Saturday, June 23, 2012

Worms Eat My Garbage ... and Then They Poop

Polyphemus moth caterpillar on my arm.
It's a big 'un!
I wasn’t kidding when I said that gardening will cause you to do other weird and wonderful things you never thought you’d do. (See photo at right.) Okay, so I didn’t exactly put it that way, but that’s kind of how it is, except that they’re only weird to non-gardeners. We tillers of the soil understand each other and we get it when someone decides to keep 1000 worms in their home office.

A couple of months ago, I’d read Amy Stewart’s The Earth Moved, in which she discloses some pretty cool stuff about earthworms. (Read my review here.) I knew they played a vital role in the garden, but I didn’t know just how integral they are to life in general. Worms are awesome.

In the meantime, Nature’s Footprint had contacted me about some business thing or another and I mentioned that maybe I’d be interested, but I’d never tried their products. So they sent me a Worm Factory 360, free of charge. This is a worm composter! Just like Amy, I was going to raise a big family of red wigglers and they were going to give me nutrient-rich worm castings - that’s poop! - for my garden.

The Worm Factory 360 arrived about a couple of weeks ago and I unboxed it and looked everything over. I read the manual that came with it and started getting it ready for worms. The worms don’t come with it, so you have to either find a local source or order them online. I ordered them from Nature’s Footprint and was surprised at how much worms cost. (About $35 for a pound - that's about 1000 worms - which works out to about 3½ cents per worm. I found that to be a typical price.)

The worms came on Wednesday and while I really expected to find a bunch of smelly, mostly dead worms in the USPS box they came in, oh nooooo, they were very much alive and kickin’. Worms don’t have feet so I guess they can’t kick, but they can do backflips like you wouldn’t believe. No wonder these are called red wigglers! About that…

For vermicomposting (that’s what worm composting is called), red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) are what you want. It’s because they live well in tight quarters and they don’t burrow deeply like their cousins, the night crawler.

So I put everything together according to instructions…um…no, I didn’t. I was supposed to have the bin ready to go before the worms got here. I missed that part. But it’s okay – I was able to fix it, right before I added my worms. Their bedding is a mix of shredded newspaper, coir, and pumice, plus I added a cup of compost from our compost bin to get the party started.

This is the top layer of damp newspaper, on top of the bedding mix. And yes,
that's the obituary page. I didn't do that on purpose, but it's funny how things
work out sometimes.

When I opened the bag of worms, it said I should hydrate them with half a cup of water. I did that. Just so you know, they don’t like it when you pour water on them. More backflips ensued.

Kinda look like brown spaghetti, don't they? Yeah. Brown spaghetti.

I’m keeping my worm bin in my office. My husband thinks it’s a good place for it because he wants nothing to do with this worm business. That’s what he said about the chickens too, and now he loves them and talks to them. But he issued a warning: “I’d better not find worms crawling all over the house.”

No worries. Red wigglers don’t like light so they’ll stay deep down in the bedding material where it’s dark and damp. I did have a couple of uh-ohs though. When you first put your worms in the bin, you’re supposed to cover them with damp newspaper and leave the lid off, to encourage them to burrow down. I forgot, and I put the lid on. When I checked on them a little while later, several had crawled out over the edge. I just scooped ‘em up and put ‘em back.

Then, after falling asleep on the couch, I woke up around 2:30 a.m. and I went in to check on the worms before going to bed. Well, Someone forgot to tell Someone Else that you’re supposed to leave the light on the first night, again to encourage them to crawl deep into the bedding, and one of those Someones turned the light out. Unfortunately, seven casualties were located at various spots on the floor. One was still wiggling, so he/she (it’s kinda both – more on that in a bit) got put back into the bin. I made a note for Someone Else so that he wouldn’t turn the light off when he got up for work.

Which matters more? Saving energy or saving worms?

Worms will eat half of their own body weight in a day, so depending on how many worms you have (there are about 1000 in a pound), you could probably put your garbage disposal on Craig’s List. Fruits (except for citrus), vegetables, shredded paper (goodbye, junk mail!), and dryer lint (yes, really) are all nummy treats for worms. My worms’ first kitchen treats were an overripe banana and a cucumber that got forgotten in the crisper drawer.

I hope my worms like cucumbers because those always get forgotten
in the crisper drawer.

“Don’t the worms smell?” you ask. No, they don’t. As long as you keep the moisture level where it should be (damp, not sopping wet) and don’t feed your worms meat and fatty items, the smell is similar to that of good compost. I happen to love that earthy smell. It reminds me of walking through the woods. It’s not strong though and you can only smell it when you get your nose down near the compost.

In about three months or so, there should be enough worm castings that I can harvest some and use them as fertilizer for my plants. And because worms are hermaphrodites (each worm has both sex organs, although it still takes two worms to make baby worms), they’re highly successful at reproducing. We’ll have more and more worms, and our vermicomposting will get ever more efficient as time goes on.

I know. My calendar is ridiculously off.

I never in my wildest dreams, even as a child, thought I’d be raising worms in my house. Raising worms, PERIOD, for that matter. But it’s just another fabulous side trip in this journey called gardening. Never a dull moment!


I just have to ask…have those of you who vermicompost ever had this song pop into your head as you were tending to your worms? (Maybe it’s just me…)

 “The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out
The worms play pinochle on your snout…”


Jim said...

I may have to reconsider those plans to visit you when I go to Columbus this Fall . . . .

Kylee Baumle said...

Are you afraid of worms, Jim?

Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

Loved reading this. I finished Amy's book and thought it was fascinating. I keep a fluorescent light on next to the bin...worm suicide isn't pretty. I really like the Worm Factory bin...much much better than my plastic bin. My worms love melon rinds!!

Fran Malone said...

I have been composting with worms since about 1987. I think they are the coolest thing ever!

I have had a couple of snafus that devastated the worm community, but nothing that stopped me from doing it again.

Because we eat lots of fruits and vegetables and get lots of junk mail, I have two - rather large - plastic bins - that I drilled holes in for drainage and cover with the lid or a piece of wood. The worms are happy in the basement where it is cool and dark.

I only noticed migration when the population was too dense. So that is when I harvest the soil and either give a start to someone else or start another bin.

I even taught about worms at VBS this year!

Fran Malone said...

I have been vermicomposting since the late 80's and love it. I find them to be hungry eaters and help us with all the fruit and vegetable waste we can produce. I taught about worms at VBS this year and gave each child a sample of soil and instructions how to build a compost bin for their homes.

They do migrate if the population becomes too dense!

Modern Mia said...

Hmmmm...need to think on this. Sweet Hubby mentioned starting a worm farm every other day. I know my kids would love it, especially our very own "Worm Whisperer" (Boy Wonder #2) who coaxes them in and out of our yard.

Modern Mia said...

Hmmmm....might have to look into this a little more. Sweet Hubby talks about this almost every day. Since we have our very own "Worm Whisperer" in Boy Wonder #2, this might be a good option for us. Thanks for sharing all of it and not just the pretty (I know, but still) parts.

Unknown said...

I've had a worm bin now for a couple of years and it never ceases to amaze me how they can turn kitchen waste into black gold. I have been trying to get more people into vermicomposting but no lick so far.

Lisa, The Hardcore Gardener said...

I built a worm bin out of plastic tubs when I lived in an apartment a couple years ago and have harvested pounds of castings. It never ceases to amaze me how they can turn kitchen scraps into garden gold. Nobody would know I have worms in my dinning room if I didn't tell them.

Stephanie from said...

I love the idea of vermicomposting - can't wait to try it myself. Love that you got mail order worms :)

Anonymous said...

I just discovered your blog yesterday and love it! I am now living in NH but I went to grad school at Ohio State back in the 1980's. I am looking for the kind of information you so generously share and wanted to thank you for it! I hope you get everything from the storm back in order quick as a bunny! Try and stay cool... I know, I know...
Hugs a new follower,
Beth P
P.S. I have your blog linked to my blog so my followers can take part in your fabulous information, and pictures!

Jamaal Mccune said...

Aside from meat, you should also not give them bones or dairy products because these are hard to digest and tend to spoil. Good choice for the bedding, Kylee. You can also use peat moss and leaves from your yard for the bedding. It won't be bad if you experiment, though. :) I guess, Charles Darwin's right. People, in case you don't know, he's the guy who studied earthworms for 40 YEARS. Seriously. He considered worms to be extremely important in the development of human culture.

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