April 5, 2014

It All Started with an Earthworm

First, let's all drop to our knees and scream THANK YOU for the sunny day and the chance to get into the garden at long last. And now, since you're  already on your knees, you might as well take an up-close-and-personal look at this little critter in my compost..
Bear with me, because there is a point to this photo, I promise. (Those of you still on your knees should feel free to get up now.)

I have been away from home in Service of Family for five days that seemed like a month. So today was MY day, and I ran right into the garden this morning to prepare the vegetable beds and plant my lettuce, kale, radishes, and bok choy. 

Every spring, I pull out my little red Mantis rototiller and run it through all the beds, until they look soft and inviting and I can no longer walk. Today, before tilling, I pulled back the old straw mulch and oak leaves, yanked out the few weeds that are clearly overachievers, and tossed large rocks that I apparently planted last fall. The soil is rich and crumbly and moved easily beneath the tongs of that um....that little hand tool...you know, the one that looks like an Afro pick...um...ok, Google says its a cultivator!

When I went to the compost bin to load up the wheelbarrow, I noticed all the fat and happy worms. They had just won a free trip to the vegetable beds and when I thought about running my rototiller through the beds...and through the worms...I felt a bit yucky. And that made me wonder. Why exactly do I till, anyway?

And the answer is: I dunno.

To turn the soil upside down, taking the top layer of organic stuff with it?

To get soft, crumbly soil that I always thought made my plants happy?

Maybe. But when it comes right down to it, I have a dirty little secret.
I till because it makes me feel like this.
I love mobilizing my physical strength, especially in this year that I am turning 60. I love feeling my biceps wake up as I plow, the throbbing in my muscles after the day is done. And I love waking up the next morning and finding that the throbbing has become but a gentle ache and I can still perform that daily miracle: getting out of bed and standing (mostly) upright. It makes me feel, well, just more alive. So silly, but so true.

But that little earthworm in my compost and the fact that I was freely turning the soil with a 9 inch hand cultivator made me wonder if rototilling makes sense for my garden at this moment. After all, I have three raised beds that I've been working for years, not 40 acres of overgrown meadow. And if I need to feel strong, I can always lift sacks of dog food. Or my dogs.

So I went online and learned two things. First, "till vs no-till" is a controversy so hot  that debates about gay marriage, abortion rights, and evolution vs intelligent design make you yawn. Like most controversies, you can pretty much find a bulletin, blog, or outright manifesto to tell you anything you want to hear. Second, it is very clear that tilling makes no sense for my garden at this moment.

I'm not going to get into all the reasons, mostly because I read so much that I already barely remember the question. But quite simply, to paraphrase Isaiah, its time to beat my Mantis into pitchfork...
 Julie will not take up Mantis against earthworm, neither will she learn rototilling no more.


  1. But maybe Julie could tie a blue ribbon around said pitchfork to honor the fact that she has found treasure in the garden, earthworms are worth their weight in gold**

    This is Marti, friend of grace of windthread who gets thrilled to see earthworms and just this week, the blue tailed lizards are returning to the garden here in New Mexico and all of this in spite of a freaky little 10 minute snowstorm on Thurs. of this week...)

    1. Of course I know who you are, Marti! I've watched your move to NM step by step and get green with envy that you can break bread with Grace. I am so excited you came by and yeah, maybe I should engrave my pitchfork with Isaiah, huh? And sorry, but you don't get any snowstorm points this winter...

  2. Very amusing entry, we have raised beds which we only dig when we have to and we have loads of worms as opposed to none when we moved in six years ago. I know what you mean about the not being able to move and the muscle ache making you feel good. I get that from humping loads of muck and compost on to the beds every year.

    1. These days, I get it bringing groceries in from the car!

  3. Haven' t used a rotary tiller in over 20 years!!! Old Man Crow and I garden for a living and almost never do any digging, we'll push a fork in to allow air when we start working for a new customer & do lots of mulching which encourages the earth worms so they do all the work for us!

    1. This is good to hear, Mo. Do you have a truck or something else to replace the rototiller in the "Makes Me Feel Strong and Mighty" category???

    2. feeling strong & mighty? carrying out all the garden prunings each week from the waterfront gardens up & down many flights of stairs & into the the van to take to the green waste recycling station & then carrying in metres of composted mulch bought from said green waste recycling station into all our gardens.
      BTW I will have to work til I die as I am far too vain to let my muscles go to flab and can't stand the idea of going to a gym & lifting weights!
      Oh and I love still getting paid to climb trees at 59!

    3. I know, I tried the gym route once and all I could think about was the millions of REAL things I could be lifting. And I've seen pics of you and your incredible self, so waiter, we'll have what she's having.

  4. ugh, made a comment, accidentally pressed the wrong button, gone! suppose it wasn't that important really; oh how I love seeing your the Blue House, no wonder He feels at home.

    have to admit to being a lazy gardener and have never, ever rototilled in our garden; we do have Lots of worms, gotta love the worms for doing the really hard stuff!

    1. Bright periwinkle blue with a red tin roof. A real show stopper in this land of hospital green colonials.

  5. you are RIGHT in your intuition! that's, guess what,?
    PERMACULTURE !!!!!!!!!! HOO HOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    no ripping up what has so exquistiely built it's own WORLD ....
    Name the worm Isaiah and HAUL MULCH. go to your city's mulch yard and bag it, drag it
    and unload and spread and you will be strong.
    it will be hard. in know those beautiful Mantis thingys...they are such great machines.

    maybe you could Hire out??
    anyway...Marti said...go read about Julie's worms....she's right. this is a very very fine
    bit of writing. You should send it to a Permaculture publication...there's one in Australia
    that likes freelance....and they would love how it just "hit" you....
    POWER OF WORMS!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    and loved seeing your man's beautiful garden fence again...

    1. A worm named Isaiah...that is so so funny to me...and a children's book unfolds from it, too. PS Someone else's man made the fence, mine made the stone wall that would be behind me in this picture.

    2. oh...i thought he made BOTH....
      so...write the book