This week, I get down to earth, as Nature's trail takes me underground to the land of earthworms. My fascination with earthworms started when I was a toddler and continues to this day.
As a boy I learned which insects I could handle and those that might cause some pain if I picked them up. I handled earthworms a great deal growing up and treasured them for use on my frequent fishing trips. If it wasn't for worms, my mother's pan-fried fish would never have become one of my favorite childhood memories.
For several years I made spending money by selling nightcrawlers to fishermen. It was a business that meant spending many nights out on the lawn with a flashlight, catching nightcrawlers, one at a time. It meant sore muscles and hard work but it was fun and I learned alot about how to raise worms. The fishermen who bought my worms were always fun to talk to and we swapped fishing stories, a good way to find out where they were biting.
Later in my life I raised red worms for use in my gardens. The worms would help keep the soil from compacting and added nutrients to the soil with their rich castings.
Raising garden worms is an easy thing to do and the benefits can even carry over to your houseplants.
I kept the worms in a couple of old, used plastic coolers with lids. I fill them half full of worm bedding purchased from a sporting goods store. The bedding is seeded with three or four dozen mature red worms, given to me by another person who raises worms. Once a week or so the worms are fed the vegetable scraps from the house. I spread about a half gallon of potato peels, chopped carrot tops, apple peels and so on, over the bedding in each cooler. The worms will multiply quickly and have no trouble eating the scraps. It's recycling at its most basic point. The worms are kept in a cool dark place in the basement. Here they stay moist and cool and won't freeze in the winter. I use the worms as I need them and don't let them get too crowded in the coolers.
I'm not sure if it's totally true but I've heard it said that the worms we find in the ground here in the U.S. are not native to North America. It's easy to believe when you consider how much of the plant life above the ground isn't native. Only 1 percent of 1 percent of Wisconsin's native grasslands is native prairie. The alien plants have almost completely taken over the landscape. The earthworms brought by settlers in potted plants and then put in the ground have also spread over the whole continent.
I'm not sure what the worms do to nature's checks and balances but they no doubt have caused changes. All I see are the results from the good things that worms can do.
A Robin Red Breast tugs an eight-inch nightcrawler and slowly coaxes him from his hole in the ground. He picks at it for a few moments then promptly eats it. A couple minutes later, he has found another worm in the grass. This one is taken back to the nest, where four hungry, young robins are waiting. When they feel the branch move near the nest, they eagerly thrust their heads up and open their large yellow mouths to accept a meal. The baby robin with the biggest looking mouth will get the worm, for this is the one who is hungriest. The young birds compete with each other in this way until they leave the nest.
There are other young birds that have already fledged but are still being fed by their parents. Showing up at the bird feeders are young House finches, Red-winged blackbirds and grackles. It's fun to watch them being fed by their parents.
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