J65: Juice O'Worms

I am so grossed out. Bad worm wrangler than I am, I now have a seriously smelly wormery with many, many gallons of worm juice that has gone off. At the farmer's market this morning I spoke with the woman who sold me the worms. I told her how derelict I have been as their (the worms') caretaker. Here is the back story . . .

Last year throughout the spring and summer I ‘fed’ the wormery my scraps, occasionally sprinkled some water and added fresh newsprint. This was a whole new experience. Mid-summer I realized there were gallons of worm juice in the bottom reservoir that I had to drain off and feed to my garden and to plants. I also added another plastic rack to the two storey wormery low rise.

In the fall, following the autumnal equinox (I love marking the year with these planetary dates) in September I looked at the mid level and it was a solid mass of worm poo. After trying to pull out a bunch of worms from this solid mass and placing them in the top level (to keep doing what they do), I dumped the entire block ‘o poo onto my vegetable garden.

My garden is a small raised bed I built last year from scrap wood of a demolished pergola. The soil was free and pretty lousy, so this worm poo should help amend it. I covered the worm treasure with garden leftovers, aka green/brown compost. Then my tale takes a turn.

The Santa Ana dry winds and wildfires swooped down on Southern California. Although I didn’t have to evacuate, it was frightening and I also went through a real pit of ennui. I ate chips and crap instead of real food for weeks. Hence I had nothing to feed the worms. I started becoming afraid to even check on the few remaining worms. Guilty.

In November I peeked and saw a pile of mold and decay. Someone told me that mold kills the worms. (This photo isn't from my place, but you get the idea.)So I was convinced the worms were dead. I failed to attend to the mess or bury this decay or clean the wormery all winter. I ate at me that those tasks needed to be done and then I could buy new worms in their clean coconut vegetation bedding. And, finally I would start eating properly again.

Yes indeed, I carry that rock around. Silly woman. I finally took a look again in January. New year, new resolve, renewed eating patterns and sustainability my raison d’être compelled me to lift off the two storeys. Gah.

The bottom was a worm swimming pool, emphasis on the poo. A neighbor who sells worm juice in his tree business suggested I simply add dirt to this liquid mess to give the worms purchase - to climb up to the next storey and to clean up the dirt. Those guys are little organic dirt cleaners. So, I did that.

I have also added more fresh bedding material to the top layer. I put paper egg cartons, my identity labels ripped off of all my mail, personal papers and flyers. I also added holiday cards, newspapers and naturally all of the organic waste from coffee grounds to vegetable muck.

Today I questioned the worm seller about how to deal with that pesky lower level. How do I separate live worms from the poo, garbage and dirt? She suggested I spread a tarp and dump the contents onto it. The worms will all migrate away from the sun. So, I can systematically corral them. She said it could take some days.

So, an hour ago I spread the tarp out on my driveway. I checked the top layer. I needed to pull all of the citrus peels from the compost. Apparently there is something that will kill the worms in the peel. Oops. (That is poo backwards BTW). That part was disgusting, smelly and there are 4 million fruit flies. The second layer was pretty much poo. I know, the proper term is worm castings. I am beside myself because the bottom of the bin is full of dirt, poo, juice (pee) and stink. Holy shit this is beyond me, beyond my strength. I have grossed myself out. Help!

Alas, two more hours later and I found help. I needed some testosterone to lift that sucker to the driveway (30 feet away) and dump it. I found a great guy, the manager. Then my tree man next door helped me spread it all out. Vile, vile, vile smell. And to top it off there are now strange tiny white worms too.

According to the Worm Master, Bently Christie
The tiny worms you have described sound like White Worms, also known as ‘Pot Worms’. These small worms are closely related to earthworms (including the ‘composting worms’) and tend to spring up, seemingly out of nowhere, when conditions get a little acidic in the bin. I’ve had huge population explosions of white worms when I’ve added too much starchy material (rice) and it has gone sour on me (anaerobic fermentation). The worms themselves are completely harmless but they MAY indicate that your bin has become somewhat acidic. You might want to mix in some more shredded cardboard (or whatever bedding you are using) along with some crushed egg shells (if you happen to have some).

I hosed down the bin and put it back together all clean. The gunk on the tarp will be there a few days as I try to wrangle what worms are living within into a small enough area to retrieve them. I have also decided to stop feeding my worms until the worms catch up with the kitchen waste I have already added.

I am a better person to have faced down my failure to allow my worms to thrive. I feel chastened. I still believe that worm composting isn't difficult and is relatively maintenance free. It is not totally maintenance free.

The worms need:
So what exactly do the worms need?
1) Moisture
2) Warmth
3) A Food source
4) Darkness
5) Oxygen

Here is a great link to the first of two short videos. Oh how I wish I'd seen these last year. Redworm Composting is a great place to visit for anyone interested.

No comments: