We have no real garden, just a well-protected extended balcony with everything grown in pots, planters and boxes. We have, however, enjoyed a lot of success growing flowers and vegetables — a success we put down mainly to the quality of our compost.

For more than seven years now, we have maintained a compost pile in a large plastic container. We turn it as often as we can, and feed it almost everything we don’t eat. When I started it, I went across the street to a local park and dug up half a dozen worms. Now, whenever I dig into the compost, I find masses of worms, sometimes in tightly curled balls. I love them and try not to harm them because it is they that produce the heavy dark soils rich with nutrients that fill our vegetable and flower boxes each spring.

Now there is a great little article from the Telegraph in London about the value of worms. The writer quotes naturalist Gilbert White expounding in 1777 that “the earth without worms would soon become cold, hard-bound and void of fermentation, and consequently sterile.” We also learn that the Egyptians had a caste of priests devoted to the well-being of the little earth-chewers. Moreover, the writer tells how the American prairies, devoid of native worms since they were killed off in the Ice Ages, surged with productivity once the Europeans arrived with their underground allies.

But there is possible danger ahead for my little friends.

A New Zealand flatworm accidentally introduced to Belfast in the Sixties has run wild. It kills earthworms by turning them liquid. The pest has spread through Scotland, northern England and Ireland and in some places, earthworm populations have collapsed.

This sounds just as deadly as the pine beetle or the zebra mussel or kudzu. I sure hope they keep away from my compost bin.

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