Monday, February 16, 2009

Worms are (sort of) eating my garbage

Every winter, as I pick my way down the steps to the compost bin (or, more often, dump the stuff in the trash), I swear I'm going to start a worm bin. This year I finally did.

According to the books, and in my imagination, it was simple: drill some holes in a big plastic bin, fill it with damp shredded newspaper, order worms, dump them in, add garbage.

Umm...not quite.

The bin part was simple. So was the newspaper part, and the dumping-in of the worms part. They came curled tightly in a big ball, like trauma victims huddling together - which I suppose, after a few days in the hands of the US Post Office, they were.

It was days before they began to explore their new surroundings. But when they did...uh-oh. About a week after they came, I opened the bin to find what looked like all 1,000 of them wildly trying to get out, clambering the walls and diving over the top the instant I took off the lid.

What I needed at this point was not a book, but a person, and there is one: Bentley Christie (aka The Worm Guy). Bentley, from whom I bought my worms, promises email support, and he delivered.

A few panicky email exchanges later, it turned out the worms were probably unhappy with the dirt I'd put in the bin (for grit). It came from a pot on the deck (with ice covering the stairs, I wasn't about to creep down to try to dig it out of the frozen earth) - and the pot on the deck contained commercial potting soil. Worms, it turns out, want good clean dirt.

I shoulda known.

Bentley suggested we encourage the worms to migrate into a second, potting-soil-free bin. But when I opened the bin to put the new bin on top, about four days after The Great Escape Attempt, the worms - or those that were left, anyhow - had settled down in peace and quiet. We put in more newspaper, to dilute the dirt, and since then they have been happily chomping our coffee grounds (of which - now that I am weighing our garbage - I've realized we produce an alarming amount), wilted lettuce, and other assorted goodies.

(Weighing my garbage? Just you wait. I'm freezing it, too.)

We aren't yet home free. For one thing, I have discovered that we produce considerably more than the half-pound of garbage that 1,000 worms can eat in a day. Just the grounds from our daily pot of coffee weigh almost 5 ounces.

At the moment, I'm freezing what they can't eat, because we'll be going away for 1 1/2 weeks in March, and need to store it up. But I have better uses for my freezer than to store worm food. So when we come back, either they'd better start breeding, so I can give them more garbage, or I'll have a worm bin and still have to throw stuff out!

Of course, if they do start eating more, I'm not sure how I'll figure it out; in the riotous mixture of paper, garbage and worm that fills my bin, I don't know whether I'll be able to tell just what they're doing.

At which point, I guess it will be time to email Bentley again.

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Blogger Pat McNees ( said...

It is amazing how obsessed we can become with worms after that initial thrill of watching garbage turn into black gold! I drive or walk my garbage to a friend's house where I have two composters working. I wish I had a local worm man to ask for advice-- Pat McNees

April 2, 2009 at 12:30 PM  

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