The weather has been extremely dicey for the last few weeks, making it difficult to get the gardening started. The last two days cleared up enough for me to get out there and start clearing away the leaf mulch. The good news is that mulching deeply with the leaves turned our garden plot into an earthworm factory! Those leaves were full of worms, and what looked to my untrained eye like a ton of earthworm eggs. They look like red wrigglers, the same time of worms used in vermiculture (otherwise known as worm composting).
I have been letting the baby chickens come into the garden plot with me, since it gets them outside and they're still too small to go in with the big chickens yet. They're having a good time learning to scratch, and eating small weeds and bugs. Thankfully they aren't big enough to eat my nice composting worms yet, so I'm fine with them roaming around the garden with me.
A couple of years ago, we removed a pile of gravel from near our current garden plot only to find the biggest earthworms I'd ever seen under there. They were easily a foot long, and though they don't come anywhere near approaching the size of the possibly-extinct Oregon Giant Earthworm, they were huge enough to impress the heck out of the kids and adults alike. I am always happy to have a thriving earthworm population in and near my garden, and though it drives me husband nuts when he goes running with me I have been known to save them from the pavement in rainstorms or when they get dried out and dehydrated in the summer. On a recent jog together, he had to give me a cutoff point of worm saving, since a recent rain had brought up so many of them that my rescue efforts were slowing us to...well... a worm's pace.
Still, it's hard to ignore the value of these lowly creatures. Charles Darwin once measured the quantity of worm castings produced in a year in a field near his home, and found an astonishing eighteen tons per acre. Now don't ask me exactly how he did that (the measuring part), but it's a testament to the productive helpfulness of worms for us gardeners. Darwin studied worms for almost 40 years and helped bring them to light as garden allies instead of the pests they had been assumed to be.
And if you don't think worms can get really cool, check out Australia's Giant Blue Earthworm. Up to six feet long, with luminescent mucin, and very very bright blue, worms just don't get much cooler than this.