Saturday, November 20, 2010

Confessions of a Stone Turner

Roots, nematodes, ants, termites, worms, moles, voles and snakes tunnel underground. They search one another out in the dark, chasing mates and food by touch and scent. This subterranean world is nearly invisible to us. We see it in glimpses: A mole falls out of a clay bank and we pick it up in the road, or we dig a hole and watch as unearthed insects scramble to disappear.

Turning rocks and peering beneath them provides a window into the underground world. Turn a rock in your garden, and if you have chosen your rock well, you will see a cross section of what occurs everywhere beneath you. For an instant, as tunnels are unveiled, you can savor a moment in the life of a soil organism. It is indeed just a moment, because ants soon hurry to hide their brood. Earwigs scurry beneath litter. Springtails hop away. It is nonetheless one of the best ways to learn about the daily lives of what lives beneath you.

Planting rocks for soil-dwelling insects is not unlike planting flowers for butterflies. The more rocks you plant, the more you will enrich the community of soil dwellers around you. Any rock or stone is better than none, but underground denizens do have preferences. Chipmunks might like a tall rock wall filled with holes and history, but most ants and their six-legged kin would rather have a field of cobblers laid flat. Under a good, sun-warmed rock, ants, for example, will bring their brood up to take in the heat. Even the queen might rise from her deep hole to warm herself on the underside of a well-planted stone. Read more about creating this type of habitat in your yard.

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