There’s a light snow falling in the ravine, with temperatures likely to drop further this evening, so we’re going inside today. When Jane and I lived in Vancouver, we answered a local ad about worm composting. Someone was interested in forming a group to promote it. It sounded like a good idea, but felt a bit disorganized, so we had them around to our apartment on French Street. I was excited enough that I spent a couple of days drafting a mission statement, coming up with a name — The Marpole Green Council, designing a logo, and printing some stationery. The handful of neighbors who showed up listened patiently, if a little warily, voted to approve everything, and then shortly afterward all dropped out. Apparently vermiculturists (yes, it’s a word) have an anarchistic streak, and they get a bit uncomfortable with anything too structured. So do worms: many crawl out of the bin the first night and head for freedom. Jane and I ended up at an ecological fair in a local park — only the two of us now — demonstrating how to raise red worms and telling everyone what a truly good thing it was for the planet. It was the first and last event for The Marpole Green Council. For years afterward I used the group’s stationery to write outraged letters to The Vancouver Sun about corporate waste and looming environmental disaster. Good stationery is a fine substitute for an actual organization. It’s all you need, and no one has to remember Robert’s Rules of Order.
That winter I set our worm bin out on the apartment balcony, and they all froze.
I have a new colony of worms now, kept down in the workshop, and although Colorado winters are more bitter than the coastal version in British Columbia, these have survived a full set of seasons and are headed for a second. I still operate under a principle of Benign Neglect (which I suspect is an excellent worry-free way to raise children as well), but somewhere along the way fewer things get killed off. Red worms, usually Eisenia fetida, do well between 50°F and 86°F. The temperature of the bin I’m sure has dropped below the lower mark, since the shop is unheated, but nearly two feet of composting material and the heat produced by decaying vegetables seem to provide at least a habitable home. I’d poke a thermometer in there and measure, but the principle of Benign Neglect — which states that if something is still moving it’s fine — forbids it.
More and more we’re aware that we’re overrun with plastic, particularly in our oceans, and until someone comes up with a commercially viable way to collect it, recycle it into pilings and building materials, and manufacture pods for future undersea cities (sooner rather than later, please: the water is rising), it’ll continue to be a threat. So it’s a bit ironic that the best worm bin is probably a Rubbermaid container with holes drilled in the top, sides, and base. And then filled with soaked strips of the New York Times Arts section. Eisenia fetida are famously apolitical, but they know a good newspaper when they eat one. And they adapt well. I once heard of someone who kept their red worms in the house instead, inside a wood mud room bench just by the door, where folks could rest and remove their boots. I imagine the conversations went something like that old Palmolive commercial (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzmTtusvjR4):
“I should introduce you to my worms sometime.”
“You’re sitting on them.”
When I did buy them, our red wrigglers arrived in the mail from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm in Pennsylvania, 1,000 strong. They produce enough high-quality compost that I give most of it away, and the only downside is that, having bought them online and Googled vendors, I sometimes get emails now from attractive Russian worms asking if I’d like a life partner. And then there’s the fact that the native drought-tolerant plants I’m growing thrive in well-drained, sandy, slaty, shaly loams. Decomposed granite. Lousy soil. You can’t dig three inches without breaking a shovel on rock. So the black gold — all that nitrogen-rich, organic material the worms produce? I’m really not sure we can use it.