Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The wormies

I think it would be fascinating if my 16 or 21 year old self could meet my 32 year old self - I don't think they would recognize each other as the same person. Many of the decisions I've made and lifestyle choices I've adopted are far from what I thought I'd be doing as a "grown up".  Some would be completely foreign concepts to my younger self, and some would just be far too outlandish for my younger self to ever believe I would do. One of those things would probably be that I not only keep worms in my house on purpose, but that I actually feed them and encourage them to multiply. Yup - we are a vermicomposting family, and we keep our worm friends in our laundry room.

I was first introduced to vermicomposting (a fancy word for composting with a special kind of worm called Red Wigglers) by a wonderful friend when I was living out in Phoenix. I must admit that when she first told me about her worms, I thought she was nuts. And when I saw the twinkle in my husband's eyes when he looked admiringly at her worm bin, I quickly nipped that idea in the bud and told him "it ain't ever gonna happen in my house." Well, fast forward about 4 years and after getting sucked in to the world of organic gardening, I actually found myself approaching him with the idea of setting up a worm bin. Funny how things turn out...

So, why in the world do I do this? Because vermicomposting produces some of the richest organic fertilizer around and I wanted it for my garden. Basically how this all works is you give the worms your scraps of vegetable/plant matter, they eat it, and their poop (aka worm castings) is your fertilizer. There are several different ways to set up a worm bin - we opted for the pre-fabricated Can-o-Worms. Just because I was willing to entertain the notion of keeping worms in the house does not mean I all of a sudden overcame my squeamishness towards all things slimy and buggy. So, the Can-o-Worms system turned out to be perfect for us because the tray system allows the worms to move themselves out of the finished compost, so no hand sifting of worms is involved. And the worm tea drains out the spout at the bottom of the bin, so again, no manual sifting & draining required. It is ridiculously easy to maintain, and in the year and a half that we've had it we've gotten more than enough compost & tea to maintain our garden.

The Can-o-Worms came with a coir block (coir is the bi-product of the process that extracts the long fibers from coconuts) that is a great starter bedding for a new worm bin.  I could have ordered worms online, but I felt a little odd about getting worms in the mail. So, I searched on craigslist and found a guy that sold worms at a local farmer's market. The whole transaction was a bit sketchy, because he was at the market selling produce and you were supposed to go up to him and tell him your name and that you were there about the worms. Then he took us to his pick up truck out in the parking lot and handed us an unmarked brown box with the worms. We handed over the cash, and we were the proud new owners of about 1000 Red Wiggler worms. You can feed them almost anything, but it is best to avoid putting non-vegetable/plant matter in your worm bin because you might invite unwanted critters (like maggots with meat) and unpleasant odor.  It has been trial and error with our worms to see what they will and won't eat - they love banana peels, not so much with the egg shells. They are super caffeinated worms because they get lots and lots of coffee grounds and tea bags, but no garlic or onion. We keep a fairly thick top layer of moist shredded newspaper on top of the food scraps (be sure to use a newspaper that is printed with vegetable-based dyes because you want to minimize the amount of chemicals that could leach into your compost). One of my biggest concerns was that all that decomposing food would stink because I have a very sensitive sense of smell, but the bin really does not smell at all.  Unless we tell folks what it is, no one has yet guessed that we keep a composter inside of our house.

I did a lot of research online before jumping into the world of vermicomposting, and eventually when I get around to adding more to my "Monkeying Around in the Garden" page I will put links to some of sites I found most useful for anyone that is interested in learning more. There is an excellent book called Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof that was my go to answer book. I still refer to it from time to time. I would highly recommend finding a copy at your local library or getting yourself a copy if you are thinking about setting up a bin of your own.

While I love the compost and the benefits to my garden, I think my favorite part of the whole vermicomposting thing is actually our oldest daughter's involvement with it. At 3.5 she knows that her carrot peels go to feed the wormies, and that the wormies then help us grow more carrots in our garden. I love that she is getting to see and be a part of the cycle of life of her food.

One of the metrics by which I will judge if I did my job as a parent well will be if my daughters turn out to be better people than my husband and I are - I think that is our roll as parents, to provide them with the opportunities and support and love so that they will be smarter, funnier, kinder, more compassionate and just all around better people than we are. Miss M (our oldest) is already on that path because she is already braver than I will ever be. She absolutely loves all of the creatures and critters on this earth and has no squeamishness about touching the worms, which I truly do think is fantastic.

Of course the danger of having done a 180 on my opinion of the worms is that it now gives my husband hope that I will one day change my mind about his dream of keeping goats in our yard (so that he doesn't have to mow the lawn anymore)  Not in my house!  But, we've heard that before...

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