Back in February 2018, I wrote about several ways that attending the 2018 Guelph Organic Conference changed my life. One of those ways was that I committed to having worms in my kitchen by the end of the month. Well it’s been a couple of months now since they arrived and we have found a lovely equilibrium with worms as part of our family. They are working away in a quiet corner of our living room, munching through carefully curated food scraps and turning them into black gold for the (yet to be created) garden. I am excited to write about what I’ve learned so far about my new wormy friends.
The basic question to start with is why on earth I would bring worms into my house or want to handle my food scraps more than absolutely necessary when we live in a city with weekly curb-side pick-up, OR sign up for a process that will ultimately result in me picking worms out of piles of their own poop! Worm composting appealed to me for a few different reasons. Number one, I have committed myself to the personal challenge of creating and maintaining a vegetable garden this year and creating my own compost seemed like a good component to add into that project. I also have chronically anemic looking house plants and I thought that this could be a good way to create some homemade boost juice for them too. Number two, it is important to me that my daughter have a connection to her food and have the chance to understand the joy of getting her hands dirty and eating something that comes straight out of the garden. Number three, I was sick and tired of the pyramid of frozen food waste that builds up in our green bin over the winter! This year it got so bad that I literally could not close the lid and if the temperature hadn’t warmed up enough for that mother-load to loosen up and fall into the collection truck, I would have had to resort to sneaking my scraps into neighbours’ bins under cover of darkness.
The bigger picture to all of this (the worms, the garden, the parenting choices, etc.) is that I am imperfectly taking steps to live into my values (see previous post about being a “Homesteading Wannabe”); being more intentional about how I spend my time, where our family’s money goes, the impact that I have on the planet, my own and my family’s resiliency, and the example I set for my daughter. People take on projects like gardening and worm composting for a million different reasons. Not to be too dramatic, or to put too much pressure on those little wriggly creatures (they do squish easily), but for me this is about saving the planet through individual responsibility and actions. SO, without further ado, here are a few things I’ve learned so far about sharing our home, life, and food, with a Rubbermaid bin full of red wigglers.
1. Explaining the worms to people in your life can be …. Awkward.
Some version of the conversation below has become a fairly regular occurrence for me.
Me: I just got worms!”
Friend: “uh… what?”
Me: “yeah, they are going to eat up my vegetable scraps. It’s going to be awesome!”
Friend: “you mean they are in your house?!”
Me: “Yeah, in my living room actually.”
Friend: “uh… doesn’t that stink?”
...and it goes on from there….
The best reaction came from our very sweet and polite Japanese exchange student who was lucky enough to be living with us when the worms arrived. I was super jazzed about them and excited to expand his English vocabulary by talking about home composting (nerd!). He took one look at them and exclaimed “I f***ing hate that!”.... I guess English immersion experiences result in picking up survival language as needed. We didn’t talk about the worms again.
There have only been a couple of awkward moments that involve me realizing that the thing on the floor is a shrivelled, dried up, curled, dead little escapee and hoping that no one else realizes that before I can nonchalantly make it disappear.
2. The internet is super helpful…. Except when it isn’t.
There are SO MANY great videos and articles online that will tell you about how to start and maintain a healthy worm composter. You can buy kits, bedding, worms, and bins with the click of a button and a credit card number. Here are some of the resources that I found particularly helpful:
Cute animated Ted Talk that will help to explain how worms can reduce household waste to the nay-sayers in your life.
Super thorough video for beginners (from GreenVillages.com) with printable bin label to remind of what foods can and can’t go it. Plus, I found the human in this video is super easy on the eyes, so I didn’t mind that it’s a little on the long side.
An older video, but great information and this is the lovely lady from whom I bought my worms and who so impressed me with her energy and passion at the Guelph Organic Conference. She also sells these absolutely GORGEOUS, made-in-ontario worm bins that I lusted over.
Master Gardener Susan Levi-Goerlich gardener talks about producing her own fertilizer using worms at home, and includes how to use the juice that can drip out of the castings as liquid plant food.
For a printable list of food dos and don'ts, see Greenvillages.com
So yes, the internet is a wonderful playground of information, BUT I still prefer to learn how to do something from a real live person. Call me old-fashioned, but I personally find that learning from real people saves me time, worry, and frustration because I can ask all of my questions (I often have a lot of those) and I can get the reassurance of someone who knows what they are talking about overseeing my work. When it comes down to it, none of those helpful people on the videos could actually come over and tell me if my newspaper/coconut coir combo had the proper moisture level or tell me why my worms were making Kamikazi escape attempts onto my kitchen floor. For that I had to call my friend, business partner, and master compost mentor Ami Dehne to come to my house, stick her hands in the bin, and tell me what was going on.
3. Worms are NOT the magical solution to all my food waste problems.
Far from it! I bought one pound of worms and those little suckers can really only handle less than one day’s worth of veggie scraps per week! AND they are picky little guys. You can't just throw them anything and everything! PLUS it’s going to take MONTHS for me to get a useable yield of worm poop that is worth harvesting. Maybe I am underfeeding them, not sure, but this is WAY less than I was hoping for. These babies alone are not going to be enough to avid the frozen food pyramid from haunting us again next winter. I had envisioned tossing scraps to the worms daily and having them instantly devoured like throwing chum into a shark tank… a beautiful, composting, apartment-sized shark tank. Not so my friends. Not so. I definitely need to take home composting to a the next level which will be a backyard compost system. More to come on that once it exists.
4. Worms + young children = ADORABLE.
My 3-year-old daughter LOVES the worms. She loves to be involved with feeding them. She asks what they can have and what they can’t and whether we are saving this or that for the worms. She explains the worms to other kids and adults and she says goodbye to the worms when she leaves the house: “Goodbye papa, goodbye Finnegan [dog], goodbye wormies.” It cracks me up every time!
All-in-all, there has been a learning curve, but it hasn’t been too bad and the worms have kind of blended into the background of our lives. There IS. NO. SMELL. I promise!! It’s a fun project for my daughter and I to keep track of together, but it is sooooooo slow! Not nearly the shark-tank-level action that I had envisioned. Welcome to composting.