As a child, I didn’t like crawly critters like worms. It took me a while to get comfortable picking one up. Whether in garden beds, composers, sighting a worm hopefully means the soil is being aerated, decomposition is going on and in general, there’s a sigh of “it’s a good thing.” Kids are fascinated too. Worms are easy to hold and handle and make for a successful hands-on show and tell. Gardeners like to look for worms too. It took me a while to get used to them. But as a gardener, I now know how invaluable they are to maintaining healthy soil.
Vermiculture is the official name for using red wiggler worms to decompose waste materials. Other types of worms help out too. What I found particularly helpful is that you can keep red wigglers in the house for table scraps. Their decomposed poop, known as worm castings, are especially good to add back into the soil.
“Because the earthworms grind and uniformly mix minerals in simple forms, plants need only minimal effort to obtain them. “ (Wikipedia)
Nightcrawlers and red wigglers are frequently mentioned in vermiculture. But, we now have an “invasive” species of worm. What’s the difference?
My podcast guest this week, Gail Reynolds, gave us an introduction to worms as composters and how we can use them in our homes to decompose vegetable matter. Pretty interesting right? She tells us how to have them in our home which works well in the winter. Worm castings can be made and added to our garden beds even in winter.
A nightcrawler/dew worm eats soil. A Red Wiggler, Eisenia fetida, eats decomposing matter like rotten fruit, vegetables, manure. They are reddish in color.
Jumping worms, however, Amynthas spp., are a different story. They devour forest floors rapidly and then flood the floor with nutrients. Our forests use matter that decomposes more slowly so we don’t know the long term implications yet. And the decomposing matter is larger, more grainy like coffee grounds which alters soil composition, especially for understory plants. The photo below, from Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources site, gives a good visual of the damage they can cause. these worms have a white ring around them and slither like snakes and can move quite quickly.
What can you do? Know your worms. If you should find any jumping worms inform your state’s agricultural department. Wisconsin has a ban on them. Sadly we are seeing them in our forests here in the NE. Spring is here. It will be good to get outdoors. As you garden be vigilant. Many invasive species are harming our landscapes.Together, one yard at a time, we can make a difference. Enjoy. Judith
When I moved into my first home many years ago, I wanted to get involved in the town. Someone, I don’t remember who mentioned that the town had an environmental committee. Intrigued, I wondered what the town envisioned for itself environmentally. I had an interest in recycling, practical ecological applications to preserve water, land and air.
It was no coincidence that around the same time, I subscribed to a magazine titled: Garbage. (Need I say more?) This magazine sought to discuss the latest trends in gathering garbage, storing trash, and how to dispose of the leftovers that could contain toxic materials.
One article, in particular, caught my attention and I remember the broad outlines of the story today which as you will see is pertinent to today’s discussion on wetlands.
A town in California needed a new water treatment plan maybe a sewage treatment plant. The estimate for a new facility was around $52 million dollars, costly for any town at that time., mid-1980’s. So, other options were investigated.
For significantly less money, between $2-5 million, folks realized that the landscape of the town and the surrounding area contained miles of marshland. They could develop a waterway system that kept the wetlands intact and at the same time collect purified water at the end of the line. Somehow, folks back then had the vision to realize that at least seven miles of marshland can filter and recharge water. My podcast guest this week, Gail Reynolds, reminded me of this story as I thought about the different types of wetlands and the ecosystem services they provide.
Basically, wetlands catch water from the surrounding areas, usually runoff from lawns and agricultural land uses. They capture nitrogen, phosphorus, pesticides to name a few. These components deposit into the sediment at the bottom of the wetland. Then plants can absorb these elements and convert them into plant matter. When this happens in the summertime, wetlands prevent contamination downstream.
“Wetlands are superb at purifying polluted water, replenishing aquifers and harbouring wildlife. But they are almost always terrible places to build houses. Only about 5 percent of the land area in the continental United States is composed of wetlands. But these transitional zones—neither completely dry nor entirely liquid—are enormously valuable, especially when it comes to controlling floods. Wetlands act like natural sponges on the landscape, absorbing and then gradually releasing storm waters and lessening flood damage.” John Mossbarger, La Jolla CA, in Scientific American also adds this: “Wetlands serve as primary habitat for thousands of wildlife species—from ducks to beavers to insects—and form an important ecosystem link between land and water. They also play a key role in maintaining water quality, as they filter out agricultural nutrients and absorb sediments so that municipal water supplies don’t have to. On and near shorelines, wetlands provide a natural buffer against storm surges and rising floodwaters, helping to disperse and absorb excess water before it can damage life and property.”
It’s estimated we have destroyed about 85% of our wetlands in this country. Wetlands: habitat for plants, animals, insects, offer water filtration and purification services, perfectly set up to manage flood areas. They provide invaluable ecosystem services and are precious.
The good news is that we are taking some measures to preserve what we have and what’s left.
What can you do? If you have wet areas on the property, learn how to manage them that preserves them. And, I just learned that there is World Wetland Day. This year its Feb 2nd. They have a great interactive website and educational materials available for you to use to promote awareness in your community.
When out on hikes or walking in your neighbourhoods, keep an eye out for marshy areas. Keep in mind how limited they are today and how precious their ecosystems are in today’s landscapes.
Description: Gail is a plant scientist who loves bogs. Bogs are often austere landscapes, acidic, filled with peat moss and other mosses, not usually treed. She takes us through a not so well known landscape filled with levels of plant life and why they are invaluable. Join us for a fascinating journey into bogs where Gail highlights some plants that could be used in the wet areas on your property. At the very least, Gail opens our eyes to the variety of species that are found here, ones we can look for on future hikes.
About My Guest: Gail Kalison Reynolds, Middlesex County UConn Master Gardener coordinator, retired from
a long career as an Information Security professional. She holds a B.S. in biology from Yale College and a Master of Forest Science degree from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. In addition, she holds five information security certifications. Gail is a long-time natural resource and Yale alumni volunteer, including Chair of the Haddam Conservation Commission, Officer of the Haddam Land Trust, member of the Lower Connecticut Land Trust Exchange, Haddam Plan of Conservation and Development committee member, Salmon Rivercommittee member, Connecticut Botanical Society board member, Executive Board member of the Yale Science and Engineering Association, Yale student mentor, and Yale alumni interviewer of prospective undergraduate students.
Gail is currently the State Coordinator for the UConn Master Gardener Compost Program.
Elderberry: Sambucus nigra, also known as the European Elder
As winter goes through her last weeks we are still facing concerns over the flu here in the NE. Colds and flu can sneak into our households bringing runny noses and coughs.
A small tree or shrub, the elderberry, has been relieving these complaints for centuries. Sambucol, Sambucus, two popular names for commercial products fly off the shelves of health or natural supplement departments at this time of year. I have heard many stories of folks getting through a winter with no or few respiratory ailments hitting their households when combining elderberry with good winter health practices. If a cold should hit, elderberry syrup supplements are often the herb of choice. Research studies are being conducted by notable University’s Complementary and Alternative Medical Departments including the NIH. The German Commission E recommends elderberry and elderflower preparations for colds and flu even bronchitis.
Elder has a rich history. One of its name origins is Aeld, which meant fire. The pith in young branches is soft and easily pushes out. A hollow tube remains which was used to stoke the kitchen fires, hence the common name of pipe tree. In ancient times pipes were made of elder wood and fashioned into instruments and of course pea shooters.
Elder, referenced by Shakespeare and Pliny, holds a place of connection whether superstition, hedgerows, or poetry capturing us with its many uses and meanings.
Where Found: common to Europe and Northern Africa; now found all over the United States; in fact, it was thought this was the tree Judas chose to hang from. A fungus occurs on the elder, Hirroneola auricular Judaea, so named from the above historical story or myth.
Elder is considered a small tree about 10-12’ high or a shrub. It is commonly found along wood edges, along with wood stands in fields, along banks and fences. This plant is also nitrogen loving and in the Honeysuckle family. It flowers from May- June. Fruit ripens in August. Virginia Tech has a great ID page and plant facts.
Elderberry syrup and lozenges are part of my home medicine chest. I usually use elderberry during the winter or if I am traveling to keep my immune system strong. There are many products that are available for children too. In view of the recent flu outbreaks I thought it important to get info out about this wonderful plant. Nature has so many remedies for us. As my podcast guest, Doug Tallamy, reminds us: our personal land can play a huge part in supporting wildlife. And Elderberry is a host plant for a variety of butterflies and moths.
Enjoy your day. Judith
Description: Healthy soils support healthy plants, create nutrient-dense foods, help create better health. It all begins with the soil. My guest this week, Nigel Palmer, is a soil consultant and teaches sustainable and regenerative soil practices with The Institute of Sustainable Nutrition, TIOSN, here in North CT. What’s good for soil biology, the “digestive system” of soil, is actually important for us. Join us for an informative discussion on growing nutritious foods from the ground up.
About My Guest: Nigel Palmer is a Bionutrient Food and Soil Consultant practicing sustainable, regenerative mineralization programs. He develops plant and soil improvement products by fermenting local plants, extracting minerals, and capturing then cultivating indigenous microorganisms. He uses the refractive index of plant saps and crops as a way of monitoring long and short-term plant health trends and the efficacy of the products developed.
Nigel is the Outside Consultant for The Institute of Sustainable Nutrition or TIOSN. He teaches sustainable regenerative gardening techniques, the keeping of bees, and discusses monthly, the night sky and many subtle nuances of the world out of doors.
Transcript: Nigel Palmer
Description: Gardening for Life: “Chances are, you have never thought of our garden – indeed, of all the space on your property, as a wildlife preserve that represents the last chance we have for sustaining plants and animals that were once common throughout the U.S. But that is exactly the role our suburban landscapes are now playing and will play even more in the near future.”
Meet Doug Tallamy, who shares his research and extensive knowledge concerning the rapid decline of invaluable species due to our development practices. Can we do something today? Yes. He gives us practical tips for practical sustaining action. Join us for a timely and meaningful discussion.
About My Guest: Doug Tallamy is a professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, where he has authored 89 research publications and has taught Insect Taxonomy, Behavioral Ecology, Humans and Nature, Insect Ecology, and other courses for 36 years. Chief among his research goals is to better understand the many ways insects interact with plants and how such interactions determine the diversity of animal communities. His book Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens was published by Timber Press in 2007 and was awarded the 2008 Silver Medal by the Garden Writers’ Association. The Living Landscape, co-authored with Rick Darke, was published in 2014. Doug is also a regular columnist for Garden Design magazine. Doug is a Lifetime Honorary Director of Wild Ones and has won the Garden Club of America Margaret Douglas Medal for Conservation, the Tom Dodd, Jr. Award of Excellence, and the 2018 AHS 2018 B.Y. Morrison Communication Award.
Podcast Transcript: Transcript Tallamy.