Vermiculture, they call it. Basically, you keep some special worms in a box somewhere in your house, feed them your non-meat kitchen scraps, and get rewarded with a nice treat for your garden. Kathy and I tried it years ago, even using few scoops of their product, but then fell out of the habit of feeding them, so the little dears all left us after a final orgy of copulation, cannibalism, starvation, death and decay. We finally got over the guilt and decided to try it again, promising to be more attentive to their needs. We still had the gear. The box was pristine, rather remarkable considering the debacle that preceded.
We had the 1.3 gallon stainless steel bucket to sit, virtue signaling, in our kitchen to collect the scraps until feeding time. You can’t get ‘em that look like this anymore, at least not on Amazon.
More important than hardware, we had the software, the little book by Mary Applehof of Kalamazoo that explains it all.
The next soft piece we needed was the worms themselves. You need a special worm for this task. Walt’s crawlers just won’t do as they’re too big, don’t poop enough, and are sold by the dozens not the hundreds. The best critters are “red wigglers”, or redworms, as more boring people call them. Scientists call them Eisenia fetida and yes, you Latin scholars out there will smell a shared root in the species name. Apparently, sometimes these darlings can get a little stinky in large numbers from the voluminous output that makes them such good composters. We did not sense that problem is our first go around with them, even during their denouement. But where to get them? I figured that in earth-conscious Ann Arbor there would be a redworm farmer, but none I could locate. On the net I easily found Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania.
Jim (who doesn’t list his last name) started raising worms for fishermen back in the early 70s, turned to the redworm and composting in the 80s and never looked back. He was happy to sell me 500 wigglers, which arrived 2 days later.
That started the serious clock, and it’s a short one. The little buggers don’t last more than 2 days, after which things are iffy even with heroic measures. We had to embark on the difficult part of the whole venture. You can’t just set the worms on the floor of their new home and feed them their first meal. There lies suffocation, compaction or both. The new worm farmer must provide a soft bed to his clew. Mary Applehof says 5 pounds of shredded newsprint would do the trick for my 1.6 cubic foot Worm-a-way bin. Panic? Close! Who has that much newspaper laying around anymore? I used to faithfully bundle up my old newspapers for collection at the curb, but the modern throw-in-everything compost bin has done away with that practice. And anyway, who gets newspapers anymore? I frantically called around. I had dying worms depending on me. My local grocery store had yesterday’s unsold papers laying around, which they would be happy to sell me at face value. They recommended I wait till Monday, when I would get more newspaper for my dollar as the unsold Sunday papers would be bigger. Most other numbers my net search found just didn’t answer. Fortunately, I found the Washtenaw News Agency, which sold bundles of unsold New York Times for a buck each. That would be my best value on the Times since they stopped running coupons. People liked to buy them for their pets, she said. Me, too, I thought. I told her my worm story and she was amused. When I picked up my 11 pound bundle, she offered her thought on how smart my worms would be. Looking at the papers, from the last 3 days of January and featuring lurid color depictions of the players in the last days of the impeachment thing, I hoped my worms would have a sense of humor.
Unlike real farmers, worm farmers don’t do any actual physical labor. That is, except for preparing the bedding. Turning a 5 pound stack of newspapers into a pile of separate 2 inch strips is equal parts arduous and tedious. An unfolded Times is 12 inches wide and 24 inches long. Taking my box cutter to a folded section, I could free a strip with a couple swipes from each side. Then I had to peel each strip off one by one to make a fluffy pile in the bin. Kathy soon joined me and decided she needed a meaner weapon. She descended to her sewing room and brought up with her a Fiskar Classic Stick Rotary Cutter, or “pizza cutter” as she likes to call it. I believe the paste in function puts wide open areas around it for our protection.
This bad boy made short work of those Times. In sharing this chore for our animals, I began to understand how those farm couples stayed so close. As we prepared their beds, we mused over our hermaphrodite worms that would soon frolic there, proud of the acceptance of their orientation and sexuality we would show them. So Ann Arbor.
The bed was made before the worms’ clock went off. We ladled them on, kept the box top off with a bright light on, which drives them deeper into the bed, then put the top on and carried them to their new perch downstairs. The compost bucket was already bursting, and I lovingly carried it down later that evening, feeding them their first meal in their new home. We have been faithful in refilling the bucket, and have even generated a second feeding since the worms came. I hope Kathy and I can keep up our new good habits. During my first stab at vermiculture, I liked to answer those who asked if I had any pets “well, I have a thousand worms downstairs”. I intend to resurrect that retort, this time adding “and they’re well fed”.