Worm rescue day

It was warm enough today to work outside on the deck, so I finally tackled the last of the summer clean-up chores and planted 75 tulips, 75 daffodils, and 50 crocus’ in the planter boxes.

The next chore was to deal with the two worm bins, which I’ve been putting off for, oh, months. I was gung ho when I first got them, and loved the idea of generating my very own worm castings as fertilizer. However, the thought of extracting worms from castings was somewhat less…appealing.

I’d read somewhere that you’re supposed to add clean bedding (in this case, ripped-up and dampened newspaper) in one corner of the bin, and all the worms will go for that, at which point it’s just a matter of removing the bundled worms all in one lump and leaving the castings free and clear to spread on the plants. Well, I did that. The bedding part, that is. Then I never quite got around to the rest of the job. So the bins sat in the middle of the deck, neglected, until the newspaper had been transformed into castings and it was back to square one. I figured (hoped?) the cold weather had killed them all off and settled the problem for me anyway.
Imagine my surprise when I turned one of the bins upside down in a planter today, and saw plenty of red worms wriggling, quite alive. Aren’t they supposed to die when it gets cold? Aren’t these tropical worms of some type?

“Well”, I pondered. “There’s just not enough of them to worry about.” I paused for a moment. That’s wasn’t quite right — there were plenty. “C’mon. Those little buggers are expensive”, I scolded myself, “you might as well salvage what’s left”. I stared at the heap of dirt in front of me and thought, nah.

After fighting with myself for a few moments, my practical side won and with a big sigh, I went to the garbage and retrieved the bag full of shredded paper that I’d brought home from the office. My original intention was to use it as bedding for the worms, but it too sat in the back shed for several weeks before I decided to throw it out last night. So, I dropped the shredded paper into one of the now empty bins, and turned the hose on it to dampen it down (we wouldn’t want the worms to get paper cuts, now would we?). Then I dragged the whole bin up beside the planter, grabbed a chair, and put myself to work fishing out worms.

After a while, it wasn’t so bad. I picked them out one at a time with a trowel and a small fork, and occasionally I’d come across a big clump of them, which seemed almost exciting. I made up little songs in my head to pass the time.

“Looks like we made it!” I sang to myself. The melody got stuck in my head.

“Every worm is precious”. Not a song, but it popped into my thoughts and became a silly little mantra as I transported squirming little red things with my fork.
An hour later (!), I was finally satisfied that the vast majority of the worms were back in the bin (together with about 25% of the worm castings I had been trying to remove from it in the first place). I put the bin in a nice warm spot indoors and promised not to neglect them again.

I sure hope no one asks me about my weekend when I go back to work on Monday.

Worms for breakfast

I ventured into the worm bins this morning to add some vegetable peels from last night’s meal preparations. There certainly are a lot of worms in them — red crawly wiggly worms. I was a bit taken aback to find a dozen or so clinging to the inside of the lid of one of the boxes, so that when I removed the lid a few of them fell on the floor. Ewwww. I picked them up and threw them back in, took a deep breath and reminded myself that they are my pets, that worm composting is good for the environment, that worm compost will make my flowers grow like crazy. Still, it was a bit more than I was ready to handle first thing in the morning. I was far more tentative about removing the lid of the second box.

Once I regained my composure, I realized what the problem is. The material at the bottom of the bin was too soggy, and anaerobic. Most of the bedding has been transformed in to dark rich compost. I tore up strips of newspaper and threw them in; they’ll soak up some of the liquid, and add much needed carbon to the mix. I stirred things around a bit with a trowel, hoping that I wasn’t squishing too many worms in the process. There’s still quite a bit of  plant material in them that still needs to decompose, but I can see that the time is nearly at hand to separate worms from worm poo. Now THAT will be an adventure.

If my boundless enthusiasm has inspired you to try it for yourself, you can buy worms & supplies at Cathy’s Crawly Composters in Bradford (she does travel to Toronto frequently), or Vermitech Systems at the far end of the Beach.

I pulled the camera out

I pulled the camera out tonight, and took a picture of the worm composter. Some recommend that holes be drilled in the bottom of plastic containers so that the liquid from the decomposing waste can drain out, preferably on to a tray and not the floor (the liquid makes a good manure tea). Otherwise, the liquid can make for uncomfortable worms in soggy bedding, and the contents can become stinky because of the anaerobic conditions. It’s also suggested that air vents be drilled 2 inches up from the bottom as well as at the top, for cross-ventilation. This model has neither, though the top air vents are decorated with a cute red apple and worm.

Alas, I discover too late that a worm composter can easily be made from a Roughneck storage container for half the price. Ventilation and drainage can easily be drilled, and covered on the inside with some landscape fabric to prevent the worms from red wriggling their way to accidental freedom. Ah well, it is a pretty green, and the apple thingie IS cute. And there’s no danger that I’ll mistake it for a box of summer clothes, tucking it away on a shelf in a cupboard somewhere for the next six months. There, I’ve convinced myself it was a worthwhile investment.

I arrived home tonight to

I arrived home tonight to find a big box in front of my door. Whoopee, my worm composter arrived!!! I ordered it a few days ago from Busch Systems International in Barrie. They were so sweet — I accidentally put the dog walker’s money in the same envelope when I sent out the cheque and order form (it was morning, and I don’t do mornings well). I didn’t even realize what I’d done until I opened the box and found a note from “Keri” enclosing a $20 bill. That’ll pay for half a pound of worms.

What’s with the worm composting?? It’s possibly an urge for another puppy sublimated by the acquisition of ANY kind of pet. After all, I did have a dream the other night that I got pregnant, and called the baby “Spot”. But that’s another story.

Actually, it solves two problems. It absolves me of the guilt I feel when I dump perfectly good banana peels and vegetable peels and dead plants into the garbage, and, it gives me access to compost. Compost is hard to do in an apartment, so this is an excellent alternative. Compost, and especially worm castings, are black gold. It makes plants grow like stink. It makes me look like I’m a really good gardener. It gives me about a pound’s worth of new pets.

I have yet to acquire said pets. I’ve made contact with Cathy the worm lady, who will be in Toronto on April 5th and can deliver my pound of red wriggler worms in person. She will be driving right by the Inn on the Park, where I hope to be escorting my Mom around an International Orchid Show and trying to keep my credit card in my wallet while I peruse the orchid vendor tables. Unfortunately, I haven’t quite worked out the logistics of meeting up with her at this venue to officially acquire my new pound of worms. Maybe my Mom will carry them around for me.

More on vermiculture
Suppliers of red wriggler worms
How to do worm composting
Worm composting basics