Gardening where the sidewalk ends

My New Pets May 5, 2009

Filed under: composting,worms — greenwalks @ 9:29 am
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Some people disdain the word “owner” when applied to domestic animals. I would tend to agree, having had companion animals from fish to cats to a dog since childhood. We can’t really own another creature, can we? We just care for them and take whatever they choose to give us in return. It’s probably stretching the definition of “pet” quite a bit to include worms, but what can I say? It was with great excitement that I took ownership of became the caretaker to a big, wriggly pile of worms last week to add to my newly constructed worm bin.

At first I considered purchasing the worms of choice for worm composting, red wigglers (Eisenia foetida), but they were $25 per 1/2 lb. at a local source and that seemed kind of steep. Then my mom came to the rescue as usual, offering to donate a bunch from her own compost pile. So, last week, I went to pick up my new little friends.

They had been living in a cylindrical plastic bin, gradually eating their way through food scraps and leaf mulch for generations. Here is their old home, newly revealed:

Unshelled compost, full of worms

We put on rubber gloves and gently dug into the pile to start transferring worms to a bucket for transport. I am quite a bit on the squeamish side so this was a bit of a stretch for me. My folks thought it was funny, they aren’t grossed out by piles of squirming worms. Don’t look at this photo if you are, though!

Worms insd folks' compost pile

My generous parents didn’t stop with the bucket of worms – they also sent me home with several bags of leaves and newspapers for the worm bin’s bedding, plus the indispensible classic of vermiculture, Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof.

Driving home, I thought it would be kind of funny to be pulled over and asked to show what was in the back of my wagon. It didn’t smell bad, just a little earthy back there. I also wondered what the worms were “thinking”, if they could experience confusion or frustration that their happy home had been disrupted!

When I got home, it was time to prepare the bedding and get the worms into their new digs. Ideally, I would have got everything ready in advance, but I had been waiting to get the book in order to do the bedding part semi-correctly. According to the book, it would be necessary to weigh the bedding and then saturate it with the proper amount of water, in order to replicate the worms’ own body-water percentage (75%). So I hauled the bathroom scale outside, got a gallon jug for water, and got ready to mix.

Worm bin book, scale for weighing water, jug

Appelhof suggests mixing three parts water by weight to each part bedding. That means weighing the bedding, then weighing the water, and doing some simple math (not my strong suit). We had only managed to shred three pounds of newspapers, even though it took FOREVER, so that meant nine pounds of water or just over a gallon.

Mixing the newspapers and water

Next recommendation was to toss in a couple of handfuls of garden soil:

Handful of soil + water + shredded newspapers = worm bin bedding!

Then mix it all together and spread it in the bottom of the bin:

Wet Newspaper Layer in Worm Bin

Not nearly enough to make a comfy home for the worms, so I added a layer of composted leaves from my folks, then another of less-broken-down maple leaves weighed and mixed with the right amount of water and more soil (the sticks on top are from pruning back the jasmine that overhangs the bin, so that I can get in there without getting an eye poked out!):

Leaf layer

Then the most exciting part – adding the worms! I tried to take a movie of them “diving down” under the leaves, which made this really cool, barely audible sound, but it didn’t turn out too well so here’s another still shot of my new buddies. Avert your eyes if you are yukked out by worms!

Worms are in!

The book recommended waiting until they’d all disappeared from view before beginning to add any food waste. They were invisible within about 30 seconds, so I figured no reason to wait any longer to gently add their first delicious meal – overwintered parsley trimmings and bolted broccoli raab from my folks, and some rotting outer lettuce leaves from my fridge.

First meal for worm bin worms

Some people like to bury worm bin food in a kind of grid, but I think I’ll probably be more haphazard. Others say it’s fine to just toss stuff on top or wrap it in newspaper and put it wherever. I think I probably need some more bedding to make sure they have enough room to roam in there, so maybe it’s time to haul out the shredder we have in the basement, despite my fears of shredding my fingertips. It sure would make the job a lot quicker!

So, what do worms like to eat? Pretty much everything humans eat except meat/dairy and lemons. There are differing opinions about other citrus, onions, spicy peppers, etc and also about whether or not it’s necessary to cut up scraps into small chunks. I imagine they can pretty much handle most anything as long as they are comfy and don’t get too hot/cold/water-logged.

With just a little bit of continuing care (giving them our food scraps, adding bedding every once in a while) I hope we’ll be able to keep them happy and eventually harvest some incredibly useful vermicompost for the garden.

What do you think, should I name my new pets? I was thinking half could be Red and the other half Wriggles, but maybe you have some better ideas.


17 Responses to “My New Pets”

  1. It looks great! I was thinking of starting a worm bin last year and with the winter we had, I’m glad I didn’t. I have most of it ready to go though. Maybe I’ll take another look at it!

  2. Carol Says:

    Utterly Cool! Worms are so great! Earthworms at least … your bin looks awesome and as to naming… well Mr or Ms Wriggles seems most appropriate! I would not get too attached however. Brava for making your own healthy soil! Nice to see the bin being used after seeing it being made.

  3. Grace Says:

    I guess it takes a certain personality type to appreciate the almighty worm. Perhaps a bit on the quirky side. This is me only more than a bit! Sharon Lovejoy in her book Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots, calls her worms “the girls.”

    Here’s to successful worming. πŸ™‚

  4. Well, It looks kind of great…It ain’t pretty but the finished result is πŸ™‚
    Have a great time with your new friend Karen.

    LOLove Tyra

  5. Catherine Says:

    That was really interesting. I had no idea what was involved in worm bins. When my daughter was really little she named a worm “super wormy” and talked about it all the time.

  6. easygardener Says:

    Good luck with your wormery – if they disappeared under the surface that quickly they must be happy with their new home.

  7. Bonnie Story Says:

    Wow, great pictorial!! This is good info and very inspiring.

  8. RainGardener Says:

    Squirmy? Heck I bait my own fish line! LOL Neat getting worms. I thought about it for a minute once! But I do treat my regular garden worms with great respect. Like when I’m potting a plant for a friend or to take to a market and a worm is in it – he goes right back out to my garden! Sorry, no sharing my worms. πŸ˜‰

  9. Paula Says:

    Congratulations! Isn’t it nice to know they are out there working away even when you are not! It’s fun seeing your steps to happy worm hosting. Keep us updated on their progress, too.

  10. Tatyana Says:

    I agree with RainGardener – no sharing worms! The only exception is when my boys go fishing. Congratulations, Karen!

  11. Ginger Says:

    worms are so cool! They’ve totally populated our ‘green cone’ composter – when I opened it up last night, they were everywhere! I should really build a worm bin…
    Keep us posted on their progress.

  12. Megan Says:

    So cool, I think about doing these things, but I never do these things. Good work. How do you harvest the compost once it’s ready?

  13. Racquel Says:

    Congrats on your new helpers! They will make you some yummy worm compost for the garden. πŸ™‚ Worms don’t gross me out, but snakes are another story…. lol

  14. jgh Says:

    Cool – looking forward to seeing the finished product! Are you going to make worm tea? You should name one after the Richard Scarry character, Lowly.

  15. Amanda Says:

    This is great! What an excellent blog and what an excellent adventure! I vermicompost, too, and it really is rewarding to see what goes on under our feet. I know this is an outdoor worm bin but it’s worth passing on that you can keep your worm bin inside; and no, it does not smell – just don’t put dairy, meat or foods liable to go rancid – that’s where the bad smell comes from. Mine is still going strong for two and a half years with happy worms that smell like fresh dirt. πŸ™‚ Happy worming!

  16. Linda Says:

    Lovely, lovely worm compost. You know you’re a gardener when you find photos of compost in various stages absolutely fascinating!

  17. Hortoris Says:

    Drink whiskey – worms can live in water.
    In the North East folk use their water for the Leeks (and that is not a joke)
    Think of me as I sit amongst my Cabbages and Peas

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