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While my front and side yards have more formal gardens, the back was left basically wild, looking out on the surrounding woods. At this time of year we often have turkey visit to eat the sunflower seeds. Deer also come, but this year I think the surrounding fields are filled with corn from the harvesting early in November. I’ve seen them around, just not out back. Normally a pack of seven very large males visit, followed by blue jays and morning doves. One day last week over thirty turkey came to eat. It’s fun and peaceful to look out the windows and watch them. They must have very good sight and hearing because any sudden movement or too loud comment sends them trotting up the hill.

Are worms…that is at least what science claims. It seems the forests surrounding the Great Lakes developed without earthworms. Ten-thousand years ago native species disappeared during the glacier period. Since then, our trees and plants have evolved to live in a wormless soils. In this region, a thick layer of duff, the debris of trees and shrubs, lined the forest floor. Duff normally remained for years, slowly decayed by fungi, and providing a habitat for many ferns, delicate wild flowers, and small animals like salamanders.

Since settlers first moved here, earthworms like the red wriggler used in fishing and for composting, have been introduced into the forest lands. Gardeners usually think of worms as a desirable asset to soil. They eat decaying matter, aerate the soil and leave humus-rich worm castings behind as they burrow. In general they do good things for soil where garden plants grow.

In the forests, however, worms eat the duff in just a few years, lowering the soil’s acidity and making nutrients more available. The plants in our forests survived in the poor fertility and the high acidity of our soils. While this won’t necessarily harm the mature trees growing there, the duff’s absence affects the number of seedlings growing in an area. It also makes an advantageous situation for unwanted invasive species that couldn’t have grown in the original, more acidic soil.

As this debris layer disappeared, so did the habitat for plants like Trillium, lady slippers, Solomon’s seal, blue cohosh, sweet cicely, mayflowers, wild ginger, lady fern, bloodroot, bellworts, and the globlin fern. They adapted to germination and growth in the thick layer of duff. The duff layer provided them nutrients, moisture, protection from extremes in temperature and predators, and a habitat for microorganisms like fungi necessary for the plants’ survival.

It is also believed the loss of the duff effected the salamander population that fed on insects living in the debris. The salamanders in turn, provided food for snakes, shrews, thrushes, and screech owls, so the earthworm invasion effected a whole chain of living organisms.

We introduced worms from dumped fishing bait, on purchased plants’ soil balls. The tires on all of our motorized vehicles’ entering our forests often carry worm eggs, so the most severe invasions are usually near roads.

Once the earthworms infest an area, little can be done to remove them without more harm to the forest. We know many of the previously listed plants grow in worm-infested soil, because we grow them in our gardens, but a study in the Chippewa National Forest in northern Minnesota shows these species do not return to worm-infested forests.

Some ecologists hope the ecosystem of the forest may eventually come to a new balance. In the meantime don’t spread earthworms into wormless areas, don’t dump worm bait in forested lands, and keep your vehicles on roads and trails. Gardeners in wooded areas need to keep compost piles and worm contaminated soil from contaminating the woodlands. These may seem like small measures, but a little thing began this big change.

I didn’t think this winter was so hard for deer. January 1st the ground was bare, and the snow hasn’t been been that deep since then. Yet, as I walked out the door Monday I noticed ice and snow chunks littered the walk that had been cleaned. We had had no snow. Then I noticed all the edges around the walk, including the one in the header of this blog, were shadowed with deer tracks, or the snow gone, dug down to the ground. Those critters had uncovered all the phlox and hens & chicks in the header photo and ate them! No telling what will be left by spring. Gardening is always a struggle.

chickadee in hand

chickadee in hand

A few days ago Fred came in carrying a chickadee. Bill saved it and took it into no cat territory, placing it in a box by the fireplace. The next day it climbed onto his hand and refused to go back in the box. It had a few Fred marks, but obviously was okay. Bill put it back in the box overnight and the next day took it outside. At first it wouldn’t fly away, but then changed its mind. Freedom is more important than a warm place and free food.

Cats and birds don’t mix, even when someone (Bill) thinks they do. He should have watched more Sylvester and Tweety cartoons when he was a kid. Cats never give up.



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