Phoebe Joins a Cult

A couple of years ago, in one of my wanderings through the black hole that is the internet, I came upon the topic of composting; in particular, worm composting, AKA “vermiculture”.

Get it? Vermi-cult-ure? Right. Yes, it is pretty much a cult, up there with backyard chicken-ing and home veggie gardens..

I’m no hippie (my mother may disagree), but I like to be responsible with my resources. I hate how much food I personally waste simply because I got too much or left it in the fridge too long. I wanted a hobby that offered some gratification and could be a learning experience. How I settled on worms, I’m still not sure.

I puttered around for a while, spending a few days here and there doing research and then forgetting about the whole venture for months. Finally, I had a little extra money set aside from my new job and took the plunge.

At first I wanted to build my own worm bin, but decided it was too much work. Also, I loved the idea of worm towers, which are multiple bins you slowly add to the active bin as the worms work their way through the food in the lower bins. This also makes separating worms from compost easier than traditional methods. My bin of choice ended up being this one. Once I knew it was on its way, I ordered the worms. (And I was a tad optimistic and ordered more than I needed, but ah well.)

Side note: Naturally, everything costs less than it did when I ordered it a couple of months ago.

The lady at the post office was intrigued by the “live” sticker on the box of worms when I went to pick them up at the post office. When I explained what they were, her expression went from plain ol’ curiosity to that and a blend of apprehension. But I was too excited to care.

The family stood back in bemusement as I assembled the bin and added the worms. (“I thought you were over the worm idea,” Mom remarked dryly.) Dad put his foot down on putting the bin right in the kitchen, and while I didn’t agree then, I do now. Because it’s all trial and error (the only way I learn) and putting the worms in the basement saved a lot of strife.

Everything was going well enough for a while – well, after the initial panic and mass suicide on the part of the worms, who apparently travel as well as a socially-anxious toddler. The bottom step of the basement look like a battlefield of worms. After the shock wore off, I moved the worms into the middle of the floor and left the light on for a few days to discourage more escapees.

I started out with two pounds of worms back at the end of September, but I’m sure the population has regulated itself nearer to a pound. My enthusiasm still hasn’t caught with the rest of the household (Mom has just started inquiring off hand about their health once or twice a week) and most of our scraps haven’t made it to the bin. Fortunately I get a lot of scrap paper at work, so at least the worms have plenty of “brown” waste to work through.

And then I broke all the worm composting rules with a batch of apple peels from Thanksgiving prep. I spread the peels in a layer across the whole bin and failed to properly cover it with paper. A couple of weeks later, the fruit flies had settled in.

Guess what I get to do now? Save the bin from fruit flies.

Back to Google for this, and here are my options:

  • A temporary fix is to set up “fly traps” of ACV. This hasn’t even touched their numbers, but seeing all the dead bodies in the bottom of the jar is satisfying.
  • Another temporary fix I haven’t tried yet to is vacuum the top of the bin to cut down the numbers. I never understood why people vacuumed up bugs small enough to crawl back out of the vacuum, but whatever.
  • Freeze scraps before putting them in the bin (more of a preventative measure), which isn’t gonna happen. We’re far too dysfunctional as it is without trying to do this. Along these lines is chopping up or running scraps through a blender to help them break down more quickly. Again, too much work.
  • Clear out most of the bin, save as many worms as possible, and start over. This is a last-resort option I’d rather not contemplate at present.
  • Stop feeding the worms and bury them in paper scraps and wait for the flies to leave. In a round-about, subconscious sort of way, I’m sort of already doing this. This is my current fix, until I lose patience or find more motivation.

Were it summer, I’d move the whole affair outside, release what flies were smart enough to scoot, separate my worms from the compost, toss the compost in the garden, and start over. But it’s December. And I’d rather not kill my worms in the cold. So as soon as I muster some gumption, I’m getting my sorry butt downstairs and confronting the issue face-on with more fly traps, a vacuum, and some gloves. Once the excess flies are removed, I’ll turn over whatever’s in the bin to bury the scraps (like I bury all of my problems) and pile it all with paper, and then let it wait a couple of weeks. And think to myself of all of the flies that got caught in the midst and will soon be worm food. It’s the little things.

If this even touches my problem, good, and I know to be more careful in future. If not, I’ll hide the whole mess until it’s warm enough outside to fix it. Word to the wise: you have to bury your scraps in a small section of the bin and then cover it in brown waste (paper, cardboard, etc.) or compost to deter pests.

Why did I start this whole project at the end of autumn? Partly because that’s when the funds became available, and partly because I wanted some compost ready when it came time to start the garden next spring. I do have compost, somewhere in this mess, so it’s not a total loss. And I’ve invested enough to not give up on the whole thing here and now before I possibly cause more damage.

As for getting the family on board with my mad venture, I recently purchased this handy compost bucket to keep near the kitchen trash can and sent out a family text imploring people to use it. It’s air-tight, has a filter to help cut down odors and fruit flies, and is bright green so it can’t be missed. So far I’m the only person who’s used it, but I already have more worm food than I usually would in a week.

Once this situation is sorted one way or the other, I’ll get back and let y’all know the results. If you don’t hear from me, it means the fruit flies have won.

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