Saturday, June 11, 2011




image from Animal Diversity Web

This year's hands-free tomato garden was supposed to be rather more ambitious than last year's, but I got discouraged. Early in the spring, I built three small (4'x2') raised beds, filled them with dried leaves and soil and a little wet organic matter, dosed with AEM, covered, and let rest. Two of the three worked well, so I did get to plant some tomatoes--but the third was invaded by fire ants.

The cover wasn't well secured, and I hadn't bothered with weights, so it was my own fault; next time I'll know better. But that was no help for this time! Couldn't re-cover it, with the ants only too willing to defend their home, not that I was sure it would have helped. I don't do chemicals, flame is too risky for our persistently drought-ridden climes, and I didn't want to pour great quantities of water into the bed to try to chase the ants away, so I decided I'd disturb the ants every chance I got and just build another bed for the next tomato planting.

Stirred some odds and ends of half-decomposed material into the infested bed while I was disturbing the unwelcome resident ants, since I don't yet have a proper compost bin at that location. And a while back, my odds and ends included the last crumbles of cheap bagged soil that had sat around in a dampish corner.

A bag one of these Texas Blind Snakes had adopted for a home.

Scared me silly--but I'd already emptied the bag into the bed, and the worm-colored scaly snake had slithered beneath the leaf-mulch, so that was that. Stirring up the ants did not appeal at all that day, or for the next few weeks; didn't bother to water the bed, either, as that would have meant standing too close to it.

But I'm a gardener with only limited space, and the presence of a raised bed full of largely composted matter eventually proved too great a temptation. So I grabbed the longest-handled shovel to poke around...

And discovered what would not have been news to anyone who'd bothered to look up the Texas Blind Snake instead of just squeaking like a small child and running away. Turns out, this wormy-looking snake eats ant and termite larvae. Not a single fire ant came out to attack the shovel, no matter how vigorously I stirred the bed. The materials are not wholly composted, but it's far enough along for my purposes. With or without a worm-snake, though I hope not to see it when I'm planting.

Wearing gauntlets as well as gardening gloves, I think. -G- Not that the worm-impersonating snake would hurt me, but I'm squeamish.

No comments: