March 2, 2008

Savor Vermiculture (The Growing Challenge)

I'm a planner: I like to have an itinerary when I go on vacation, I can spend hours researching where to go to dinner, and I've been making the rounds on the gardening blogroll for pointers in planning our garden.  Wonderful Husband Charles is bold and likes to experiment: last spring, he started an unconventional container garden, composed of (in order of greatest to least success) small hot peppers, basil, mache, onions, and sweet corn.   I, however, become sheepish after the seed selection process is complete and it's time to mate seed and soil; what if something goes wrong?

I've come to terms with the possibility that the seeds might get started too early or too late; that the garden plot may not be ideally sited for every variety I want to grow; that the critters whose tracks I now see in the snow may ultimately eat more of our salad greens than we will.  But the timing of the planting still feels a little early to me.  Let me tell you instead about something foundational, the preparation of which can never be premature: the soil.

Along with our housemates, we deposit food scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, and spent tea into a gallon bucket near the sink.  Once full, its contents are conveyed to one of two large, black cylinders in the back yard, usually by WH Charles on one of his infamous, barefoot compost runs.  I wonder if that practice will lose its allure when the snow melts.  

Fortunately, maintenance of our other compost system offers no such opportunity for pneumonia-inducing activities.  The worms are housed warmly in the basement-level mechanical room.  WH Charles made their home by nestling a large, plastic pail in an opaque, five-gallon bucket.  The inner pail is pierced with many quarter-inch drill holes, and has a hollow core of metal mesh to promote air circulation.  WH Charles filled the doughnut-shaped space with alternating, quarter-inch layers of soil and a concoction we refer to as "worm salsa," vegetable scraps blended with water in the food processor.  He feeds our squirmy friends every couple of weeks, sprinkling a layer of soil on top of the food to prevent any odor from escaping.  He also keeps the lid loosely on the outer bucket, as worms prefer dark, moist environs.

Our worm community is composed of earthworms and night crawlers.  We're on the lookout for red wrigglers to add to the population, as well.  WH Charles developed our system after reading a couple of articles on vermicomposting.  If you want dig into the subject, as it were, there are many informative resources online.  I found a good overview on this website.  Happy composting!


Frank Gibson said...

Interesting take on worm farming! I have a out-of-the-box, "upward migration" style vermiculture bin, and I got to harvest my first few pounds of beautiful, black, Worm Dirt last month. I have been making my own "worm salsa", but didn't have the catchy name for it.

Any pictures of this contraption? it sounds super-cool.

Danielle said...


I know the style of bin you have-- very sophisticated! Did you make it? Since ours is a one-compartment system, we'll just release the worms into the backyard when we set out the worm dirt to cure. I'll see about putting up a picture today-- thanks for expressing your interest! Take care.