Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Worm Turns

or A Slimy Success

For some reason, I always thought it was a bad thing when "the worm turned"—I vaguely associated the phrase with treachery, and from there took but a short step to envisioning treachery committed in shadowy rooms by people with white Persian cats, more generalized acts of dungeony skulduggery, and deeds of cloak-and-dagger derring-do of the darkest, direst, dourest sorts.

Turns out, it's no such thing.  It just means that even small, lowly creatures will defend themselves if pushed. 

Which makes much more sense, of course, because, as every gardener knows, worms are never the villains.  Worms are our heroes.  More than that, Worms Are Our Friends.

And joy of joys, I now have friends in the garden!  Worms!  Plural!  More than one!  Two that I know of, for sure!  Those of you with loam-rich soils, kindly do not sneer.  If you have yawned rolled your eyes sat enthralled through my occasional descriptions of the local dirt, you will recall that New Mexico does not have "soil."  Here in the former flood-plain of the Rio Grande, at any rate, we have a fair amount of sand mixed with a fair amount of clay (a fine recipe for brick), a good dollop of decomposed granite, no (NO) loam or organic matter, and plenty of minerals, most of which cannot be metabolized by plants because of an overabundance of calcium—altogether a mixture so alkaline that, as I like to point out, it bubbles if you pour vinegar on it (yes, I have tried this at home).  We might as well post a sign at the state line saying, "Worms need not apply."

I hope you will understand, then, why I danced a happy jig and squealed out loud when I unearthed a couple of worms the other day.  I was planting a Carolina jessamine against the wall between the two largest sand cherries, in a patch where all the cedar mulch from three beds has drifted after four years' worth of wind storms and begun to decompose—a small area that's shaded, relatively moist, and rich middle class not entirely poor in organic matter. 

And there were worms.  Their dark meanderings disturbed, they writhed around at the surface looking discommoded (no doubt getting ready to turn). They are probably red wrigglers left over from an abortive attempt at vermicomposting, which I cast out last year to fend for themselves on the abortive attempt at a compost pile.  Apparently they have found a happy home, somehow managing not to be abraded to death by our "soil" in the process.

I would have taken a photo, only since the worms were brownish against brown soil in full shade, I was afraid it would turn out looking something like this:

Remember the old days, when we used to leave lens caps on?
so I didn't.

Since then I've learned all sorts of interesting things about earthworms—did you know they have a crop and gizzard?  Just like chickens, only without the feathers and clucking.  Since they don't have teeth, they depend on ingested sand and small rocks in their gizzards to do the "chewing" for them.  Considered like that, far from being a detriment, the New Mexico soil may even help them—these worms could well produce some of the best-chewed, well-digested castings in all of North America.

And boy, do I


  1. I really enjoyed this post. Good luck to your two worms, may they flourish and multiply in the New Mexico soil.

  2. Reading about worms always reminds me of Dylan Thomas, "A worm tells summer better than the clock...."

  3. I am beginning to wonder if our yard has any worms left, given the surprising abundance of birds yanking them out of the ground.

    P.S. I've been having trouble with Blogspot. Had a really nice long reply to your comment on my post about sleep problems, but it vanished, and then I was too exhausted to recall what I had just typed :(

  4. Stacy, I truly understand. I think what we have here is entirely eroded rocks. Eroded down to sand (sand that is in essence miniature boulders). I am very happy for you and even happier for the worms. It cheers me up to think of them surviving. (BTW I think the mind set of WWII is so clear in that cartoon it's startling.)

  5. Isn't it wonderful when worms thrill you? They do the same for me, and I don't have the challenges of the kind of soil you do. Since I started gardening, all kinds of things like earthworms give me satisfaction and joy.

  6. Interesting facts about worms. I, too, have that kind of soil (I usually just call it dirt, as I don't feel it deserves so fine a name as soil). So, I completely understand your excitement about finding worms. I don't find a lot in my soil, so when I do - I am so proud!

  7. Worms need not apply...bahahaha! :) :) So happy for you that you found some little wrigglers in your garden.

  8. I have too many worms in my garden. I keep trying to convince myself that they are garden helpers. They have an annoying habit of lying in the soil between my patio slabs. I get very upset when I find them lacerated lengthways during my de-weeding operations.

  9. Congratulations on the worms! My soil tends to be heavy clay, and I am regularly trying to improve it and mulching around plants. I, too, am delighted whenever i see an earthworm. It means that down in the dirt I have some help in my efforts, and I know the soil is looking better to my plants.

  10. Very amusing and well-written post! Thanks for sharing.

  11. I remember the day I realized I had worms in my hard clay soil and I knew that there was hope...congrats!!

  12. FerdiNel, the two worms and I thank you for your good wishes. And thanks for visiting!

    Girl Sprout, that's such a wonderful poem, and you're so kind to invest a touch of class into the proceedings here...

    klbrowser, disappearing comments are so frustrating. It's always the long ones, too. Thanks for the thought, though--I always assume there's a very good reason if you don't reply. Enjoy watching those chubby birds at their feast!

  13. Susan, I take it you don't get to enjoy that "fresh earth" smell very much... At least we have enough clay that the dirt kind of sticks together--gardening in miniature boulders would be...tricky. (Working on euphemisms today.) I hesitated on including the cartoon--I'd forgotten how much the humor is about bullying violence and just not the tone I try to set here, but I didn't catch the WWII mindset. I'd love to hear more about what you have in mind if you get the chance.

  14. Ginny, sometimes I think, "When I was 20 I would not have been excited by worms." But then, we miss out on a lot when we're 20 and want big excitements... I agree--those small discoveries of gardening are really satisfying.

    Holley, calling it soil does seem a bit too high-fallutin'. I wonder where in the country the good soil starts again? Obviously nowhere across the pecan belt!

    Hanni, thank you. :) I feel a little silly being quite so happy about something so ordinary. And slimy.

  15. b-a-g, no, finding lacerated worms does not sound like a happy-making experience. Eww. They don't sound very helpful if they're just lying on top of the soil, either--slackers!

    Deb, heavy clay is its own curse and must be even more of a problem in a wetter climate like yours. 3 cheers for mulch and amendments. Out here, though, improving the soil can be kind of a catch-22, since most of the plants that do well don't actually like good soil.

    Sheila, thank you!

    Donna, yes, that's it! It's that hopeful feeling that things are turning in the right direction now.