Somewhere before lining the windowsills with trays of seeds and after putting the fields to rest for winter, Paul’s ever-restless project gene hatched a plan for the boiler room. Worms. Red wigglers (sprinkled with some native worms from the fields), to be precise. A domesticated tangle of worms would profitably convert those fallow months into compost-making-green-waste-saving heaven. “Black gold!” they call the byproduct of a happy worm bed. What’s not to like?
The first outward indicator of this project came over dinner at the Haldeman home one evening in December. Paul looked at me expectantly as Jeri waved her hand over the table in frustration: Fruit flies. It seems that the perfect environment for boiler room raised red wigglers is also the perfect climate for cultivating our little friends, the fruit flies. They probably rode in on a banana peel. Paul’s tolerance for trouble-shooting this new habitat exceeded Jeri’s patience for swatting, so the worms moved to the much cooler basement which solved the situation. A few degrees cooler made the worm beds less desirable for the winged invaders. Sadly it also put the brakes on Paul’s worm project. The worms simply work slower in cooler temperatures.
The holidays came and went, and so, we believed, did the fruit flies. Until last week. The worms had wiggled their way back to the warmer environs of the boiler room and all was well for a period of time. Paul triumphantly presented Jeri with a handful of the worms’ beautiful handiwork (body work?), and she immediately ordered him back with his treasure. He retreated, however, to the boiler room where his little elves were found to be reoccupying their warmer home. The result was quite impressive, but their companions were not too far behind.
Home cultivation of worms seems to be a bit more involved than one may be led to believe, but Paul is perfecting the art. The very nutrient rich byproduct of worm husbandry is called vermicompost and is a wonderful addition to any garden. According to an article in Modern Farmer, vermicompost contains five times more nitrogen, seven times more phosphorus and eleven times more potassium than ordinary soil. The worms apparently eat half their body weight of household vegetable waste every day, which provides a nice way to convert those scraps year round. The extra worms may be released into the garden (or sent on fishing trips with your kids), alternatively they may be moved into additional worm beds.
As spring is only a faded dream in our snowy world, the worms represent an encouraging reminder that winter will eventually retreat. The few free-loading fruit flies are now actually rather festive! It’s nice to watch this winter project succeed and also give us a toehold to a new season. If you’d like to look into your own worm farm, there are a lot of resources online. Check it out and get a head start on improving your soil!
Post Script: What?!? A stock photo of worms? Where’s the real deal? …I am sorry to report that after drafting of this entry, we found that the worms were the victims of their own success! Paul supplemented their busy worm box with some wood shavings. The combination of a warmer room and the heat generated by the composting of the wood shavings tragically incinerated the workforce~ Paul wanted to make certain that failures were documented so that others following may avoid a similar disaster. Back to the drawing board!