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All about earthworms

Grainews readers often guide me in the direction of subject material to write about. For starters, let me inch my way in the direction of earthworms, night crawlers or dew worms as they’re sometimes called. Earthworms can be eight inches long when fully grown and often display a purplish-coloured ring. They are natural aerators and beneficial to the soil, but what is very annoying are the bumpy mounds earthworms often cast on lawns and soil surface.

AN EMAIL FROM WILD ROSE PROVINCE

… gets the words rolling. Terry Alm who lives in the Peace River country of Alberta writes:

Hello Ted,

How are things down your way? Suppose you are looking forward to spring and all the wonderful things you can grow. Actually we are also, being grain farmers all our lives. We’ve been growing mostly wheat and canola along with alfalfa, timothy and brome on six quarters of land along with some rented land. Raymond turned 70 this year so decided to rent out our land to be cropped and we’ll only have the grasses to combine and bale. This year I’m looking forward to more help around the yard and in the new greenhouse we are building now. I’ve always had a garden, growing our basic vegetable supply and a little greenhouse to grow tomatoes and the long English cucumbers in. Years ago we did not have a problem with the earthworms and it was a joyful experience in the garden. It really does feel like spring is in the air and we’d like to get back out there growing things.

We are fans of your Grainews page and we’re hoping you could help us with a problem, being so many earthworms in our garden that the soil just gets to be hardpan within a year of enriching it with well-rotted manure, and/or peat moss. I’ve always thought earthworms were supposed to be good for the soil but it sure does not seem so here. For many years we were not bothered with these worms but now they just seem to have taken over, even in our lawn and flower beds.

We live in the Peace River country of Alberta and several of our gardening friends experience this problem also. If you could shed some light on this it would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely

Terry Alm

Ted’s response: I touched bases with Stacey Hickman, entomologist with Natural Insect Control in Stevensville, Ont., www.naturalinsectcontrol.com and we enjoyed a nice long chat.

We agreed that having some night crawlers is a good thing, but having too many can cause mowing and even walking problems. Stacey calls night crawlers “nature’s rototillers” and says, “they mix the thatch and subsoil as they do their burrowing. This is good for the turf but hard on the people who walk on it or try to mow it. Core aeration, power raking or rolling with a ballast roller will help.”

Let me ask: Don’t all of us really want to help make the dream of living off our own piece of turf whether small or large turn into a reality? Let me move on to some really important lawn maintenance points. Avoid mowing grass too close or too often, especially during dry weather. Set your mower so it leaves at least 2-1/2 inches of grass or even higher.

I think too much fertilizer on lawns, especially nitrogen is part of the problem. Some guys are harder on lawns than earthworms are. If you must use fertilizer, a little in spring is OK. Consider something as plain and simple as 5-10-5 instead of the really expensive stuff.

Have you ever thought of liming your lawn? My personal view is lime can be more important than fertilizer on grass. I shan’t give a specific opinion on how much lime to apply per square yard or metre. Soil, climate and local conditions vary too much across the country. Check with knowledgeable personnel at garden centres that sell horticultural lime and carefully read directions on the bag. Another suggestion is to increase the organic material. That means adding more compost and topsoil onto the lawn to help increase and retain moisture level. In Stacey’s opinion, “earthworms are often in what is known as an in-between area of dry and moist.” Here’s her remedy. Apply a half-inch or more dressing of premixed 75 per cent compost and 25 per cent topsoil evenly over the lawn and rake it in. Don’t sprinkle with any water. Stacey says to “just let the surface dressing do its thing. This helps earthworms to go down deeper a whole lot easier. Give a second application of preblended 75 per cent compost and 25 per cent topsoil over your lawn again in the fall.”

One of my research sources is contrary to what is mentioned above. That source says the best way to discourage earthworms is to use a grass catcher when mowing, to avoid an excess of liming and to reduce the quantity of organic dressings. I sometimes ask myself: Whom are we to believe and what do you, our Grainews readers say?

Core aerating the lawn (removing plugs of soil) is a service provided by many lawn-care professionals and can be very beneficial. Cores or plugs of soil are pulled out every few inches apart and left on the lawn surface, then disappear naturally a few days later, especially if it rains. This improves lawn surface texture and allows moisture to penetrate deeply. Or, you can buy a U-shaped manual hand-held aerator with hollow tubes at the end from garden centres. The probes are also plunged into compacted lawns and remove plugs of grass and soil. This requires a good bit of foot power and manual labour, but may be less effective.

Another option is to compact mounds on lawn surfaces using a heavy roller that has metal protruding spikes placed a few inches apart. Such a piece of equipment is often available on a rental basis at some garden centres and lawn-care or agri-bio-eco outlets.

You may have heard of redworms a.k.a. red wigglers. They are used indoors only for making compost. They do the work and gardeners reap the benefit. This non-native, sort of tropical worm cannot withstand our Canadian winters, so won’t survive outdoors beyond summer. Anyone interested in purchasing red worms or their worm castings and other gentle-on-the-earth items can contact Canada’s friendly organic and environment product supplier:

Natural Insect Control,

3737 Netherby Road

Stevensville, Ont., L0S 1S0

Ph.: (905) 382 2904

SAWDUST OR SHAVINGS MULCH

Fresh sawdust applied as a mulch can cause a depletion of soil nitrogen. One source tells me earthworms will avoid sawdust while another claims that earthworms are happy in sawdust, ground bark and wood chips.

I’ve heard gardeners mention they can’t grow blueberries. On the plus side, some claim that blueberry plants mulched with sawdust will develop a larger, more fibrous root system, resulting in an acidic soil environment that blueberries demand and a higher yield follows. Sawdust mixed 50/50 with well-rotted animal or poultry manure is said to work well around raspberry canes and ornamental shrubs. As well, I suggest scattering a little lime around canes to counteract the acidity of raspberry leaves. If you’ve had experience in any of these areas, let me know your opinion or results.

HARDY ZONE 2 ALBERTA-GROWN DAYLILIES

Want to know where to get some of the toughest winter-hardy daylilies for spring and fall shipping, Siberian iris for spring shipping only, companion perennials for spring shipping only, species lilies, martagon lilies, peonies and fern leaf peonies for fall shipment only? Look to Parkland Perennials, Box 506, Bruderheim, Alta., T0B 0S0, email [email protected] or browse through their website at www.parkland-perennials.com that shows coloured pictures and descriptions of pretty well everything listed in their catalogue. A print copy will be mailed out by request to those who don’t have Internet access.

I, Ted am practically enchanted by some of the dozens of daylily names including: Always A Pleasure, Big Apple, Chinese New Year, Christmas Day, Flaming Poppa, Love Those Eyes, Prairie Blue Eyes and Red Razzmatazz. (Did you notice that — there are four zeds!)

TURF GRASS SEED MIXTURES

One of the very best sources is Early’s Town & Country Garden Centre in Saskatoon; phone 1-800-667-1159, or go to www.earlysgarden.com. Grasses for numerous purposes are one of their specialties including everything for the turf grass professional, cool-season areas of Western Canada, the home lawn grower and busy farmers wanting a low-maintenance country lawn or grounds. Among their dozens of formulas is Reclamation Mix that caught my eye. This improved mixture is recommended for use in reclamation and minimal-care sites and will perform well in less-than-ideal conditions. A few suggested areas include lakeside cottages, trailer park settings, low-fertile dry land, rough soils and roadsides. See the good folks at Early’s. They’re helpful people and will also customize your own seed mix. †

About the author

Columnist

Ted Meseyton

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. I salute all gardeners and farmers who help make our world a little safer and more ecologically balanced, and who toil to provide health-giving produce to others who cannot produce their own. It takes all sorts to make a world. One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives. The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.

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