The Garden Jungle

I was mourning summer vacation – planned and paid for but now not happening. Thank you, COVID! As consolation, I perused my bookshelf for a foreign garden writer as a virtual holiday. Being such an anglophile, I chose “The Garden Jungle” by a Brit, Dave Goulson. Just reading about oh-so-British quirky nature groups, like the British and European Federation of Worm Charmers (they bang on the ground, causing earthworms to surface) reminded me of stone walls along narrow country lanes and village tea shops. 

Goulson, who subtitled his book “Gardening to Save the Planet,” is a biology professor at the University of Sussex, in the south of England. His specialty is bumblebees and in 2006 he founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (so British sounding!) “The Garden Jungle” is more comprehensive, though, touching on other common inhabitants of our gardens besides bees and earthworms. He has a special affection for earwigs and ants, both of which he professes to be more helpful than harmful in the garden. (I’m not so sure I agree here.)  Goulson discusses the biology of common garden inhabitants in intriguing detail, sprinkled with fascinating factoids, such as earwigs having two penises. 

I suspect Goulson must be a closet baker, perhaps a fan of “The Great British Baking Show,” because he starts each chapter with recipes he’s evidently prepared. The chapter on squirrels begins with a recipe for squirrel pie, introducing the dilemma of what constitutes a pest worthy of culling. The British native red squirrel, an endearing creature with tufted ear tips, has become quite rare, due to the invasion of the larger and more aggressive American grey squirrel. However, Brits have come to love our native squirrel and are horrified at the notion of eradicating them to protect their more diminutive red squirrel. 

This morning, while planting out veggie seedlings, I experimented with something I learned in the chapter about earthworms. Apparently studies have shown that tilling, especially when vegetation can be plowed under, leads to an increase in the number of earthworms and hence, improved soil fertility. This is apparently because moving organic matter underground provides earthworms with more food. More food, more worms. Normally, they have to surface (at night) and pull down leaf litter. (Did you know they do this? I didn’t.) Planting peas and beans also helps – I’m thinking fava beans as a winter cover crop. 

Back to my morning gardening experiment: I broke with my no-till practice and turned the soil in my raised planters with a large shovel (tossing earthworms and partials aside). Then I scattered nearly finished compost – mostly leaf litter – and worked it in before tucking in my little lettuces. With luck I’ll have more earthworms, more fertile soil and impressive lettuce. But I don’t plan to dig up the planters and count worms in the name of science. Just saying…

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