Thursday, May 6, 2010

3. architecture

A Happy Home, 2010

building a foundation

I'm lucky. I inherited three old and die hard wooden worm boxes. I started with one box and quickly learned that I needed two. I used my third box as a small raised bed and planted garlic in it. Two was the magic number. My boxes were well worn, bordering on downright beat-up, but they were highly functional. Each box met some very important specifications--plenty of aeration and drainage holes (protected by screen material) and lids that opened easily, stayed open when I needed them open, and shut securely.

I had zero problems with my boxes, but read many accounts detailing what others had endured. The most troubling issues being 1) rodent related and due to improper protection of drainage and aeration holes and insecure box lids and 2) drowned worms due to poor drainage. Poor drainage also creates anaerobic and stinky box conditions.

Anaerobic conditions must be avoided at all costs. To put it simply, in worm box terms, aerobic conditions are good and anaerobic conditions are bad. Aerobic is light, fluffy, and oxygen rich (good). Anaerobic is compacted, wet, slimy, oxygen deprived, and smells like a stinky trash can (bad). Anaerobic conditions threaten the lives of oxygen loving creatures, like your worms, and welcome the anaerobic critters who thrive without oxygen and emit foul smells.

You get the picture?

Aerobic = GOOD
Anaerobic = BAD

Your first assignment will be finding a home for your worms. This home will be a mixed-use dwelling, a place where your worms will work and play. With very little effort, you'll find an array of suggestions for housing your worms. Others have used boxes, bins, cans, dresser drawers, benches, window seats, leaky washtubs, and coffee tables. I even found one system involving a pair of old blue jeans, cable ties, and aged manure. My point is that you can ponder your options forever. Don't. Just get to it. Use wooden boxes. You'll be happy you did. You can always experiment later.

Procure two, yes I said two, wooden boxes. You'll be surprised how quickly a box can fill up. There are detailed calculations you can perform to determine the exact size of box you'll need, all the way down to figuring the square footage of surface required for the amount of kitchen rubbish disposed each week. I don't feel these steps are necessary. I didn't have the patience to weigh my fruit and vegetable scraps for a few weeks or to gauge how often I'd have guests and how what those guests ate would impact the weight of my kitchen rubbish, etc., so I decided to just get started without having much of a plan. At this stage I thought of my system as a work in progress.

My wooden boxes were approximately 1' x 2' x 3' (1' tall, 2' wide, and 3' long). Make sure that the wood used for your boxes is untreated. Treated wood contains poisons that you do not want near your worms. Why wood? Unlike plastic, wood is porous and breathes naturally, allowing for better box ventilation. Plastic is very common, but most, if not all, excess moisture problems I read or heard about were linked to plastic bins.

You must have a lid that opens easily and shuts securely. I suggest a hinged lid, one that is structured so it will stay open while you are working with the contents of your box. If it closes with a latch, even better. The main objectives are to allow yourself easy access to your box and to keep any and all fuzzy critters out.

Proper aeration and drainage is mandatory, without it your worms will drown and your box conditions will become anaerobic (bad) and, as I mentioned earlier, smell like a stinky trash can. Pee-yew! To give your boxes the aeration they need, you will need holes drilled into the long sides of your boxes. Six to eight 1" holes, evenly spaced, per side will optimally be drilled a few inches from the top on one side and a few inches from the bottom on the other side.

Follow the human lead. Critters out. Water? Reroute., 2010

These holes should be covered to protect your box from unwanted intruders, such as rodents. Screen material is an excellent solution. The screen material can be secured with a staple gun on the inside of the box. Soffit vents are another solution. I recently had a conversation with a very helpful gentleman at my local hardware store and he suggested using some type of drain cover as an alternative to screen material or soffit vents. I found an item in the drain cover section of the hardware store called a crumb catcher. They are quite cute. The crumb catchers will certainly cost more than stapled screen material, but I might indulge and give them a try in my next box to create a more interesting design. The crumb catchers I saw were 1" in diameter and looked about 1" deep. I am imagining them installed from the inside of the box, allowing the little 1" hole-punched metal cups to protrude from the exterior of the box, adding a shiny new dimension to a more traditionally designed box.

You might be tempted to start with just one box. Don't do it. You'll be happier if you have two. Trust me. It won't make sense to you now, but once you start moving along you'll be happy that you have two boxes prepared and ready to go. You'll use Box #2 for overflow when Box #1 reaches capacity and you won't have to take a break from feeding your kitchen rubbish to your worms when you stop feeding Box #1 and wait for its contents to be transformed into compost. You'll move right over to feeding Box #2 and you won't have to endure a period that forces you to toss your worm edibles into the trash. Once you begin feeding your worms it will feel unnatural to put your kitchen rubbish into a waste basket. What a waste! I really don't know why everyone doesn't work with a two-box system. It's quite practical and really does help the entire system run more smoothly.

Wooden worm boxes, two to be precise--inherit them, buy them, build them, ask someone to build them for you, just make sure you get your hands on two, and that they meet the specifications I've outlined above.

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