Earthworms and Soil

Earthworms and Soil

At 11 Saturday night the temperature was 40 degrees. I had a frost on June 6th once before so I stayed up for an hour to see what the temperature would do in that time. It dropped to 38. I already had hoops over one row of tender transplants so I went out with a flashlight and draped a cover over them. If I hadn't done that, there probably would have been a frost.

I had a cosmic kind of thought yesterday while turning over some garden soil with the spading fork. Each turn of the soil revealed many earthworms. I went in the house for a drink of water and robins quickly replaced me harvesting the worms I had unearthed before they could wriggle back into the soil.

When I returned to the garden a robin spoke very harshly at me from a nearby tree. It sounded like I was being told to leave the area. Actually, I think they do that when someone is near their nest to cover the sound their young make.

My thought was of a robin watching me so easily expose worms and wishing that in another life they could be a person. If they got their wish, they would then be unhappy when they found that they no longer liked to eat worms. If you want to carry this cosmic line of thought further, be my guest.

Thinking of earthworms reminds me of a conversation from about 20 years ago. The local chapter of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association sponsored talks in those days and one we sponsored was on marketing produce at a roadside stand. We invited a local conventional farmer who had a stand on Route One. In those days many conventional farmers thought organic farmers were, at best, a couple of bales shy of a full load. I'm pleased to say that organic farming is the most rapidly growing sector of agriculture in Maine right now. It is one of only three sectors that is not in decline — ornamentals and cranberries are the other two.

The conventional farmer brought a friend. I think he may have felt we would try to brain-wash him. He gave a great talk. It was really very helpful. One point he really wanted to drive home was that produce had to look good and he wanted to know how we could ever overcome that hurdle without chemicals.

I told him that healthy plants in a healthy soil don't attract insect pests. He was immediately on the defensive. He wanted to know what we did to keep root maggots out of radishes. Healthy plants in a healthy soil was our response.

"My plants are healthy," he proclaimed.

We talked about micro nutrients and how chemical fertilizers didn't supply everything. We talked about organic matter and humus. It was all very amicable but he knew that what he did worked and he couldn't believe that plants could grow without attracting insects that would damage their appearance for market. Ironically it was his friend who tipped the scale. At one point he said to the conventional farmer, his friend, "You don't have any earthworms in your soil, do you?"

"No."

After a pause his friend said, "That's what they are talking about. A healthy soil has earthworms."

Lest you think that I do not respect conventional farmers I will tell you that I place independent farmers of any ilk right near the top of any listing. Farmers have to understand nature, be able to fix things from equipment to buildings, market their products, be bookkeepers, salespeople, managers, planners and risk-takers. This is a generalization but I think farmers have high regard for integrity probably because of their own self-respect. The self-respect comes from being in an occupation that they love.

About the AuthorMort is a husband and father. He is author of the book Gardening For Independence and was named Environmentalist of the Year by Down East Magazine in 1987.

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