do this routinely, and for good reason.  Choose the wrong state and your farm or business could lose vast sums.

Cute Furry Animals:     Supporting local wildlife is politically correct.  Nobody says no to Bambi, not even the water police.  Take all of your land that is not good for crops or grazing.  On many farms and ranches, problem lands take up half or more of total area.  Incorporate these “useless” acres as wildlife preserves.  (Nature reserves are tax exempt and eligible for government environmental subsidies, low-interest loans, and grants).  Now you can thumb your nose at the water police because they will not fight the State Fish & Game Commission.  Build as many ponds, dams, and weirs as you want — just make certain all “water control structures” are included in the watershed management plan for your deer park.  The water police will be powerless to stop you.

The key to success is your official = government approved watershed plan.  The goal is to trap every drop of rain that falls on your land = zero runoff.  Of course there are ulterior motives here.  You are not just signing away half of your farm for nothing.  Supporting wildlife is just an excuse to do what you want = provide water for agriculture and grazing.  This is accomplished by recharging the aquifer = raising water tables.  Use bad land like a giant sponge to soak up and store water.  Sink wells down slope to extract water for crops and animals.  (Drilling horizontal wells avoids pumping costs).  This game works because most states either do not regulate or weakly control ground water.  In most jurisdictions, farmers can draw unlimited amounts of underground water — even in states with highly restrictive surface water laws.

The Spirit vs. the Letter of the Law:     The Government forbids irrigation but you have 27 acres and need to feed your family.  What do you do?  Solution:  Redefine “irrigation”.  Install 27 wildlife drips, one for each acre.  At each water point plant a single fruit or nut tree, berry bush, grape vine, sweet potato, squash or melon.  Surround each plant with a blanket of mulch 8 inches thick to prevent weed growth and soil water evaporation.  Runoff from each drip waters adjacent crop plant.  Thus, you can obey the spirit of the law yet avoid the wrath of the water police.  Talk to your local conservation agency and they might even pay you to install watering points for wildlife.  Birds, toads, rabbits, snakes, mice, chipmunks, bees and other critters all need to drink — especially during a drought.  (You can play the same game with stock watering tanks.  Overflow from each tank waters an apple or almond tree).

Recycled Water:     Why fight for water when you have already won the war?  If you are lucky enough to own land near a wastewater treatment plant, you can get vast amounts of irrigation water super cheap or free-of-charge.  You may have to pay for piping and hook-up to the local municipal water system but this is far less costly than buying water rights or canal shares.  For less than it costs to drill a deep well you can own a water utility company with a single customer — you.  Negotiate a long-term contract to protect your water supply.  Ask to see a water analysis to prevent contaminating your land with unsafe amounts of heavy metals.  Sign a municipal agreement to recycle treated sewage effluent and the water police will leave you alone.  (Act now before some other clever farmer stakes claim to this water bonanza).

Beneath Government Radar:     The water Nazis will not let you build a pond.  Do not blow up and cuss them out.  Cursing the mindless robots is but a momentary pleasure.  Instead, smile sweetly then rent a trenching machine.  Cut narrow trenches 4 to 6 inches wide every 50 feet across your land.  Follow hillside contours or dig trenches perpendicular = at 90 degree angle to water flow across your fields.  Dig trenches as deep as machinery reaches, 4 to 8 feet depth is ideal.  Trenches intercept water and sediment before they run off your land.  Use a back hoe to dig 12 inch wide trenches across canyon floors every 50 feet down the watershed.

A similar technology uses rotary post-hole diggers to excavate a sponge-like matrix across each field.  Fill holes with compost or similar media then plant with deep rooted crops like squash or melons.  Trenches and holes trap vast amounts of water for subsoil storage.  6-inch rains disappear like water in a colander.  Aquifers rise and crops become nearly drought proof.  Subsoil moisture is more important than surface water.

Another related technique is subsoil ripping or keyline plowing.  For this you need 3/4 inch wide blades 12 to 16 inches long spaced 2 feet apart on a tractor tool bar.  Till fields and pastures yearly along contour lines to increase air and water penetration into the subsoil.  Digging trenches, drilling holes, or cutting slits across fields and pastures trap vastly more water than any farm pond.  So let the local water police have their petty victory.  You do not need a pond if your aquifer is bursting beneath your feet.  Sink a well and draw all the water you need.  No government regulation required.

On Again, Off Again:     Streams that are dry part of the year are called seasonal or intermittent waterways.  Seasonal creeks are often exempt from local water laws which concentrate primarily on “permanent” streams, rivers and lakes that are wet year-round.  In desert and semi-arid climates, most canyons = arroyos = wadis = coulees = gullies = washes are seasonal watercourses that run primarily during the winter or monsoon months.  In a good year, a gully might flood 4 to 6 times during the summer.  In a bad year, the same stream might flow only once or twice in a growing season.  Under most canyons are subsurface streams that can flow 5 years between rains.

The best way to manage seasonal creeks is to build small weirs = check dams every 50 to 100 yards down the entire length of the wadi system.  Dump baskets of rocks across stream beds until weirs are 3 feet high.  No mortar or concrete required.  (If stones are small use wire gabions to hold rocks so they do not wash away).  Weirs slow floods so water has more time to soak into ground.  Slow moving water drops sand, silt, and clay behind each weir.  Plant drought-resistant trees in sediments collected behind each check dam.  Every pocket of soft soil acts like a giant sponge holding water and nutrients for improved crop growth.

Canyon systems collect and concentrate runoff from vast areas, effectively multiplying rainfall 10 to 20 times average precipitation rates.  Thus, 1 inch of rain in the uplands = 10 to 20 inches of water in a coulee.  The trick is to get all of this water to soak into the ground as fast as possible.  Dry land agriculture is all about managing water tables.  The aquifers below each arroyo support trees and crops during summer months or extended droughts.

Working at Cross Purposes:     Many water districts have conflicting regulations that a clever attorney can argue in his client’s interest.  What do you do when local ordinances forbid digging ponds yet, at the same time, prohibit landholders from discharging runoff from their property?  Situations like this frequently involve several government departments (irrigation, sanitation, and conservation) each with their own often contradictory edicts.  The best solution is to seek regulatory protection with the strongest local agency then let the bureaucrats fight among themselves.  Divide and conquer.  Build an “erosion control basin” and watch the water police slink away.  Irrigation districts rarely cross swords with municipal water authorities or conservation agencies, and no judge will rule against a property owner who tries in good faith to comply with government regulations.

Go with the Flow:     Some water laws are so strict they ban anything that impounds = stops water flow.  Impound does not mean impede, restrict, or delay.  As long as water continues to flow (however slowly) the landholder is exempt from water regulations.  So if the water police forbid building a pond that does not prevent you from irrigating fruit trees with runoff from household downspouts.  Turn your garden into a giant sponge.  Dig out the topsoil and replace with 100% compost or peat moss.  Organic matter holds 10 times its weight in water.  Channel all runoff to your garden and your crops will be nearly drought proof.  There are many ways to “go with the flow”.  For example, you could build a series of “reflection pools” with 1/4 inch diameter drains.  As long as the water continues to flow 24 hours a day = without stopping your wonders of hydraulic engineering will remain on the right side of the law.

Gresham’s Law:     Whatever the King does not specifically forbid, a citizen may do.  Whatever the King does not specifically command, a citizen need not do.  The key word here is “specific”.  If the government does not explicitly define, require, or limit an action, a landholder is free to do whatever he wants.  Translation:  The Government cannot prosecute a person unless his action violates a previously published law that exactly defines the offense.  Always remember Gresham’s Law when reading or interpreting water laws.  Pay special attention to legal definitions as law is all about little details.  For example, a “swimming pool” is not an “irrigation pond” if it is used primarily for recreation (which does not prevent draining pool weekly to control algae and mosquitoes.  This is part of good pool maintenance practices which are not often regulated by local ordinance.  How drained water may be used is also not controlled in most jurisdictions.  Thus, you can irrigate your garden with drain water from a swimming pool unless this action is specifically prohibited by law, regulation, or ordinance.

Would You Like to Know More?     Please contact the author directly if you have any questions or need additional information about water rights and riparian law.

Please visit:  http://www.agriculturesolutions.wordpress.com  — or — http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.wordpress.com  — or —  send your questions to:  Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania 15108 United States of America  — or —  send an e-mail to:  Eric Koperek = worldagriculturesolutions@gmail.com

About the Author:     Mr. Koperek is an international consultant with many decades of experience developing agricultural water projects.  Between business trips, Mr. Koperek breeds open-pollinated Indian corn, winter squash, and melons.  Mr. Koperek farms in Pennsylvania during the summer and Florida during the winter.  (Growing 2 generations each year speeds development of new crop varieties).








“Biological Agriculture” relies on earthworms and other soil critters to do what plows and synthetic chemicals do in conventional agronomic systems.  Follow the advice below to encourage worm populations in your fields:

–>     There are many species of earthworms around the world.  The most common agricultural species in North America and Europe are the Common Garden Earthworm = Nightcrawler = Lumbricus terrestris, and the Manure Worm = Redworm = Eisenia foetida.  These are the most prevalent species sold by worm hatcheries for fish bait and farming.

–>     Nightcrawlers dig vertical burrows deep into the subsoil.  At night the worms rise to the soil surface to feed = they drag bits and pieces of leaves and other organic matter down into their tunnels.  Walk through a field at night with a flashlight and you will see many earthworms.

–>     Manure worms live close to the soil surface and do not dig vertical burrows.  Redworms are specialized to eat manure and so they are rarely seen except around the base of compost piles or in fields where many animals graze.

–>     31 nightcrawlers or manure worms per ounce; 500 worms per pound; 1,000,000 worms = 2,000 pounds = 1 ton.  1 average earthworm (Lumbricus terrestris) or manure worm (Eisenia foetida) from a commercial hatchery weighs 0.002 pound = 0.032 ounce = 0.9072 gram.

–>     Active, adult earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) eat their body weight in soil and organic matter daily.  Sluggish worms, immature worms, and worms of other species may eat only 10% to 30% of their body weight each day.  1,000,000 common earthworms per acre (about 23 worms per square foot of topsoil 12 inches deep) = 1 ton of earthworm castings = worm manure DAILY during the growing season.

–>     Usage Note:  1 earthworm cast, 2 earthworm casts, many earthworm castings.

–>     Average daily worm cast is about 0.90 gram although weight of surface casts is considerably greater and varies widely.  Average surface cast weight is approximately 10 to 14 grams or about 0.30 to 0.50 ounce.  Surface worm cast weight ranges up to about 2 ounces in temperate climates and considerably more in tropical areas, depending on worm species, soil type, and available food.  For example, 1 average adult earthworm (2 to 3 years old) living in a bed of compost in a tropical climate can produce 10 pounds = 4.54 kilograms of castings annually ~ 12.4 grams ~ 0.43 ounce of castings daily.

–>     Average surface cast volume is approximately 1 Tablespoon = 15 milliliters (plus or minus 7 milliliters).

— >     Earthworms are most active in early spring and mid fall when weather is cool and moist.  Ideal soil temperature = 65 degrees Fahrenheit.  Earthworms are less active during hot, dry summer months.  Earthworms rise to the surface to feed at night then sound to lower soil depths each morning when temperatures rise.

–>     Do not plow in spring or fall if practical as this kills many worms.  Do not plow, cultivate, or spray in early evening, after dark, or early in the morning as this kills many worms.  The best time to till, cultivate, or spray is in the afternoon when temperatures are highest and worms have retreated to cooler soil depths.

–>     Keep fields planted with cover crops in spring and fall to feed worms.  They need much food at this time.

–>     Don’t leave soil bare over winter.  Protect winter fields with an insulating blanket of crop residues, mulch, or cover crops.  1 or 2 inches of organic matter can double earthworm populations.

–>     Earthworm populations increase in direct proportion to the amount of organic matter on the soil surface = leaves, twigs, straw, et cetera.  More cover = more protection & more food = higher worm populations.  Keep the soil mulched or covered with growing plants at all times.  2 inches of mulch double worm populations compared to cornfields where whole stalks are left on soil surface.

–>     Baby earthworms when they hatch from their cocoons = egg cases are very small, only 1/2 to 3/4 inch long.  Earthworms are extremely vulnerable when first hatched.  Do not plow, cultivate, or spray when worms are hatching.

–>     Earthworms need protein in their diet.  Worm populations double on legume fields compared to grass fields.  Earthworms especially favor clovers, particularly white clover.  Include legumes in field rotations, pastures & hay fields, cover crop mixes, and living mulches.

–>     Earthworms breed and grow very slowly.  Baby worms take 2 to 3 years to mature.  A plentiful, steady food supply is essential to support maximum breeding and population growth.  More organic matter (roots, stems, leaves) = more food = faster population growth = more worms.

–>     Earthworms do not spread rapidly.  A worm colony might spread 3 feet in a year.  That’s as fast as earthworms go.  To “seed” worms drop 6 nightcrawlers every 30 feet then immediately cover with a generous heap of mulch, compost, or manure = whatever worms are used to eating.  It takes at least 10 years for worm colonies spaced 30 feet apart to spread across an acre-sized field.  1 acre = 43,560 square feet = 4,840 square yards ~ 0.404 hectare.

–>     Adult worms are particularly sensitive to dietary changes.  For example, worms raised in hatcheries die if placed in corn fields because they have problems adapting to new, strange foods.

–>     Do not try to seed Manure Worms = Eisenia foetida in crop fields.  The manure worms will die because they are not adapted to this environment.  Use only nightcrawlers = Lumbricus terrestris for agricultural development, mine reclamation, terraforming, reforestation, and similar environmental restoration projects.

–>     If you need to seed worms, talk to the hatchery and ask for their best deal on earthworm cocoons.  Baby worms adapt quickly to any food available.  Mix egg cases gently with screened peat moss, corn meal, sifted compost, or similar carrier then “plant” with a common grain drill.

–>     Switching from conventional tillage to no-till does not happen overnight.  Conversion speed is entirely dependent on earthworm food supplies.  There is no solution for worms’ low natural reproduction rates.  Buying more worms or egg cases won’t make the process go any faster.  You can’t fix this problem by throwing money at it.  Patience is required.  You won’t see substantial improvements in soil structure or fertility until the fourth or fifth year of no-till ~ 2 earthworm generations.  Dramatic differences become smack-upside-the-head obvious by the 7th or 8th year without plows ~ 4 worm generations.  Conversion speed is controlled by how many tons of organic matter are added to each field.  Start looking at crops in terms of their biomass production.  This game is all about weight.  The farmer with the most tons wins!

–>     Tillage kills earthworms.  Loses depend on plow type, tillage depth, and time.  Chisel plows are the most destructive, disk plows slightly less so.  Old fashioned moldboard plows are the least destructive of all conventional tillage implements.  Chisel plows kill 3 times as many earthworms as moldboard plows.

–>     RULE:  Less tillage is better than more tillage.  Shallow tillage is better than deep tillage.  “Warm tillage” (afternoon & summer) is better than “cool tillage” (spring, fall, morning, evening, and night).

–>     Till just enough to get your crop in the ground.  Disturb the soil as little as possible.  All you need is a small hole to set transplants or a narrow slot to sow seeds.  It is rarely necessary to till more than 2 inches deep (unless you are planting potatoes).

–>     No-Till is better than strip till which is better than ridge till which is better than whole surface conventional plowing.

–>     Rear mounted rototillers are ideal tools for shallow tillage.  For example:  Broadcast winter wheat and Dutch White Clover = Trifolium repens into standing weeds or cover crop.  Mow vegetation then rototill only 2 inches deep to get seeds into the ground.  Irrigate to firm seedbed or wait for rain.  Your field will look rough and trashy but the litter is necessary to prevent wind and water erosion.  Some seeds will be buried too deep, others too shallow, but enough will germinate and survive to produce a good crop.  If soil is too wet, omit rototilling.  You will still make a profitable crop.  Small seeds do not absolutely need to buried in earth.  Cut weeds or nurse crop will cover and protect seed.

–>     Earthworms do not “like” to eat maize leaves and they especially dislike whole corn stalks and cobs.  Continuous corn = planting maize in the same field year after year reduces earthworm populations to minimal levels.  For best results use a stalk chopper or forage chopper to shred dead corn plants so they decompose faster.  Plant maize into a living mulch of Red Clover = Trifolium pratense or other nitrogen fixing legume.  Follow corn with fall turnips or other cover crop to feed and protect worms over winter.  Rotate corn with legumes or other broad leaf cover crops.  Do not follow maize with a grass or cereal crop unless also planted with a companion crop of clover or other legume.  Broad ecological diversity favors large earthworms populations.  Translation:  Worms like a varied, balanced diet.

Example:     Plant forage maize at 80,000 to 100,000 seeds per acre to kill weeds.  Flatten with a roller-crimper or cut with a sickle bar mower after 70 days (18 tons biomass) or approximately 110 days (30 tons biomass per acre).  This is called Mulch-In-Place.  Direct seed pumpkins or squash through the corn mulch with a no-till seeder.  At the same time, broadcast Dutch White Clover = Trifolium repens or other low growing legume over field.  Clover fills any gaps in the mulch and provides earthworms with a “balanced diet”.  Result:  95% or better weed control and few insect pests.  Mulch keeps fruits clean so farmer gets premium prices for his pumpkins.

Note:     Mulch-In-Place is used to grow crops without herbicides.  Popular mulch crops include Winter Rye = Cereal Rye = Secale cereale in temperate climates and Sunn Hemp = Crotalaria juncea in tropical and subtropical climates.

–>     Adult earthworms can live 9 or more years in captivity.  How long worms live in the wild is unknown.

–>     Worms constantly maintain their burrows which often extend 5 to 6 feet into the subsoil.  About the diameter of a pencil, worm holes are essential for aeration and drainage of natural soils.  Fields with populations of 1 million earthworms per acre typically contain approximately 900 to 1,200 MILES of tunnels.  These tubes are lined with “earthworm cement”, a natural glue that keeps tunnels open many years after resident earthworms have died.  Plant roots follow earthworm burrows deep into the subsoil where moisture levels are relatively constant.  This is why crops grown in biologically managed fields have considerable drought resistance.  (Crop roots also follow weed roots into the subsoil, especially weeds with deep taproots.  This is why melons grown in weeds make a crop in dry years while clean cultivated vines shrivel and die).

–>     If agricultural wastes are plentiful earthworms can be fed just like crop plants on an irrigation schedule.  Apply weed seed meal, spoiled corn meal, dried brewer’s grains or similar DRY organic “fertilizer” at 2 Tablespoons (1/8th cup) per square foot ~ 1 ounce per square foot ~ 5 pounds per 100 square feet ~ 1 ton (2,000 pounds) per acre.  Apply WET materials like spent brewer’s grains or fresh cow manure at 8 Tablespoons (1/2 cup) per square foot ~ 4 ounces per square foot ~ 25 pounds per 100 square feet ~ 5 tons per acre.  Broadcast worm food on soil surface.  Reapply as needed when food is eaten = no longer visible on soil surface.

–>     Ammonia based nitrogen fertilizers kill earthworms.  The worst form is anhydrous ammonia gas.  Liquid ammonia fertilizers are far less injurious.  Note:  Organic fertilizers can also be lethal.  Excessive amounts of manure lagoon effluent decimate worm populations.  It is good practice to irrigate before applying ammonia or any fertilizer, chemical or organic.  (Irrigation prevents plants from absorbing too much fertilizer at once.  Over-fed plants attract insect pests).

–>     RULE:  Chemical fertilizers (or manure lagoon effluents) are best applied in small amounts throughout the growing season, ideally diluted in irrigation water.  For best results do not apply fertilizers to bare soils; apply nutrients only to growing plants.  Earthworms are quite sensitive to concentrated chemicals, organic or synthetic.

–>     To stabilize ammonia in animal manures mix with 5% phosphate rock powder by weight (100 pounds of phosphate rock per ton = 2,000 pounds of manure).  Store under cover until needed.  Spread or incorporate manure on field then immediately seed with Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) or other phosphorous absorbing cover crop.  (Mixing phosphate rock with manure greatly increases phosphate availability to crops.  Organic acids in manure make phosphorous soluble).

–>     Concentrated chemical fertilizers (especially nitrogen) decrease soil organic matter and earthworm populations.  Spread supplementary organic matter on fields where chemical nutrients are applied.  Whenever practical use organic fertilizers to encourage earthworm growth.

–>     How Earthworm Populations Vary by Soil Type and Land Use

50,000 worms/acre ~ 1  worm/square foot:  Moldboard Plowed Continuous Corn; Acid Peat Soils.

80,000 worms/acre ~ 2 worms/square foot:  No-Till Continuous Corn with Herbicide.

150,000 worms/acre ~ 3 worms/square foot:  Fine Gravel Soils; Coarse Sandy Soils; Medium & Heavy Clay Soils.

170,000 worms/acre ~ 4 worms/square foot:  Bare Earth Orchards (Conventional Cultivation); Alluvial = Silt Soils; Light Clay Soils; Heavy Loam Soils.

225,000 worms/acre ~ 5 worms/square foot:  Medium Loam Soils; Fine Sandy Soils.

250,000 worms/acre ~ 6 worms/square foot:  Chisel Plowed Corn & Soybeans Rotation; Chisel Plowed Continuous Soybeans; Light Loam Soils.

500,000  worms/acre ~ 12 worms/square foot:  No-Till with Herbicides.

650,000 worms/acre ~ 15 worms/square foot:  Moldboard Plowed Continuous Soybeans.

1,000,000 worms/acre ~ 23 worms/square foot:  Biological No-Till (Rye Mulch-In-Place); Orchards with Mixed Grass & Legume Sod; Undisturbed Tall Grass Prairies & Hay Fields; Natural Alpine Meadows.

1,300,000 worms/acre ~ 30 worms/square foot:  Biological No-Till with Mixed Species Cover Crops; Fields Fallowed 5 Years (Mostly Broad Leaf Weeds).

2 million worms/acre ~ 46 worms/square foot:  Continuous Clover Living Mulch; Organic Gardens; Dairy Pastures; Manure Fertilized Fields (22 Tons per Acre Yearly).

3 million worms/acre ~ 69 worms/square foot:  Year-Round Mulch 8 Inches Thick (Vineyards & Berry Farms); Sheet Composting 12 Inches Thick (Orchards); High Humus Organic Gardens; Raised Beds Filled with Compost, Leaf Mold, or Manure.

4 million worms/acre ~ 92 worms/square foot:  Undisturbed Temperate Deciduous Forests with Deep Leaf Litter; Intensively Grazed Alpine Pastures.

5 million worms/acre ~ 115 worms/square foot:  Temperate Rain Forests in Oregon & Washington.

6 million worms/acre ~ 138 worms/square foot:  Intensive Rotational Grazing Dairy Pastures; Manure Fertilized Fields (44 Tons per Acre Yearly).

7 million worms/acre ~ 161 worms/square foot:  Greenhouse Beds 3 Feet Deep Filled with Composted Manure.

8 million worms/acre ~ 184 worms/square foot:  New Zealand Sheep Pastures (Intensive Rotational Grazing).

Note:     Numbers are approximate.  Expect considerable variation between countries, climatic zones, elevation above sea level, and land management practices.  Earthworms do not thrive in acidic soils, poorly drained soils, rocky or sandy soils, or tight heavy clays.  The most important environmental factor for earthworm survival is ORGANIC MATTER.  Earthworm numbers increase or decrease dramatically depending on the amount of available food.  Highest populations occur on soils where plants grow year-round, and on soils covered with substantial depths of leaf litter or other plant materials.  To estimate worm populations use a tape measure and straight-edged garden spade, dig a 1 cubic foot soil sample, then carefully break apart the soil and tally earthworm numbers.  Multiple samples per acre yield more accurate estimates.

–>     1 million earthworms per acre is the Holy Grail for most farmers.  This goal is unreachable with conventional farming practices.  To increase worm populations on a field-scale basis requires a long-term soil conservation strategy including crop rotations, cover crops, living mulches, and reduced tillage.  Additional measures such as improved drainage (vertical mulching or tile lines), increased aeration (subsoil ripping or keyline plowing), and erosion control (terraces, contour planting and strip cropping) may also be required.  Overriding all is the logistics of food supply = providing sufficient tonnage of organic matter to feed an army of earthworms and other soil critters.  This is rarely accomplished unless the soil is covered with growing plants 365 days each year.

–>     A watershed management plan is recommended as more water = more vegetation = higher earthworm populations.  The goal is to capture and store every drop of rain that falls upon your land.  Passive or active irrigation may be needed to maintain worm populations at desired levels.

–>     Reaching the goal of 2 or 3 million earthworms per acre is nearly impossible without some form of “mixed agriculture” = crops and farm animals.  Animals provide manure needed to feed large numbers of worms.

–>     Cow manure applied at 1 pound per square foot ~ 22 tons = 44,000 pounds per acre yearly is sufficient to maintain populations of 1 million earthworms per acre (on fields where plants are grown year-round = 365 days annually).

–>     Earthworm populations soar when pastures are managed by intensive rotational grazing or mob grazing.  High concentrations of livestock (300 to 1,500 Animal Units per acre per day) deposit vast quantities of manure.  Fresh manure is excellent worm food.  (1 Animal Unit = 1 AU = 1,000 pounds of live animal weight, regardless of species).

–>     The ancient Roman practice of cattle penning relies on earthworms to help restore “tired”, “weak”, or “sick” fields.  Erect temporary fencing around land to be healed.  Broadcast seed or spread wildflower hay over soil.  Fill enclosure with livestock until land is “well crowded” = animals have just enough room to turn around ~ 8 x 8 feet = 64 square feet per cow ~ 680 cows per acre.  Feed livestock in pen until land is “well dunged and trodden” = 1/2 to 1 pound of manure per square foot ~ 10 to 20 tons of manure per acre = move livestock to new pen every day or every other day.  Cattle stomp seed into earth.  Earthworms and dung beetles till soil.  Manure and urine fertilize ground.  Pastures or fields are “enlivened” = revived by intensive dose of organic matter which causes soil critter populations to soar.  Soil organisms jump start biological nutrient recycling system which supports land revegetation.  Earthworms provide natural soil restoration without tractors, diesel fuel, or synthetic chemicals.

–>     Greek philosophers first noted the link between earthworms and improved crop growth.  This observation led to the development of worm farming practiced by cottagers and other small landholders who did not have cows or draft animals to produce manure for fertilizer.  In spring spread cut weeds and other green plant materials over garden.  Apply mulch thickly = 8 inches deep.  This was the original green manure.  In fall, rake tree leaves and spread over garden 8 inches deep.  Keep garden covered with weeds and leaves year-round.

The night before planting, take a lantern and collect earthworms from hay fields or pastures.  Put worms in a pail with damp moss or leaf mold to keep the “wrigglers” from drying out.  Set several worms with each seed or transplant.  cover immediately with soil and just enough mulch to lightly shade the soil.  When plants are established tuck mulch close around their stems.  Water garden as needed.  Do not spade, fork, plow, till, hoe, or cultivate soil — just plant, mulch, and harvest.  Continuous mulch feeds and protects earthworms and topsoil.  You can run entire farms on nothing but fresh cut weeds and native earthworms.  Space rows widely so there are sufficient weeds to mulch crops liberally.

–>     Over a typical 5 to 6 month growing season, 1 million earthworms per acre will excrete 150 to 180 TONS of worm casts.  These are deposited throughout the soil profile from the surface to approximately 6 feet deep.

Note:  This is a vast amount of nutrients ~ 6.88 to 8.26 pounds of earthworm castings per square foot!  Where does all the fertilizer go?  There are far more available nutrients than any crop could possibly absorb.  This is a mystery.  Nutrient recycling must be extremely rapid with most of the fertilizer elements held within soil critters and organic matter.

–>     Fertilizer Analysis of Surface Earthworm Casts Collected Nightly for 31 Days in July 2011 from 16 Organic Farms in Austria:

2.56% Nitrogen : 1.31% Phosphorous : 1.56% Potassium: 3.69% Calcium = 51.2 pounds Nitrogen + 26.2 pounds Phosphorous + 31.2 pounds Potassium + 73.8 pounds Calcium per ton of earthworm casts.  Average organic matter content of earthworm casts sampled = 7.1% by dry weight.  50 casts bulked for each sample.  16 farms x 31 days = 496 samples total.

–>     Average Nutrient Concentration in Earthworm Casts:

5x Nitrogen (500% more N than found in parent soil)

7x Phosphorous (700% more P than found in parent soil)

10x Potassium (1,000% more K than found in parent soil)

1.5x Calcium (150% more Ca than found in parent soil)

3x Magnesium (300% more Mg than found in parent soil)

Earthworms are living fertilizer factories.  They ingest their weight in soil and organic matter daily then excrete manure containing concentrated plant nutrients.  These nutrients are highly available = easily absorbed and will not “burn” plant roots.  Earthworm casts are rich sources of essential plant micro-nutrients.  These trace elements are often “tied up” = unavailable in parent soils but highly soluble in earthworm casts.  Plants fertilized with earthworm casts rarely require additional nutrients.  This is why earthworm casts have been the standard natural greenhouse fertilizer since the 17th century.

Would You Like To Know More?     Contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need additional information about managing agricultural earthworm populations.

Please visit:     http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com  — or —  send your questions to:  Eric Koperek, Editor, World Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania, 15108 United States of America  — or —  send an e-mail to:  Eric Koperek = worldagriculturesolutions@gmail.com

About The Author:     Mr. Koperek is a plant breeder who farms in Pennsylvania during summer and Florida over winter.  (Growing 2 generations yearly speeds development of new crop varieties).