Thursday, June 3, 2010

8. dining

Protection, 2008

feeding time at the zoo

As I've mentioned, I inherited an active worm box. On day one, I just stepped in and got started. I'd been told that the worms were very forgiving, so I didn't feel I had much to lose.

I pushed the contents of the worm box to one side, tossed in my fruit and veggie bits, and then tried to cover them up with the little to no bedding in the box. I didn't even know what bedding was at this point, let alone how much should be in the box. This willy nilly method only works once or twice, if at all, and then you are just stirring up everything in your box like a big bowl of cookie dough each time you add your worm edibles.

This quickly becomes more of a hindrance than a help to your system on many levels. First, and most importantly, worms don't enjoy their homes being disrupted. They are quiet creatures and they especially abhor being stirred up like chocolate chips in cookie dough. Well, actually, that's simply my perception. The worms never spoke to me. I guess it's not unlike the happy California cow controversy. While living in West Marin I saw many of those disputed cows regularly and they truly seemed happy, to me.

Okay, I'm veering a bit off topic. Back to business.

The best news is that you will start your boxes from scratch. You will know every ounce of their contents and exactly how to care for them.

Imagine an overlay of a grid atop the bedding in your worm box. Work with the number 6 or the number 9 to create your imaginary grid, 6 squares if you think you will let your bowl fill up before feeding your worms (once per week) and 9 squares if you think you'll feed them more often (twice per week). I'm a 9.

Remember my promise in Chapter 6 to speak with you in more detail about maximizing surface area to maximize worm efficiency? Here we go.

The object of this grid is to make the most efficient use of your box. For instance, the grid allows your kitchen bits and bobs placed in square 1 of your grid to decompose enough for your worms to do their thing while you work your way through squares 2-9 (or 2-6). When you return to square 1, the buried bits and bobs should be difficult to recognize and you will be able to bury the contents of another bowl of worm edibles in this square. Make sense?

Feeding your worms is simple, rest your bowl of edibles on your small table situated between your two boxes, dig into square 1 of your grid and push the bedding aside, dump your bowl of goodies into the hole you've dug in square 1 and then cover it all up completely with bedding. Remember to always cover worm edibles with plenty of bedding (about 3" high). Uncovered food attracts flies and looks unpleasant. Who wants to open their box and get a face full of flies? Not me. I spoke about fruit flies in the Chapter 4. If you've forgotten, go back and check it out.

Use a leftover chopstick from your Chinese take-out as a marker and place it behind your first grid burial (square 1) so you will know where to bury the contents of your stainless steel bowl when you next visit to your box. When you return to your box, remove your chopstick, rest it on your small table beside your bowl of edibles, fill the next space in your grid (square 2), and then place the chopstick behind this latest grid burial. Repeat this process every time you return to your box to feed your worms. Work your way through your grid (1-6 or 1-9).

If you find yourself working all of the way around your grid and returning to square 1 to find that all of the bits and bobs are still recognizable and fresh looking, you are adding too much food to your box too quickly and you are about to overwhelm your box. It's time to start a new box.

Begin box #2 and use box #2 until the items in square 1 of box #1 start to break down and look less recognizable. When this occurs, it will be okay to return to using box #1. Make sense? If things seem a little slow in the beginning, don't fret. Give it time. Slowly but surely, your worms will reproduce and the population inside your boxes will increase. As your population increases, the pace in which your worms work through their edibles will also increase. Really. It's not fuzzy math.

Begin box #2 by adding a one inch layer of dry bedding to the base of the box. Go into box #1 and use your small shovel to gently dig into the contents and carefully remove a shovelful from box #1. Slide this first shovelful into square 1 of your new grid and then a second shovelful into square 2 of your grid (on top of the dry one inch of bedding) in box #2 . These shovelfuls should include worms, decomposing kitchen rubbish, and the bits of bedding stuck to these items. No sorting necessary. Grab your 5 gallon bucket and add enough bedding material to add about 3 inches of bedding on top of the shovelfuls of goodies you've just added. Wet and fluff the bucket of bedding material until it resembles a wrung out sponge and add it to your box.

Each time you enter a box, observe the moisture level of the bedding. Remember that a wrung out sponge is your aim. A box that is too wet can compact the materials within your box and create anaerobic (bad...trash can) conditions or at worst drown your worms. A box that is too dry can adversely affect the health of your worms, they require moist skin.

I know how I felt during one camping trip when I forgot to pack my moisturizer--brutal! But seriously, moisture balance is very important to your worms, much more important than my spending a day or two without my favorite moisturizer.

If you see that the bedding is beginning to look too wet, just add a little dry bedding, scatter it about one inch thick on top of the wet bedding. You don't even need to mix it in. Just let it lie.

If the bedding is too dry, sprinkle water on top and fluff that top layer until it reaches that famous wrung out sponge state. For sprinkling, use the mist or shower setting on the spray nozzle of your garden hose, or use a watering can with a sprout that resembles a shower head (lots of tiny holes versus one large spout).

That's all there is to it.

Now that you know what you are looking for and you know how to adjust the level of moisture in your boxes, balance and harmony will be a piece of cake.

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