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.


4 responses to “Worm hell is the corner of my back patio

  1. Boy, you suck at worm composting!

    Seriously though, there really isn’t very much to it, I swear.

    The worms don’t eat the actual food — they eat the stuff created as the food rots and begins to break down, from what I understand. I know that in our worm bin at work, you can actually see the worms hanging around spots where you can see a tomato part rotting away. (They hide back underground when you lift the lid and let light inside the bin, and you can see where they are before they duck.)

    Looking at your photo, I don’t see any food for them in there for them to eat. It just looks like really dry mulch to me, and not moist enough for a worm to crawl around.

    I think that you need to add more vegetable scraps, which also contain water and help the bin stay at the right moisture level. Do you have any lettuce that is going bad, or something like that? Throw it all in! Maybe some coffee grounds, at least?

    I would also put a piece of damp newspaper on top of that pile of dirt, which helps keep moisture in and gives the worms dark cover to eat what you are feeding them. When you add more vegetable scraps, lift up the damp newspaper, throw in your scraps, and let the newspaper back down on top. You can another sheet on top when the first one starts to break down and disappear.

    I guess maybe you should get a stick and stir up your bin a bit to see if you have any live worms left before you continue, however.

    My friend Kent also killed off most of his first batch, but then eventually figured it out:

    Our big worm problem was that I was adding a lot of fruit scraps, which attracted a bunch of fruit flies. Now I mostly stick to vegetables, and it has been smooth sailing.

    PS I won’t tell the worms in our bin that you murdered all of their brethren.

  2. Some association or another is looking for you right now!

  3. Hmmm… maybe you should try worm charming instead… http://www.wormcharming.com

  4. Alternately, if you don’t mind what look like armored maggots, you can amp up the moisture and make a nice home for soldier flies. While the grubs are fairly disgusting, the adults are absolutely beautiful black wasp mimics, and the grubs thrive in conditions too wet for red wigglers. (As a possible story subject, you might want to take a look into soldier fly cultivation: several universities have been working with using soldier fly grubs to process large amounts of animal manure. Not only do the grubs feed readily on housefly eggs, meaning that you don’t get standard maggots in the mix, but the final instar of the grubs jettisons all of its intestinal contents before it pupates, meaning that it’s capital-C Clean when it decides to metamorphose into an adult. This means that not only could soldier fly grubs be used to process organic wastes into top-notch compost, but the final instar grubs can then be used as feed for fish. It’s a suggestion if you can get past the “eww” factor.)

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