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Ask a Gardener: So what’s the deal with earthworms?

Jose Duran shows off some of the earthworms he cultivates at Pinetree Park Community Garden in Miami Beach, Fla., on Aug. 27, 2015. Earthworm castings are composed of digested soil particles, organic matter, and secretions.
Jose Duran shows off some of the earthworms he cultivates at Pinetree Park Community Garden in Miami Beach, Fla., on Aug. 27, 2015. Earthworm castings are composed of digested soil particles, organic matter, and secretions. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

Question: I know that earthworms are good for the soil and my garden, but why and how exactly?

Answer: If you made a ranked list of things essential for good, productive soil, earthworms would head the list. Earthworm castings are composed of digested soil particles, organic matter, and secretions. They contain five to 10 times as much nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium as the surrounding soil. They also have  1/3 higher beneficial bacterium, which speeds the breakdown of organic matter and the release of nutrients into the soil.

As castings are finely textured, they make a great growing medium for plants, and are sold for that purpose. And as earthworms refine soil size by their movement under the surface, soil rich in worms will be more finely textured.

OK, that’s great, you think, but how many castings can a small earthworm produce, you ask. And I am happy to answer: Earthworms can produce up to 700 pounds of castings a day per acre.

Need any more convincing?

Q: For the first time, my rhubarb plants are sending up blossom shoots. What’s happening?

A: Bolting, or flowering, is a normal part of the rhubarb plant’s life cycle. It doesn’t happen every summer. It is often triggered by stressful conditions: too little water, dry or wet weather.

If a flower stalk appears, pinch or prune it off so the plant’s energy can be concentrated on vegetative growth, and not reproduction.

Q: I’ve had great success growing carrots. And are they tender and sweet. Now my problem is how to store them?

A: Don’t harvest carrots (except the ones you eat right away) until the ground has a good frost or two. Then cut the tops  1/2 -2 inches from the top of the carrots. Don’t wash them. Store in sawdust or straw at a temperature of 32-40 degrees and a relative humidity of 90-95 percent. They’ll last six months or so when stored this way.

Kathleen Bander of Bellingham is a life-long gardener. Her column will appear in The Bellingham Herald weekly through the summer growing season. If you have a gardening question you’d like answered in the column, please email it to newsroom@bellinghamherald.com. For more gardening information online, go to whatcom.wsu.edu/ch/mg.html.

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