Monday, May 24, 2010

5. interior design

What Makes a Home, 2009


You are going to need bedding for your worms. Purchase bedding before you purchase your worms. They won't want to sleep on the floor. When I refer to worm bedding, words such as percale, Egyptian cotton, and thread count should not come to mind. Like most of us, worms like their bedding light and fluffy. Unlike most of us, they like their bedding moist like a wrung out sponge. Although you and I would not enjoy snoozing on bedding that resembles a wrung out sponge, your worms will love it.

If you do not know what a wrung out sponge looks like, you are truly a lucky person. You must not do a lot of dish washing. For this project, you will need to learn. Try and find a sponge, wet it under the tap, and squeeze it to remove most of the water. Now take a good look at it and commit the look and feel of this sponge to memory. You will use it as a model for determining the proper moisture level of the bedding in your worm boxes.

My landlord told me that I could start a new worm box with several shovelfuls of aged manure as bedding. She's not alone here, manure is a perfectly acceptable worm bedding. Honestly, it just sounded a pinch unsavory to me, but I felt slightly guilty about brushing off the idea without even giving it a try, so I decided to mix just a little manure in with a lot of shredded newspaper.

I sorted through piles and piles of newspaper to separate the black and white sheets from the color. I read several claims that the color ink being produced at the time was fine, but other claims warned not to take a chance, so I decided to play it safe and only use black and white newspaper. Bit by bit I fed all of the black and white pages through my junk mail shredder and put it all into a brown paper grocery bag for safe keeping.

Now let me put this manure issue to rest. Using manure for worm composting is not as straightforward as one might think. The first issue is that it is a bedding that has a tendency to heat up to a level so high it could kill composting worms. Because of this heat issue you must institute a two day waiting period after wetting your manure bedding before adding your worms. I'm not a big fan of waiting periods, especially if there are other more simplified methods that serve the same purpose. Additionally, for health reasons, you must only use well-aged, at least six month old, manure. I didn't feel able to comfortably eye the manure and confirm its age, nor did I have an interest in aging fresh manure myself. I am not a connoisseur of manure, but the supposedly aged manure available to me at the time just didn't seem right. It had a stiff ornery texture that would not break up or crumble as I hoped it might. I didn't want big chunks of bedding, I wanted loose fluffy bedding that was easy to dig into and distribute on top of my kitchen rubbish. This whole worm thing was supposed to be fun and I wasn't about to stay up all night transforming this manure into a favorable worm bedding texture. Maybe there is a fluffy aged manure out there somewhere, but I opted out of trying to hunt it down. I just stopped using manure.

Newspaper works as a bedding material in a pinch, but it is ugly, forms clumps when wet, and quickly becomes difficult to fluff up enough to cover kitchen rubbish. Fluffy and light bedding is integral to a healthy and properly aerated box. A well aerated box will keep your worms happy and healthy, and it will keep your box from smelling, which will keep you happy. Just another friendly reminder--proper aeration helps maintain aerobic conditions in your box. Aerobic is good. Anaerobic is bad. So I eventually gave up using newspaper too.

I used pine wood shavings, a by-product of wood processing, packaged as animal bedding. If you own a horse or any livestock you might already have a vat of the stuff. I do not own any such large animals, but I was able to purchase my animal bedding from a local feed store. The wood shavings were triple screened to remove dust and kiln dried for maximum absorbency and to kill any bacteria present.

You'll need a bag of pine wood shavings and a large container in which to house them. I used a metal trash can with a secure lid to protect the shavings from the getting wet in the rain and from blowing away in the wind. The shavings expand when wet and I didn't want them expanding until they were safe inside a worm box.

As noted, animal bedding made from wood shavings is light and fluffy, so you'll want to be cautious when transporting it from container (metal trash can) to worm box so you don't end up with half of your bedding scattered across your neighbor's lawn. A basic five gallon bucket, never filled above 3/4 full, works well. Spritzing the top of the bedding in the bucket with a little water also helps to minimize fly-away. Cover the bucket with its lid if it's a really windy day.

Animal bedding made from wood shavings is light, fluffy, pretties up your boxes, retains moisture, and looks great in your finished compost. Who could ask for anything more?

A local feed store may not exist in your neighborhood and animal bedding from a pet store will probably mean less product for more money. Why not take a ride to the country? The comfort of knowing that you scored a huge bag full of bedding at a reasonable price will make your country jaunt feel worthwhile. Make a day of it, pack a picnic. Maybe you'll be lucky enough to find a worm farm and a nearby feed store in the same vicinity. Even better, make it a weekend getaway. I know for a fact that such possibilities exist here in Northern California's wine country. If you happen to live in the Midwest or over on our other lovely coast, be optimistic and see if you can map out a similar adventure in your neck of the woods. This is supposed to be fun, right? Enjoy the ride!

If you are unwilling or unable to locate animal bedding, I have heard good things about coconut coir. The coir is a waste product of the coconut industry, but I'm not sure how well that reconciles with transportation costs. Black and white newspaper is a bit high maintenance, and it's not very pretty, but it is free and it does work. It's your call.

Always add a couple handfuls of soil to all of your new worm boxes. It introduces microbial decomposers to the process and they will get things in your box humming along more quickly. Think of those couple handfuls of soil as the final step in your worm box recipe, as you do your final step in cooking most savory meals--salt and pepper to taste.

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