Saturday, May 15, 2010

4. location location location

Photograph: Courtesy of Christopher Parsons
Waitsfield, Vermont, 2006

finding the right neighborhood

When I arrived, the old and die hard worm boxes were resting haphazardly behind my house. The good news was that they were right about where I would have placed them myself. They were under the shade of the eave, a few steps from our back door, and within reach of our garden hose. I pushed them around a touch to situate them parallel to the house, just to neaten things up a bit, and I adjusted the blocks of wood beneath the corners of the boxes so they were level. Box #1 was already in action (worms busy composting inside) and therefore pretty heavy, while Box #2 was empty and easy to move about.

Decide early on where you will keep your boxes. Once you start filling them up with worms, bedding, and food, you won't want to be lugging them around. Select a space where your boxes will be protected from extended periods of time in direct sunlight or rain.

I was not familiar with the land around our new house and, to be honest, protecting the boxes from rain was not something I'd considered, until it started raining. During the first rain I suddenly began panicking about the safety of my worms. Were there puddles forming? Were my worms going to drown? I ran outside into the rain several times, checking the boxes and the area around them until I felt fairly certain they were safe. To save yourself some time, get to know the area around your boxes early in the game, before you decide where to place your boxes. If I'd gone outside during the rain and found that my boxes were about to float away, I'm really not sure what I would have done.

Place 4 bricks or blocks of wood on the ground and place your first box on top, situating your box so there is a brick or block resting beneath each of the four corners of your box. Do the same for the second box. Confirm that your boxes are placed on ground that will not flood. The bricks or blocks of wood will elevate the boxes enough to protect them from a little rain, maybe a small puddle or two, but you don't want your boxes in a place where the water level could reach up above the bricks or blocks, permeate your box, and drown your worms. Obviously, this would be very sad.

Air needs to circulate around your boxes, so you don't want them pressed up against the house or an exterior wall of your apartment or condo, hidden underneath anything, or wrapped up in any way. In short, make sure your boxes have enough space for the aeration holes to aerate and the drainage holes to drain.

People will be curious. Be proud of your boxes, flaunt them! If you follow my guidelines, you'll have a clean and fresh smelling, not to mention very intriguing, system that you'll be happy to show off.

The space around your boxes is also a very important part of your system. You want to work in a comfortable space where you can easily access all of your composting supplies.

A small table, I actually used a tree stump, will serve as a resting place for your worm fork and other tools of the trade. At first, I kept everything on top of the worm box that I was not using at the moment. The problem with using one of the worm boxes as a table was that I had to transfer everything to the other box if I needed to get into that dormant box, even if I just wanted to take a quick peek inside. Then I'd have to move it all back to its original space on top of the first box--ugh! I think I did this a total of one time before I rolled a tree stump across the yard, placed it between my boxes, and called it a table.

If you believe you will use your gloves all of the time, you'll want to keep them on your table with your tools, perhaps in a small bag. As I was a tad squeamish about the whole idea of worms, I started out wearing my gloves during each trip to my box. As I became more comfortable, I began keeping my gloves in the mudroom and the only worm action they saw was during harvesting.

My watering can shared mudroom shelf space with my gloves and my knee pad. The containers you'll use for bedding and finished compost, I used a couple of metal trash cans that I found in the shed, shouldn't be kept too far from your boxes. I'll be honest, I let my vanity trump the efficiency of my system. We all have our priorities. I placed my trash cans along the most seldom seen side of my house, beneath an eave. So yes, I basically hid the trash cans, but they were protected from the rain and were still pretty easily accessible. I kept my five gallon bucket beside my cans, tucked my tarp inside the bucket, and covered the bucket with its lid. I didn't want the bucket filling with standing water or debris. My shovel eventually found a home inside my bedding container because that is where it was used most often.

The important thing is that all of your tools and materials are easily accessible. Use my organization techniques as a guideline. The details are up to you.

As you know, I live in a very temperate part of Northern California, so I cannot speak to you about my experiences with worm boxes subjected to freezing temperatures or buried beneath snow. I have however read some interesting cold weather suggestions. One idea would be to set your worms free when things start getting chilly, somewhere between late fall and early winter. Just take a break during those harsh winter months, and start over again, with new worms, in the spring. I've also seen recommendations for insulating boxes by adding additional bedding and surrounding them with straw bales. Some people bring the boxes indoors.

I kept my boxes outside year round. I just let them slow down a little during the winter. The worms still go on living their lives when there is a slight (Northern California) chill in the air, they just move more slowly. From my perspective, what is called winter in this part of Northern California isn't really much of a winter at all. I grew up in Chicago and I know a real winter when I see one. Winters here are a piece of cake.

Likewise, it never really gets very hot in this region. Temperatures above 90 degrees or so endanger your worms and 90+ degrees is pretty rare around here. For those of you who live in areas that experience extremely hot and sunny summers, as always, keep the boxes in the shade. Other solutions include bringing the boxes into a basement or garage or covering them with wet burlap and placing them where the wet burlap will be in the path of a natural breeze or a breeze created with a fan.

Obviously, moderate climates make for the simplest worm box care. My section of Northern California is prime worm territory. I wish they all could be California worms... Although I live in a temperate climate, perfectly suited for worm composting, it is not all wine and roses. Our climate has its downside too. We don't experience the fun that accompanies the more extreme seasons. I am rarely able to attend a summer evening barbeque with bare shoulders and I haven't experienced the joy of making a snow angel in my California backyard. I miss snow angels...

Okay, let's get back to the worms.

Indoor boxes eliminate weather issues and many people advocate indoor worm boxes. About as many, if not more, complain of their failed attempts of starting a worm box indoors. I've never tried having a worm box indoors and I don't see that fact changing anytime soon. If you find indoor worm composting works for you, fantastic! We all have our preferences.

There are a number of teensy bug and bug-like critters that will be living with your worms (another reasons I prefer the worms in the yard) and helping them with their transformational (composting) work. I commend that work. Together they will turn your carrot tops and radicchio cores into beautiful, dark, and rich compost.

Apparently, most of these critters are friends with one another and with your worms. Maybe one or two are foe. If you look hard enough you can find instructions detailing how you can identify and eliminate the unfriendly bugs from your boxes. My advice is to just let them be. I did not attempt to examine the contents of my boxes with a microscope and weed out the bad guys. We all have our limits. Bug sorting and sifting exceeds my limits. I let the bugs duke it out on their own and any disputes that may have occurred seem to have been peacefully settled.

Some critters are worth controlling. The little fruit flies that often hover around ripe fruit and certain indoor potted plants can sometimes show up in your box. If they do, it is probably due to exposed food. Make sure all of the food in your box is buried and thoroughly covered with at least a few inches of bedding. The flies are present because they are seeking a snack for themselves and a nourishing place to deposit their future offspring. A thick top layer of bedding will save you. Hide the food! If you can keep all of your worm edibles out of sight, you are safe. By nature, these little flies are a lazy. They aren't the type to start digging around and seeking buried treasure.

Let's face it, a wooden box or two containing organic fruit and vegetable scraps, wood shavings (bedding), and worms, placed outdoors, is much closer to Mother Nature's original intentions than a plastic bin housed under the kitchen sink. I don't profess to be precisely mimicking nature. For instance, I don't use manure, a natural environment for worms. Basically, it's a matter of style. The manure just isn't my style. Just because something is natural, or green, or organic, doesn't mean I like it. It must have additional redeeming qualities.

My wooden boxes were situated in a nice shady place outside of my house, not far from my back door, and I enjoyed having them there. Place your boxes in a space that suits you.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.