Vermicomposting

11 Mar

March can suck it.

With the obligatory trash talk out of the way, let me begin this discussion of my maiden attempt at vermicomposting by saying that I don’t care much for nature.  I’m not really a very outdoorsy gal.  In response to invites to go camping, I often snort and proudly declare that I pay rent to protect myself from that situation.  Having spent my peak years either jumping up and down inside of a mirrored room, or with my nose in a book and my mouth showing a latte a good time, I never gave much thought to my surroundings (when you’re thinking so much about your own brilliant thoughts and how best to bestow them to others, important information often slips through the cracks).

But something happened a few years ago.  I can’t remember what I read or how I got started, but I began a 4-year obsession with reading about various food apocalypses (apocali?), which snowballed into some semblance of a desire to be a responsible steward of the earth’s resources.  Not because I was inclined to care about things, or because I couldn’t imagine the world without (insert beloved nature-y thing here), but, essentially because Michael Pollen and Barbara Kingsolver can crank out some compelling reads.  Since that time, I’ve been slowly reorienting my life around the realization that I need to at least attempt to shape up so as to be able to sleep at night, or at least avoid the stink-eye from my smart, hip friends.  Moving to Chicago aided this process too.  When you live in a heap of so much humanity, sometimes with your face pressed into someone’s armpit on the train, you start to imagine how your behavior might impact those around you.  When you stare down and find your newborn daughter’s head between your legs, the message really hits home.

This brings us to now, and explains (in part) why I am the proud landlord to a writhing pile of red worms.  Several of my friends had started vermicomposting (i.e. keeping a tub of worms, fruit and vegetable waste and other unsavory items).  The great thing about this particular form of composting is that you can do it in a small, indoor space without too much hassle.  This is what I hear, anyway.  Seeing as I am bothered by the fact that each and every day that I want to drink coffee, I have to make said coffee, we’ll just see if I deem this project to be hassle-free.  It is also allegedly odor-free so long as you tend to the bin and make sure the worms are thriving.  With the desire to create free compost for my garden this summer (more on that soon – that’s right March, shit is about to get serious), but with the knowledge that my neighbors would probably not appreciate a stinking heap of food waste in the middle of my front yard, I opted to vermicompost.

Here’s how I got started:

First I readied my bin.  I went to the store and purchased two large opaque  storage tubs, and two clear shallower tubs with the same diameter.   Then I hauled them home, and used my electric drill to poke holes in the bottoms, sides and lids (about every couple of inches or so) of the large opaque tubs for ventilation and to allow moisture to seep out of the bottoms (“moisture to seep out of the bottoms” is perhaps the worst series of words ever and I really hope it’s the grossest thing I encounter in this composting adventure).  It’s important for the tubs to be opaque so as to keep the light out.  Worms don’t like light.  I put one set of tubs (one large and one small) aside for future use.  You know, for once the worms had made more worms and needed to expand their garbage eating enterprises.  Hubris, I tell you.  I set the other pair up in the corner of my basement – putting the shallow clear one on the ground with a couple of  empty, upended tomato cans in the center, and the larger bin stacked on top.  I shredded all of the newspaper that was sitting (rotting) in the corner in our building’s entryway after a few weeks of collection, and placed it in the bin so as to fill it 3/4 full.

I ordered some worms via Amazon.  I could have gotten them here in Chicago from the urban worm girl, but it seemed like a little bit of a hassle to have to drive over there and pick them up.  For some reason, it seemed weird to me to spend an afternoon as a worm chauffeur.  So, I opted to have them delivered to my door.

Fresh worms! Delivered right to your door!

I was giddy with excitement when the worms arrived.  I don’t know why – I think that I was just really glad that the experiment could commence.  So with much fanfare and excitement, I installed the worms, some coffee grounds, a banana peel, some water, and a cup full of dirt from the front yard into the bin.  I had read that the worms would need a drink after their journey, and so the bedding (shredded newspaper) should be dampened with water.  I had also read that a little dirt in the bin would help aid in their digestion.  Since that is their whole function in my world (their digestion), I went for it.  I then covered the wet wormy stew with a substantial layer of dry shredded newspaper (as I had read that this would keep the fruit flies at bay).  I put the lid on and wished them well, heading back upstairs to make dinner.

supplies - a jar of dirt, watering can, and a few scraps

enjoy your new home, fellas!

I went down to check on the worms later that evening and HOLY SHIT they were everywhere!  Okay, well, that’s not entirely true.  There were a few escapees on the floor by the bin, and a few others in the shallow tupperware underneath the big bin, but the majority of the worms were still in their bin.  They were crawling up the sides, on the lid, everywhere!  I guess I just did not anticipate this phenomenon, but luckily my pal who has been vermicomposting for a while was with me (for a worm consult and viewing of America’s Next Top Model – yes, I really do have the coolest friends) and she shared that the worms are, get this, curious!  When they enter a new environment, they like to check it out before settling in and eating garbage.  Huh.  She just grabbed the worms WITH HER BARE HANDS and tossed them back in the bin.  HER BARE HANDS!  I had a fleeting thought as my heart was racing that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this.  I imagine that you are now having similar thoughts.

It became clear to me during that episode that I’m terrified of worms.  A grown woman.  Afraid of worms.  I felt such shame.  I was laying in bed  later that night thinking about the worms and I couldn’t fall asleep.  Their presence was creeping me out.  A floor beneath me in the basement, they were undoubtedly plotting terrible things, I just knew it.  I went back downstairs to investigate and decided to shine a light on the top of their bin to try to encourage them to stay in the bottom with the bedding and scraps.  Having installed this weapon/ mutiny-deterrent system, I felt much better.

The next morning, I took Ida down to visit the worms.  I needed to check on them and feed them our scraps from last night’s dinner, but there was no way I was going alone.  Reinforcements.  I remembered reading somewhere that people used to have kids to help them with farm labor and household chores.  This made perfect sense to me now and I thought about having another one real quick just in case…  But behold, a magical transformation took place.  Ida, upon seeing the worms wiggling around in the bin squealed with delight.  She exclaimed “pup!  pup!” (her word for any non-human creature).  She reached in to touch them.  She smiled.  She loved the worms!  All of a sudden, I reached in too.  I wanted to show her how we could put scraps in the bin for the worms, and how we would cover them up with the dry newspaper when we were done.  In short, I wanted to share in her joy.  I know.  I just got a little misty too.

So now, a few days in to vermicomposting, I’m feeling pretty good about the worms.  I can touch them and everything.  Now let’s hope I don’t kill them.  Seeing as visiting the worms has become a thrice daily event (at the urgent insistence of a certain tiny someone), I have a feeling that a mass-worm-death would be a considerable blow.  I really need to apply myself to not exterminating these worms.  The stakes are pretty high.

Also?  I might go camping this summer.  Shit, as they say, is getting crazy over here.

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