We have worms!

I have a vivid memory, more like a nightmare, from when I was in grade one (around 6 years old) of a teacher shouting at me for putting a whole apple with just a couple of bites out ofstock-illustration-9106475-friendly-worm-in-an-apple it into the school worm bin. This was my first introduction to vermicomposting, and I remember feeling intense shame while I was told (harshly) that the worms couldn’t possibly eat through a whole apple. They need food to come in smaller pieces. I remember the teacher acting as though I had dumped rat poison into the bin.

Now, 20 years later, I’m having flashbacks of the humiliation I felt that day as I chop up some apple scraps for our new worm bin here at home. It’s a reminder of how intensely some childhood experiences can stick with us, and how a tiny moment can make a lasting impact that carries even into adulthood.

This week I was lucky enough to take home a bucket of compost worms that were survivors from a soil biology course we put on at work. I doubt many other people would have reacted with such enthusiasm when offered a bucket of worms, but I was delighted. I’ve been wanting to start a vermicompost bin for several years now (after having recovered from my childhood trauma) but it hasn’t happened for various reasons. Now there is a squirmy worm family wiggling around under the kitchen counter and I couldn’t be happier about it.

The worm bin cost us exactly nothing to set up. We found some shallow boxes in the basement that weren’t being used for anything. It’s fairly small so we’ll probably expand to two or more later on if it goes well and we find that we produce more scraps than the worms can process.

The first thing I did was shred some newspaper and dampened it to what felt like a comfy worm bedding moisture level, which I think is something like a damp sponge. I mixed it around and fluffed it up so it was evenly damp. Worms breathe through their skin and this requires a balance of air and moisture, so it’s important that the bedding is damp but not soaked. Once the newspaper felt right I mixed in some of the compost that came along with the worms. This will inoculate the bedding with other critters that help with decomposition, such as springtails, mites, protozoa, and bacteria. It also has some grit in it which worms swallow and use in place of teeth.

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I had no idea how many worms I brought home, so I took some time to separate them from the compost and weigh them in. Knowing how many worms are in the bin will give us an idea of how much food to give them. The right amount of food will keep the worms happy and active, and it’ll keep the bin clean and nice. We’re keeping it in the kitchen, so that’s very important. I’ll also keep a record of the weight so I know if the population changes over time.

There were somewhere around 80-90g of worms. The scale says 96g, but of course there is still some wet compost stuck to them and at this point I was feeling bad for them all huddled together in a ball, so I didn’t bother with cleaning them and being very precise about the weight. According to various websites, the worms should get about 3x their weight in food each week.

As someone who works with soil biology, I appreciate earthworms and actually find them kind of cute. I have to admit though, I didn’t love the feeling of worms squirming out between my fingers when I held them in my hands.

After weighing I put the worms into their new home and covered them up with some leaves from the backyard. The leaves will act like a mulch to help maintain moisture in the bin and add a bit more organic material. It also looks kind of nice, like having a little piece of the forest floor in the house. The box has a lid but I probably won’t use it unless we go away for a few days or get a cat. I imagine a cat would love to use the bin as a litter box which I’m not sure the worms would appreciate.

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So that’s it! The worms will live in the kitchen and do their thing, turning food waste into awesome plant food year round, and giving us a convenient place to dispose of scraps right in the kitchen. Eventually when we have chickens, we plan to increase worm production so that we can use excess worms as chicken treats. Tux thinks this seems heartless, after everything the worms are doing for us, and I agree… but such is farm life I guess, circle of life and all that.

Oh, I also started another project this morning: homemade apple cider vinegar, following these instructions. I’ve never actually used apple cider vinegar before, mostly because it seems overly expensive, but I’ve seen it recommended for a huge range of things and it sounds very useful, so we’ll see how this experiment goes. I have to say I really like this type of project where you set something up then just leave it alone and wait a while. It fits very nicely with my habit of jumping around from one thing to the next.

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I still haven’t been able to concentrate on art since we’re so busy these days and I don’t have a studio space set up yet, so here’s a random pen and watercolour drawing of a salmon I did a few weeks ago, just so I can keep calling this my “art blog” while so much other stuff is going on. I think things will start to calm down soon once we’re finished moving and start to develop a routine at the new place, and then hopefully I’ll be able to start focusing on drawing and painting again 🙂

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