Archives for posts with tag: earthworms

When you’re a gardener, it’s reassuring to know that you have friends.

Friends such as earthworms (the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout…).

Not to mention the pollinators, by which I mean mainly the bees.

Also nice—and quite beautiful—are the butterflies and hummingbirds.

Frogs are friends of the garden as well; they eat plenty of harmful insects.

And then there are dragonflies. I’m not sure if they are beneficial or merely benign but they’re not harmful, definitely. Also, they are curious and always seem genuinely interested in whatever I am doing.

Having harvested the last of the string beans (see September 25, 2013), we decided it was time to clear out the vines and start readying the west planter for winter.  Some gardeners would chop up the vines and till them into the soil to decompose and add organic matter (so-called green manure or green fertilizer).  Others might cut the stems off at the ground surface and leave the roots in place, hoping that symbiotic bacteria (if present) would continue to fix Nitrogen in the soil.

But neither of these ideas appeals to me.  Even though the planter is not that big (four feet by 12 feet), turning the soil would be a lot of work.  And anyway, we are following the no-till approach, which moderates decomposition, improves drainage and minimizes weed growth by leaving the soil surface undisturbed.  Somewhat ironically, it also maintains better aeration by eliminating compaction and encouraging the earthworm population.  In fact, our soil is essentially turned over several times a year by an abundance of energetic Lumbricidae.

Leaving the roots in place would require less effort—even less than pulling them out.  However, we do not necessarily have Nitrogen-fixing bacteria and it is not clear that they would have enough time to make a significant contribution to the properties of our soil.  Besides, it is more likely that we have too much Nitrogen rather than not enough (see June 22, 2013), as evidenced by our crops of carrots, beets and radishes which produced more leaves than roots.

Being completely honest, it probably wouldn’t matter if either alternative had a scientific justification because pulling the vines out is more in keeping with my nature.  I have been described as a neatnik and it is a characterization I do not deny.  At a certain level, getting the planter tidied up for its long winter nap is much more important to me than ensuring that the soil has a proper concentration of Nitrogen.  Our soil’s nutrient distribution can be adjusted in other ways and at other times but I have to look at the empty planter all winter long.

Over the last few days, we’ve been throwing our rejected seedlings onto a refuse pile.  And all the while, I’ve been lamenting their loss.  If only I had a compost pile, then the loss would not be as great.  The seedlings might not be producing any vegetables but they would be contributing to future soil.

It has made me think, though, that perhaps my approach to the compost pile should be similar to the one we ultimately took with the paving project.  Instead of waiting to construct a carefully designed and detailed compost bin enclosure, why not just clear an area and start piling the stuff up?

It would be good enough (the soil and earthworms aren’t as obsessed with aesthetics as I am) and a quick start to the production of local compost.  Best of all, doing so would not preclude building the compost bin of my dreams sometime in the future.

I tend to approach things from an analytical perspective.  When something is or is not working, I want to find out why and usually look for some measurable or otherwise quantifiable property with which to make an assessment.  This approach applies to the garden daily when I decide whether to water or not and weekly and monthly when I determine when to add fertilizer.

On a seasonal level, this trait manifests itself with my plan to send off samples of the garden’s soil for testing.  I did this last year (see September 13, 2011) when assessing the performance of the first planter and planning the soil composition for the second one.  Based on the results of the test (see September 27, 2011), we added amendments to the existing planter and adjusted the ratio of soil components in the new planter.

This year, I’ll be making similar assessments of each planter’s performance.  But because there are now two planters, one of which is in its second season, I’ll be able to make some comparisons as well.  The first planter did very well this year (despite bouts with harmful insects and plant diseases) while the second planter did not (even though all of the plants were quite healthy).  It is my hope that the results of soil testing will provide information as to why and give me some direction on how to make next year’s garden more productive.  Results for the first planter should also tell me whether our additions in the spring were effective.

So I collected soil samples today.  In each planter, I chose four locations (representative of the entire area but otherwise arbitrary), cleared away the mulch, and removed a trowel or two of soil and set it aside.  Then, from the holes in each planter, I took a scoop of soil from the bottom and combined them in a zip-top bag, one carefully labeled “East Planter” and the other “West Planter”.  (They aren’t the most imaginative names but they are clear and distinctive.)  I made sure to remove the earthworms who were trying to stow themselves away for a free trip to New Brunswick, New Jersey.

I put each baggie into a second, larger one (to prevent accidental spilling and mixing), packed both into a box, included an order form and check and sent everything off to the Rutgers Soil Testing Lab.  When I get the results, which should be e-mailed to me in about two week’s time, I will have the information I need to make my comparisons and should have some recommendations for next year’s planting.