Monday, 15 March 2010

Ancient Hedgerows, Darwin, Cleopatra & the Earthworm

A cold frosty morning but with the sun shining and the first daffodils have begun to open. These fine mornings with a promise of a glorious golden day somehow seem to infect the dogs with such joie de vivre, they bounce about the fields on our walks and go tearing in and out of the hedgerows.
In Wales hedges are often planted up on stone banks. We have several miles of old hedges on the farm and running along inside the hedges themselves are narrow paths that the dogs use as their own private routes around the fields. These paths were originally used by farm workers to walk along as they trimmed  the hedges back with sharp hedging knives. The Farmer can remember the old farm servant of his childhood, Davey Tom, doing this work in the winters. Now it is all done with flail mowers mounted on tractors in a fraction of the time and the hedge paths are used by only the rabbits & the dogs.

The Farmer & Elder Son have been busy with the muck-spreading for these past couple of days and today they had the help of a local contractor to get the job finished. The fields are now all nicely covered with muck which does make going for walks rather smelly and sticky under foot. I can see that for the next little while my dog walking will be restricted to the lanes on the farm and the more steeply sloping areas where the tractors do not go.
It is amazing how quickly the muck will disappear thanks to the worm activity once the soil warms up. A healthy worm poulation will drag this muck, into their burrows (it has been estimated that there could be up to 1,000 miles of worm burrows per acre) thereby incorporating it  into the soil.
It is a little know fact that it was Darwin who did much of the research into earthworms and published it in his last book with the snappy title, 'The formation of vegetable mould through the action of worms with observations of their habits'. ( It probably won't make it onto Richard & Judys' reading list!)
Cleopatra declared worms to be sacred and ordered their protection so important were they to the fertility of the Nile Valley.
As with the bees, we imperil the worms at our own risk.

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