The Glory Has Departed
Norma Boeckler, Artist-in-Residence
Bethany Lutheran Worship on
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Using Earthworms in the Garden
Earthworms are already in the soil. Many people are familiar with dew-worms, which are often collected at night for fishing. The dew-worm cannot be tamed for domestic reproduction, so they have to be collected individually. Another fishing worm is the red wiggler, which is commonly grown on worm farms and used for fishing, composting, and improving the soil. I buy them from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. The first time they did not arrive quickly, which is a problem with living worms. I received a free replacement for the 2,000 worms just as the late, somewhat dried shipment arrived. That gave me an abundance of earthworms to spread around the yard.
Shewell-Cooper, a famous British gardening expert, had a significant insight that has not made the impact it deserves on the bookshelves. He made tons of compost and used it as mulch, arguing the earthworms would pull down all the soil could use. The rest of the compost would serve as a weed barrier and be renewed as needed.
Gardening books obsess about ways to make the work more difficult, although they pay a bit of homage to the far more effective earthworm moving and fertilizing the soil. The next step from hauling finished compost to the garden for mulch is to create compost in place by planning the mulch as a one-time, or fairly rare soil amendment, left on top, never stirred and rototilled into the soil.
Another gardening writer is the Maven of Mulch – Ruth Stout. Mulch is the name we use for laying down organic matter that will block the sun from germinating weeds, hold moisture in, and avoid erosion from wind and water. Stout advocated using a deep layer of plant material to accomplish this. Although I composted and hauled finish compost around in my early days of gardening, I decided to merge Shewell-Cooper with Stout and simply make instant compost out of the lawn by mulching it after planting roses. This has great promising in reducing the labor in establishing a rose garden in a lawn:
· No rototilling.
· No spraying.
· No hauling wheelbarrows of compost from the backyard to the front. Hint – never build a compost pile downhill from the garden. As I did in New Ulm.
The initial labor consisted of digging the holes and planting the roses, covering the lawn with newspapers, and covering the newspapers with shredded wood mulch from Lowe’s.
Leave It to the Earthworms – This Way
The entire yard can become a haven for earthworms and for all other creatures these steps are taken. Many will invite themselves in, like the toads, simply because an earthworm-friendly yard benefits the entire coalition of wildlife engineers, from the microbes to the bird population.
a. Order red wiggler earthworms from a supplier and expect them in a few days. An order of 2,000 may seem small, but the same worms will double in size shortly, after re-hydrating.
b. Place a few at a time, on top of the soil, in various places, starting with corners of the garden area and composted or mulched areas. I used borders of the house, the fences, and a few places in the middle of the lawn. Earthworms on top of the soil, when it is daylight, will have them dig down to their new homes at once. No need to mix, stir, or rototill them.
c. Create earthworm habitats with an abundance of organic matter. Circle some chickenwire from a hardware store and fill it with grass clipping, tree leaves, and garden trash. Neighbors are delighted to dump their vines, vegetable trash, corn and sunflower stalks in that pile. They are feeding the lawns, trees, and flowers all around by centralizing the earthworm population.
d. Instead of raking and giving away autumn leaves, rake them onto garden areas. Earthworms, mites, and springtails quickly reduce them to soil food in the spring. In the winter, they hold moisture, insulate the teaming microbes beneath, and start to decay.
e. Let that beautiful taproot herb called dandelion have their way in various places in the yard. They mine calcium and other minerals, break up hard clay soil, create fluff for the birds’ nest, greens for the table, and a shower of organic matter for the soil. Pull a dandelion after a long rain and an earthworm will probably be curled around the root – homeless and yet testifying to God’s engineering and planning.
f. Consider whether those big, ugly, healthy weeds in the back are really bad – most are not – or actually beneficial for the soil, birds, and beneficial bugs. Why plant berry bushes for the birds when birds plant pokeberry on their own? Tall weeds are soil builders with deep taproots and shelter for the creatures we take for granted, including the earthworms below.
The earthworm’s role in the infinite dependencies of the garden is beyond comprehension.