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:
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!
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.
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.
Next recommendation was to toss in a couple of handfuls of garden soil:
Then mix it all together and spread it in the bottom of the 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!):
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!
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.
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.