Monthly Archives: September 2007

Worm hell is the corner of my back patio

Where are the worms?, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

Last week there was a story in the New York Times by a guy waxing poetic about how great it is to have a worm bin. He’s anticipating some great fall fennel out of his worm poop.

Indeed, there’s been a lot of press about worm composting. Awhile back I wrote about Martha Stewart demonstrating on her TV show how to construct a worm composting box that would fit in your kitchen cabinet. My argument was that if Martha is doing it, it’s hit mainstream and has to be good. I haven’t found it so easy to do.

I wrote about Martha nearly a year after I ordered a worm farm on eBay. I’m not sure how I originally came across this idea, but when I did I immediately knew I wanted a piece of this action. This slimy, nematode-ial action.

Back then I ordered the worms from the same eBay vendor, and they were to arrive in the mail a week or so after I got the box. The week delay was for getting the bed set up with that weird coconut coir stuff.

The original batch, shall we say worm generation one, arrived in a cloud of stink. The putrid odor and gnatty mess surrounding the box told me something was wrong from the get-go. The mail carrier actually left the U.S. Post Office carry box with the package, probably because he couldn’t stand to actually touch the worm package itself.

It took all the anti-gag-reflex in me to open that box. I thought it was possible that maybe a couple had lived and that they could be the Adam and Eve worms of a new frontier in my backyard. So under that assumption, I dumped the contents into the coir and covered it up, hoping to come back later to a wiggling mass of trash-eaters.

No such luck. Upon reflection, I should have known every last one was dead. I was a naive worm mom back then.

I contacted the eBay worm dealer and though they doubted my tale, they agreed to reship. This time, I waited patiently, anticipating their arrival on my hot doorstep.

The new batch, worm generation two, arrived intact but perhaps a little lethargic. I suspect more than a few had expired.

Around this time I was planning my wedding and had other urgent things on my mind. Lavender or dried flowers for the wedding toss? Cocktail size napkins or luncheon size? Carpaccio or crudites?

The point is I wasn’t thinking about what the new worms wanted, and so what did I do with them? I dumped them on top of the old dead worms still in the old worm farm. Michael insists they could it was a big worm casket.

I fed them and checked in every once in awhile, and before long, worm generation two died out just like the first.

Fast forward to a month ago. My friend Lars, who runs an online garden store, offered to share with me some of his worms. I didn’t totally own up to my worm killer past, so he obliged with a few handfuls of red wigglers transferred via a big 5-gallon bucket. Until I got home, they stayed with me. This worm mom wasn’t going to let them cook in the car. They sat with me for awhile at the architect’s office, and they even went through the nearby Tom Thumb on the bottom rack of a grocery cart.

I sanitized the worm box and got it all set up for them, and in they all went. Since then I’ve fed them and made sure their dirt is a little (but not too) wet. The literature says they eat half their weight in food a day, but I haven’t observed that. Crushed up eggshells, vegetable ends, apple cores — a few times I even whirred the stuff up in the food processor — it just sits and rots in the box.

For awhile, I observed the presence of maggots, which can’t be right. I lifted the hatch this morning, and there are a few worms in there moving around, but I’m not sure what they’re up to. Are they unhappy? Are they hungry? I’m afraid I may never know.

I plan to research this further but am afraid worm composting is either too complex or just not my thing.

Low flow toilet advice and ideas

Toto Eco Ultramax, in its native environment, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

For more before and after photos visit the toilet set on my flickr account.

We’ve amped up the eco-friendliness of our house by installing a new high-efficiency toilet, or HET for short. These models use less than 1.3 gallons/flush. That compares quite favorably to the modern standard of 1.6 gallons/flush, and is waaay better than the old 3.5 or even 5 gallons/flush of decades past. Our old one had “1964” stamped on the bottom of it, so I’m pretty sure it was on the high end before.

It also leaked, and rather than sink 20 or 30 bucks into rebuilding the flush valve I decided to get a Toto Eco Ultramax. Toto is a Japanese toilet manufacturer that makes really good toilets.

In terms of impact, here’s a good description from the EPA’s watersense page on HETs:

Over the course of your lifetime, you will likely flush the toilet nearly 140,000 times. If you install a WaterSense labeled HET, you can save 4,000 gallons per year and your children can save as much as 300,000 gallons during their lifetime. Additionally, if a family of four replaced a 3.5 gpf toilet made between 1980 and 1994 with a WaterSense labeled toilet, they could save more than $90 annually on their water bill, and $2,000 over the lifetime of the toilet. Savings could be as much as two to three times that amount if the model being replaced is a leaky toilet or a pre-1980 model that uses 5.0 gpf or more.

With these savings, a new WaterSense labeled HET can pay for itself in only a few years. Additionally, many local utilities offer substantial rebates (ranging from $25 to $175) for replacing old toilets with HETs.

I’m not so hung up on exactly what we’ll save, but it does make me happy every time I flush it to think I’m not wasting water. And it does look a heckuva lot more stylish than my old one.

I’m stubborn and thrifty and somewhat handy so I installed it myself, with the help of my mom who was visiting from Amarillo. Lucky her. 😉 Neither of us had done this before. Based on our experience here are a few tips that should help your new toilet installation go smoothly:

  • Plan on being grossed out from the get-go. There is no avoiding this so just suck it up and imagine this project done. Set up a radio and play your favorite station.
  • Buy the best toilet you can afford. I am really thrifty, and sure I’d rather spend my dough elsewhere, but there is nothing worse than a subpar flush. You will see and use this thing every day, why not make that little part of your day better? I read a ton of toilet blogs online before choosing the Toto, and someone on one of those strings put it this way — you will remember a bad toilet a lot longer than you will remember the extra hundred bucks you spent getting the best one. If you google toilet ratings you will get plenty of food for thought, and you’ll probably arrive at the website of my personal favorite toilet expert, which brings me to my next tip…
  • Visit Terry Love’s plumbing site. This guy is Mr. Toilet himself. He knows toilets. The internet has rewarded him with cyber stardom in this cultish realm of we-who-research-toilets. Anyway, there is lots of good advice here, an active forum (why is my flange moving?!?!), and helpful ratings, that I assume are not biased. His favorite toilet is the Toto Ultramax, so that is what I got.
  • Assemble the right tools. I bought a ratchet set from Sam’s Club for around $60 and a big wrench for about $10. Sure, this is bordering on how much it would have cost to hire a plumber, but I figured I’d need those tools again eventually. It’s also good to have a general reference book that covers toilet replacement. Get about twice as many rags as you think you’ll need. A bucket is good. To wrap things up you’ll need a hacksaw or a dremel to cut off the nuts that hold the device down.
  • Use three-in-one oil to lubricate the bolts that hold your old one in if they are stuck. Also use this oil to lube up the drill bit it you have to drill in tile at any point (to secure the flange, for example).
  • Take advantage of the time you have with the toilet out to clean up the area around the toilet. It’s a good time to paint, scrub grout, or use my new favorite product –white grout paint! Seriously, this stuff really improved the look of the tiled floor around the loo. It’s tedious, but trust me, you will never do this again once you put the toilet back in.
  • Buy two wax rings in case you screw it up the first time. Home Depot will always take the extra back.
  • Take the old supply valve hose with you to the hardware store. I found out they make different sizes. What a pain!
  • Have a friend help you lower it onto the nuts. I felt like the most difficult part of this whole deal was getting the toilet set down properly. You only have one shot at it. If one person holds up the base and the other acts as navigator to help maneuver the holes over the nuts, this will work more smoothly.
  • I recommend against caulking around the bottom of the toilet. Overcaulking is amateurish in general. Why glue the thing down to the yucky old tile? The other more practical reason is that if you did somehow miss the wax seal, you will more quickly know about the failure if there is no caulk.

Those are my tips. I am ready to replace my other toilet and bet I could do it in around an hour. I absolutely love the model we chose, it flushes beautifully and refills in about 8 seconds. Here’s to saving water!