FACT: These non-native worms make themselves right at home in your yummy garden.
FICTION: “Every time I would stick a trowel into the soil, worms would pop up or
skitter away. They were so energized, not like the worms of my
childhood.” Oh, my dear Ms. Tiffany, grower of prize-winning hostas, I can promise you that worms have not changed since your childhood. I, too, long for the days of mellow earthworms, back in that unhurried world of 1973, but trust me, earthworms are ancient creatures. Your hostas will not rouse sufficient passion to stir them to new levels of activity not seen since the approach of the glaciers.
FACT: There’s no good way to get rid of earthworms once they’ve moved in.
FICTION: "The Department of Agriculture lists earthworms as beneficial organisms,
so using a pesticide to kill them is technically illegal." Huh? It just so happens that the Code of Federal Regulations is pretty easy to search these days, and I can find no regulation outlawing the use of a pesticide to kill a worm, or regulating in any way how one kills a worm. Cut it into pieces. Step on it. Eat it. Drown it in Diet Coke. Really, have your way with it. The USDA isn’t concerned.
Now, I suppose that it may be a no-no to use a pesticide for anything other than its approved use, but it’s the EPA’s job to handle pesticide registration and regulation, not the USDA. I know I’m getting a little policy-wonkish here, but come on, this is the NYT. I love you people because of your wonkish attention to detail.
FACT: It’s a bummer if you have a woodland garden that has been invaded by non-native earthworms, especially if they have set about to munch on the very duff layer that your woodland plants depend upon.
FICTION: You should rid your garden of these worms by–and I’m not making this up–by applying "a hot Chinese mustard solution, made by mixing two cups Chinese
mustard with 10 ½ quarts of water. Sink five coffee cans, tops and
bottoms removed, about an inch into the ground of the marked area, then
pour the mustard solution into the cans" to determine the extent of your worm problem, then if "you have no choice but to kill them, they can be put in alcohol, frozen or collected in a bag and sent to the landfill."
That’s right. The nation’s paper of record suggests freezing your worms. In the freezer. Next to the gin and those peas you use as an ice pack. You can also shoot them with your big gun, which I am sure you’re about to go out and purchase as soon as your subscription to Garden & Gun shows up in your mailbox. But first, you must go to Dean & Deluca and buy Chinese mustard, whatever that is, for $19 a pound to determine the extent of the problem. (Do they deliver? I hope so.)
What’s missing from this article? The Point. It can be found here, almost: "The Tiffanys realized, in retrospect, that they had been helping the
worms proliferate by carting in mulch for paths and top-dressing plants
with compost." So you see, it’s human behavior that the worms are responding to. If you want to cultivate a native woodland garden, maybe you shouldn’t–uh–pile it high with farm-fresh compost. Leave it alone. Let the woods do their whole Woods Thing.
But really, life is too short to go digging up earthworms and sending them to meet their maker in your freezer. Relax. Have a drink. Resolve to save future loads of compost for your tomato patch. If your prize-winning hostas aren’t doing so great, try to remember that the whole point of the woodland garden was not supposed to be about winning a prize at the hosta show anyway. It was supposed to be about shade, and tiny little birds hopping around in the undergrowth, and the cool dark scent of the earth. Forgive the worms, skip the hosta convention, and just spend a little time in that woodland garden of yours, being grateful for the fact that your biggest problem involves a blind, spineless creature that you, after all, invited to the party in the first place.