Well, greetings from the Winter Wasteland. As I'm writing this, it sounds like the house is going to fall down at any moment. The weather app on my phone says the winds are blowing at 16 miles per hour, but that just can't be right. Perhaps the app is dyslexic and it's really 61. The app also says it is 36F, and that's also whacked. My face nearly froze off when I stepped outside to let Mr. Jefferies do his business, which was rather a fruitless exercise. He plastered his ears back and looked at me like, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!" then did one of the quickest about-faces I've ever seen, and bolted back in.
Spring is still a long way off for us. But even though the ground is frozen solid, I still managed, today, to get some dirt under my fingernails. That's just something like tonic for a housebound gardener.
How did I do it? I did some maintenance of my worm farm. A local friend recently asked me to take some pictures of my worm farm for her. I decided that you all might like to see and hear about the worm farm, too.
It turns out it was a good thing I did, because when I investigated the situation, I found that a couple of the trays were too wet and compacted and needed to be aerated and have some dry material added.
Avert your eyes if you are squeamish about worms or dirt. But wait, I bet you want to see what's in that bowl, right? Here it is.
Totally looks like a stir-fry; am I right?
That's a bunch of fruit and vegetable scraps, peelings, cuttings, pieces of houseplant trimmings, eggshells. It's all been previously frozen, because freezing or cooking the stuff helps it to break down faster and makes it easier for the worms to process.
I tend to accumulate a LOT of these materials. It could take up a lot of freezer space, but around here (see paragraph one), it's not hard to freeze them. Just stick them in a dish and put them out on the front (or back) porch or whatever. Here's the next batch that I put out this afternoon.
I suppose if someone came to our front door and saw a pan of garbage sitting there, they might develop certain opinions about us. I solve that problem by not bothering to shovel the front walk. If they can make it to our front door, probably the vegetable shavings are the least of their concern.
So anyway, I feed my worms a dish of stuff like that about every two or three days. That is considered "green" food -- nitrogenous stuff -- for the little squigglers.
Little squigglers cannot live on "green" food alone. They also need "brown" food -- carbonaceous -- in about equal amounts. This can consist of shredded paper, coir (coconut fiber), shredded cardboard -- that sort of thing. I have bought some coir bricks, and they are fab, but we also tend to accumulate tons of paper and cardboard -- much more than my poor worms can process. I might have to get a second farm for next year. Heh. (Shhh.)
Here's what I did not know when I started this project: Worms have gizzards! Isn't that interesting? You probably already knew that, because you are smart. But I didn't know that.
So they need to have little bits of rock as a part of their environment. They also need enzymes and other little microorganism to help them with their digestion. So when I started this last fall, I put in some earth from outside into my trays. In my starter kit, which was one of these, there was a package of pumice for this purpose. I have run out of that, and can't for the life of me find the same kind of pumice anywhere. I've used it all up (directions say put in a half cup per tray), and I've tried to find pumice of the same coarseness, and so far just can't. I ordered some online, and it was supposed to be "coarse," but it is fine dust that is meant for sanding furniture. Ridic. So next summer I will make sure to collect some sand and tiny pebbles from outside, enough to take me (and more importantly, my worms) through the winter.
But on to the fun stuff! The worm poop!
Here are a bunch of pics of what I did with my Friday afternoon. When I open the top lid, this is what I see:
When I take off the top layer of damp newspaper, this is what I see:
Do not even say, like SOME people (well, ONE person) I live with, "How do you know the worms are HAPPY?" (delivered with an eye-roll)
Do not even go there. I will snap your head off. Of COURSE they are happy. I can tell they are happy because they are happily doing worm things. Cripes.
See what's in there? Some moistened, broken-up fiber egg boxes, some veggie cuttings, some paper, some coffee grounds. Still a lot of work to be done to make that into compost.
The next tier looks like this:
Looking pretty good. There are some more happy worms. That dark brown stuff is some wonderful worm poo that has dropped through the mesh of the top layer, onto the final layer of moistened newspaper that is left on the top of the tray before the next tray is put on top of it. This layer is more processed than the layer that is on top of it, but less processed than the layer beneath it. See how this is going now?
The next layer down, though, was not looking so good:
This photo was taken AFTER I had used my hands, and then the plastic spaghetti tool, to loosen it up and aerate it a bit. I did a lot more loosening and aerating, because it was a cold, wet, compacted, mess. It wasn't as bad as it might have been, I reckon, because it did not smell bad. But it would be very difficult for my little critters to move around in and do their jobs. So I did the aeration and used my hands to break apart some of that solid wet newspaper. You are not getting all squeamish on me, are you? If so, I will be losing some respect for you; I'm sorry.
Anyway, I gave it a good stirring with my hands, and added a good amount of dry shredded paper.
I hope that does the trick.
The bottom layer looked pretty darn good. Almost soil. In fact, if it were anything like spring, I would have added this to one of my garden beds.
Below that is the drain tray, where excess moisture goes, and can be collected. We call that worm tea. I added it to some water and watered my houseplants.
After I was all done stirring and aerating and adding food and bedding, I layered all the trays back the way they should be, replaced the top layer of newspaper, and gave it a spritz of water.
All in all, it was a healthy hive, so to speak.
Wait, I bet I know what you're going to ask: Where do I keep this? I have an unheated room that is sort of a porch, or a mudroom, or an anteroom to the dining room. The worm farm has worked beautifully there. For most of the year, I did not have to heat it. It's unheated, but well insulated. But when we hit the very-deep-freezing temps, I had to put a space heater in there, set at low. The idea is just to keep the temperature above 40F or so.
We used to collect compost scraps in big bowls and trudge up the snowbound hill all winter -- when we could manage. It was a smelly, unsightly mess on our counter a lot of the time, and a big pain. Now my worms compost for me indoors.
Makes me happy. And the worms too.