To Dig Or Not To Dig

Posted by on April 17, 2009 at 12:54 pm.

A friend, Julie,  asked to borrow a tiller the other day in order to till up part of her yard for a garden.  I don’t till.  I do have an antique tiller that worked quite well for my mother, but I’m too lazy (and environmentally conservative) to till.  I don’t want to hurt my earthworms, who are prized friends in my garden.

I have another friend who swears by a system called double digging.  If you want to know how to do that, you can find out here, but it is more work than I even want to think about.

Julie wrote back to me saying that she had thought about the worm aspect, but that her yard was hard clay with nothing growing in it for years.  She did some research and came back with a brilliant plan that I had not heard of before.  Her plan was to try naturally softening the top using rabbit food -alfalfa- on top of the dirt, cover with mulch such as straw, then top with a thin layer of organic substance (compost or hummus) and plant into it some native wild plants.  The reasoning was that the rabbit food would attract worms to the surface to aerate the soil. while the mulch slowly decomposed releasing the good stuff into the top layer of soil.  The plants-such as sunflowers, further aerate the oil and begin creating a symbiosis in the soil making it friendly to future planting.  I love the idea!

Now, here are five reasons not to dig..

Now THATS an earthworm

Now THAT'S an earthworm

  1. Not digging encourages the worms to do the work for you.
  2. Not digging reduces the loss of moisture (very important in Texas).
  3. Not digging protects the soil structure (think erosion)
  4. Not digging prevents weed seed from being brought to the surface to germinate
  5. Not digging is easier on the back.

And here are five reason you may want to go ahead and dig anyway…

  1. Digging breaks up heavily compacted soils and allows air back in to it.
  2. Digging kills surface weeds (although maybe not as well as suffocating them with cardboard).
  3. Digging exposes pests to predators and and temperature changes.
  4. Digging loosens things up for root vegetables to thrive.
  5. Digging is good exercise for those who want it (or are physically able).

Here are a few quick earthworm facts:

  • Worms live where there is food, moisture, oxygen and a favorable temperature. If they don’t have these things, they go somewhere else.
  • There are approximately 2,700 different kinds of earthworms.
  • In one acre of land, there can be more than a million earthworms.
  • The largest earthworm ever found was in South Africa and measured 22 feet from its nose to the tip of its tail.
  • Worms tunnel deeply in the soil and bring subsoil closer to the surface mixing it with the topsoil. Slime, a secretion of earthworms, contains nitrogen. Nitrogen is an important nutrient for plants. The sticky slime helps to hold clusters of soil particles together in formations called aggregates.
  • Baby worms are not born. They hatch from cocoons smaller than a grain of rice.
  • Worms can eat their weight each day.

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