Monster worms

Felder Rushing uncovered in his raised beds three of the largest earthworms he says he has ever seen.

I’m setting up an epic battle in my garden between a small reptile and its normally-meek but now Frankensteinian prey.

To set this up, like any other curious gardener, the other day I went out to see what was going on; difference was, it was during a heavy downpour. Braving the lightning and stares from neighbors, I waded through a surging flood to check out where rainwater flows when it is going full throttle.

Yeah, I got soaked, head to toe, but I found where I need to make minor adjustments for simple solutions to otherwise unseen problems. Checked my gutters and noted two spots where I can add extended gargoyle-like spouts to throw the water farther from the house. Saw that one of my low dirt-and-plant berms needs to be made a bit longer to redirect the rage at its peak. And in one spot I can create a flagstone waterway that will look good even in dry seasons.

But during a lull in the torrent, I poked around in the soil in one of my new raised beds to see how it was draining. My raised beds are made of basically native clay dug a shovel deep but fluffed up a few inches with added compost and bark. Some are unframed, others have walls of pressure treated wood or stones; one is lined with wine bottles stuck neck-down.

But here’s where it got exciting, at least to a garden geek like me. As I jiggled the soil a bit with my turning fork, I uncovered three of the largest earthworms I have ever seen. One was just over 10 inches long and frantically made no bones about not wanting to be picked up.

They had come up toward the surface to keep from drowning, but I know that when it dries again they will burrow deeply, creating tunnels throughout for air, water, nutrients and plant roots and spreading their castings — the most nutritious manure on the planet.

This is especially good for shrubs and perennial flower beds where my own piddling around isn’t easy. In fact, I discovered years ago that by simply feeding earthworms by spreading leaf litter in the fall and dusting it lightly with protein-rich cottonseed meal they’ll grow large and strong, and save me a lot of trouble by digging my garden nearly year-round.

From adding a little bark to the clay soil in my new raised bed, then feeding worms with leaf mulch, over just a few months those original half-starved, thin, see-through wormlets have beefed up into mini-monsters. I feel as proud as a rancher who helped calves grow into cattle. And I’ll never have to really dig that bed again.

On a seemingly unrelated note, the other day while hauling shrubs I saw a lizard jump into the little garden planted in the back of my truck. It was a sleek, striped skink with a bright blue tail. They normally eat snails and worms.

Trouble is, I’m leaving soon for garden and flower show tours, and the lizard won’t be able to survive all summer in the truck garden. So as soon as the rain lets up, I’ll wiggle my fingers from one corner of the garden to the far corner to herd the skittish reptile to where I can catch it and release into my larger garden. Hope I don’t make it throw off its pretty tail, though I know it’ll grow right back.

Just wish I could watch the epic battle that’ll set off when the small, shy worm-eating skink comes across that nest of monster worms.

• Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to rushingfelder@yahoo.com.

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