By Don Trotter


Hello fellow earthlings, this month we are going to take a voyage into the undersoil world of Dr. Jacques Curly-eau in search of probably the most beneficial organism in the garden , the amazing earthworm. These Lumbricids (scientific family name) are by far the most welcome of guests in the garden and are universally revered for their ability to help out garden soils by simply doing what they do best. Earthworms in the garden have always been associated with healthy soil, or soil with lots of organic matter for them to munch out on. This month's column will briefly touch on how to lure more earthworms into the garden by doing little work and without the need for any financial stress.

arthworms are one of those garden denizens that work on the gardener's behalf without asking for much in return. All it takes to cultivate a healthy earthworm population is some patience, refraining from the use of harmful pesticides and chemical fertilizers and providing a reliable source of organic matter in the form of mulch or compost. These three things along with a minimal constant moisture level in the soil can help an earthworm population to become established in the garden. If you take these simple steps toward a healthier garden the earthworms will come in droves to check out the food supply, and if you keep the compost/mulch coming they'll stay and eat and make little worms for as long as you like.

The patience part is directly linked to the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. It is not necessary to feed your garden with these super fertilizers that are actually antagonistic to balanced health in the garden. Pesticides may kill that bug today, but they'll be back in larger numbers and with a resistance to that pesticide. That is why the chemical companies are constantly coming up with new pesticide formulas. If their products worked, the bugs wouldn't develop tolerances to the chemicals. So their answer is make the chemicals more toxic.

Let me assure you that you and your garden, not to mention your wallet, will feel much better when no more chemical pesticides or fertilizers are applied to your garden. You will immediately notice an increase in pest insects, but there will also be predatory and parasitic beneficial insects there to control the pest population. More birds and butterflies will also visit your garden. The increase in life will be phenomenal. This living dynamic is known to be good for the organisms that inhabit the above ground habitat as well as the environment below the ground. An"unlearning" of the instant gardening technique is necessary to have the healthy gardening technique. If you plant in the morning today, it doesn't need to have food by this afternoon. Wait a little while, watch and enjoy the growth of the members of the garden, you'll understand their habits and become more connected to your personal Eden.

The practice of mulching or composting goes back many centuries and has been widely accepted as the best way to establish more life in garden soils. For those of you who are already composting your organic waste, you know what I'm talking about. Those of you who do not compost or mulch can find many inexpensive and convenient sources around San Diego county for mulch. Some communities actually provide free green waste mulch to residents of that community on certain days of the month.

Contact your waste management firm to get information on where you can find green waste mulch in your area. You can also call me and I'll direct you to a source in your area. Composting and mulching also save you money on your water bill. This is because both a layer of compost or mulch over exposed garden soils creates a vapor barrier from which water cannot evaporate from even fractionally as much as it does on exposed soils. So mulching also saves you on water as well as making your garden soil more fertile.

When you have done these things as a practice in the garden, earthworms and other beneficial organisms and insects will begin to appear. By providing a sufficient supply of available organic matter to the worms, they will begin breaking it down into plant food for you. Earthworms take the organic compost/mulch that you provide them and take it back down under the ground where they digest it, turning it into "Wormcastings" which are some of the most valuable fertilizers anywhere to be found. A single earthworm consumes his body weight in organic matter in a day. They also create that much casting. It's not hard to do the math, if you have 500 lbs. of earthworms in your garden (1,000 worms to the pound is the rule) you are processing 500 lbs. of organic matter into your soil every day, 365 days a year. That's impressive.

As you can see, a little patience and your garden/Eden can be a place where life is the word of the day and nature takes care of the rest. Next month we will be continuing our discussion on "Bio-diversity", and how even the smallest garden can be transformed into a pesticide-free place without a ton of trouble or maintenance.

Got Questions? Call Don at his toll-free Gardener's helpline 1 (888) 514-4004 or e-mail him at . Don Trotter operates The Organic Gardener's Resource and Design Centre in Encinitas, and is a consulting horticulturist and an award-winning garden designer.

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