Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Ground Crew

It’s been a tad soggy around here lately.  If the old ‘April Showers’ adage holds true, we may need kayaks to navigate May’s floral output. 

One sure sign of excess precipitation is the exodus of worms across my driveway.  Like a slow-motion version of the Oklahoma Land Rush, waterlogged wigglers slithered by last week, hoping to find dry ground.  Before I spotted this slimy phenomenon, I smelled it.  One step out the door and my sniffer caught the unmistakable whiff of moist invertebrate.  It’s the smell of rain with sweaty overtones.  I must’ve spent too many hours in the sun growing up, because I find this wormy aroma a strangely pleasant sign of spring. 

The worms, I’m sure, find it less so.  First of all, worms don’t have noses, so they probably can’t pick up the same whiff I’m sniffing.  But if they could, there’s no doubt: they would associate it with terror.  Before arriving on my driveway, they very nearly drowned in underground tunnels.  The only shelter they could find was this large expanse of unprotected concrete, a blank canvas announcing their predicament to Robins with all the subtlety of flashing neon.  And now I was preparing to drive a two-ton vehicle across it.  Not their best day.  I did avoid stepping on them, but navigating the Honda around them?  Not possible.  I can only hope the end came swiftly for the unlucky ones.  Vehicular death might actually be preferred to the environmental dangers the remnant faced.   A worm exposed to sunlight for more than an hour will become paralyzed.  If their slimy skin dries out, they’re toast (literally).  We’ve all seen the roasted remnants of sunburnt worms.  Seems like a slow, painful way to go. 

Worms have a tough life from the get-go.  They are essentially blind quadriplegics.  They have no eyes, arms or legs.  But what they lack in appendages, they make up for in stomach, and they don’t let their limitations hamper their appetite.  Worms can eat the equivalent of their weight each day.  The dream of feasting unhindered, whilst maintaining a slender form, is one I share with countless women.  But if we were forced to choose between the lifestyle of a worm and our own, I’m sure we’d all be willing to submit to a little dietary restraint. 

The worm’s day consists of chewing moldy, muddy morsels and slithering up and down through a dank dominion of darkness.  There is no light, no music, no Facebook, no Starbucks caramel macchiatos.  They can’t even stop to smell the roses.  There is only the business of tunneling and eating.  In the process of satiating their hunger, they set the stage for gardening magic above ground. 

As food percolates through a worm’s digestive track, it magically transforms into a plant smorgasbord of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium.  Even the slime they secrete contains nitrogen.  A worm’s excavations create passages that allow air and water to penetrate heavy soil.  This increases water-retention, which is essential for droughts and forgetful waterers, such as myself.  It also improves drainage, which prevents excess water from overwhelming sensitive roots. 

An acre of land can support up to a million earthworms.  This means my humble plot of ground could potentially have over 300,000 miniature excavators rumbling through the dirt, digging fertilizer-laced tunnels.  So, thanks to these wormy workhorses, thirsty roots can now stretch out into loose, moist, fertile ground, and begin shooting beauty above grade.  All that hard work pays off for this gardener, whose contribution - at most - was not to step on them in their time of need.  Small thanks indeed.


Casa Mariposa said...

I think worms have an amazing life - they eat, sleep, poop, and make baby worms. Oh yeah, they tunnel a lot, too. When I moved here 10 yrs ago, I bought earth worm eggs and scattered them across my garden beds. I needed all the help I could get to improve my soil and thought it was high time I gave my local worms ( 1 or 2, but whose counting?) some hot dates. :o) It worked. Love your writing. Please don't go dormant again this winter.

Design to Grow said...

So that's the secret (well, one of them, at least) to your amazing garden prowess! Spicing up your worms' love lives! Brilliant! :)

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