Thursday, June 3, 2010

7. foraging

French Breakfast, 2008

what happens in the kitchen

What goes on in the kitchen no longer stays in the kitchen, or in the kitchen rubbish bin. All of the unwanted bits of fruit and vegetables, used tea leaves & coffee grounds, egg shells, and more that typically end up in the trash bin can now be put to good use. Start your collection!

I began my worm edible collection in a large yogurt container. This dutiful yogurt container either filled up or overflowed all too quickly, so I added another container, and when it was full, another. This collection of plastic yogurt containers on my kitchen counter was taking up too much space, not to mention the fact that it was aesthetically in bad taste. Even worse, I quickly learned that the elongated shape of a yogurt container, filled beyond the brim, not unlike a flat-bottomed ice cream cone, tips over very easily. Squishing the worm edibles down into the yogurt container and covering it with a lid is not a viable solution. Covering the container with a lid creates an anaerobic (bad) environment.

Reminder: anaerobic environments resemble trash can environments and lead to bad smells.

Skip the use of yogurt containers altogether and avoid lids of any sort and you won't have to pick up spilled scraps or endure that first terrible whiff that occurs when you remove the lid from a covered container in which anaerobic conditions have moved in. Ew!

It might seem somewhat counterintuitive, but what's best for avoiding malodorous worm edibles is leaving your container wide open and letting it breathe. Try it, you'll like it. Trust me. No smell. If those little fruit flies begin to hover around your bowl, you can always stick it in the refrigerator.

Of course you can always shell out the cash to purchase a neat little ceramic compost pail with a replaceable odor absorbing charcoal filter, but I don't really feel it is necessary. For several reasons, I recommend gathering your worm edibles in a large stainless steel bowl. Keep the bowl on your counter. Just toss items into your bowl as you prepare your meals--easy peasy. If you have company coming over or you are just sick of looking at your bowl on the counter, you can put it in the refrigerator or freezer or just feed your worms early, wash out your bowl, and put it away. Do whatever works for you. I want you to be happy.

The large bowl will not fill up as fast as a yogurt container. It won't tip over. It will hold many worm edibles. You'll only need one container. And it's reusable. The extra bonus is that it's a snap to clean, remember, it's stainless steel. No need to worry about leaving your juicy red beet trimmings in the bowl for a day, or two, or even three because a stainless steel bowl will easily wipe clean--no muss, no fuss. If you are anything like me, you probably already own a few such bowls and will not need to spend a cent. So pull one off your shelf and get started.

I suppose you'd like some details about what goes into this bowl. Fair enough. I'll tell you. The worms in my boxes have enjoyed items such as:
  • the few grapes on the vine that have gone squishy
  • limp lettuces leaves
  • radicchio, cabbage, and cauliflower cores and limp outer leaves
  • chard and kale ribs
  • the random berry or two beginning to grow miniature fuzzy mold sweaters
  • potato peels (more on potatoes below)
  • egg shells (dried and crushed--I used a mortar and pestle for small amounts and the bottom of an olive oil bottle and an empty yogurt container to smash larger quantities)
  • coffee grounds and unbleached coffee filters
  • loose tea leaves and tea bags with staples and colored labels removed
  • pear and apple cores
  • carrot and parsnip tops
  • tops and tails of green beans, summer squash, onions, and lemon cucumbers
  • shelling pea and shelling bean pods
  • strawberry tops
You get the picture, worm edibles are basically all of the bits and bobs of fruits and vegetables that you don't eat. You can also include those fruits and vegetables that you would usually eat had you not forgotten they were resting in your crisper drawer and moving, like Miss Jean Brodie, quickly past their prime. In addition, there are a few coffee and tea related bonus items that you can add to the mix.

Due to the varying rates in which worm edibles decompose, I intervene, but just a whit. I didn't want to work too hard, as I am a fan of nature taking it's course, but I wanted a little bit of control. I simply rough chopped everything I put into my stainless steel bowl. The chopping exposes more surface area and makes it easier for the worms to nibble through their nourishment. I didn't sort and consider and contemplate and drive myself mad, just a general rough chop of most items. If you think A rough chop is good, a puree must be even better, think again. The excess moisture of the puree will create a compacted and anaerobic (smelly trash bin) environment in your worm box. Don't fret about the slow pace of some items in your box. The slower moving worm edibles, like the shelling bean pods, can easily be plucked during harvest time and added into a new box set-up where they can comfortably continue their journey at their natural pace.

Let's talk about potatoes.
Potato peels are fine and potatoes too, but potatoes do not get added to your box without a price. I recommend paying close attention to your potatoes and eating them in a timely fashion, while they are fresh. Avoid the temptation of adding them to your box. I once had a pile of new potatoes that turned green on me in what seemed an instant. Apparently I had left them on the counter and exposed them to the sun long enough for them to turn a light shade of green. My understanding is that green potatoes are bitter, possibly toxic, and therefore something we don't want to eat. So I fed my potatoes to the worms. Come to think of it, that probably wasn't a very wise idea. Why would worms want toxic potatoes? I'm not really sure, but as it turns out, toxicity was not my problem. Potatoes are hardy creatures and this particular group quickly began to sprout while buried beneath the bedding inside my worm box. The sprouts proudly protruded straight up through the bedding and toward the sun. Although it was interesting and entertaining to watch this all occur, the fast-growing sprouts made it difficult to work within the box. My goal was to break things down in there, not sprout new plants. I considered removing the potato sprouts from my box and planting them in my garden, but I didn't think that growing new potatoes from potentially toxic potatoes was a wise plan. Once in a while I'm conservative. You understand. I finally decided to remove all of the little potatoes along with their newly formed sprouts and transfer them to my big woody and more landscape oriented compost pile. They would have also served as fine candidates for my green bin.
Some things were left off the list. Let me explain why.
  • I did not use grains or citrus peels. I read too many conflicting opinions about them, so I eliminated them from my list of worm edibles.
  • There were a variety of reasons not to use animal related products. Smell and the way decaying animal products act as an invitation to rodents were at the top of the list. I decided to keep my boxes meat, bone, and dairy free--no fish, chicken, pork, beef, milk, butter, cheese, etc.
  • Leftovers gone bad are rough. Very few fit the bill. Just say no to anything salty, milky, cheesy, spicy, vinegary, fatty, or fishy. I don't know about you, but that leaves out just about everything I eat. Be good. Eat your leftovers before they go bad.
  • Human or pet waste were items I never even considered, but I bring them up because it seems they are items other people have considered. These items are just plain unsafe. Bad bad bad. No no no. Enough said.
If you buy fruit or vegetables labeled with those tiny annoying stickers on them, don't forget to remove them. You don't want brightly colored pieces of plastic in your beautiful and organic finished compost. Think of your worms. They prefer all things organic. Your worms will turn their noses up and scoff at anything artificial placed before them. They are wise.

If you find yourself throwing a bunch of dinner parties, resulting in excess leftovers and food scraps, do not fret. Remember that excess food can always be stored in your freezer for future use, even worm food. Freezing worm edibles has the added perk of breaking down cell walls and allowing quicker digestion by your worms. This advice will also come in handy when you have that strawberry jam making soiree you keep meaning to have. You'll know exactly what to do with those heaps of strawberry tops post-soiree.

See? No worries.

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