When we last left off, our fearless worm-lover had started her composting adventure, not yet realizing the worm trajedies about to befall her...
I don't remember where I read it, but I had heard that the worms get really confused when they are first put into the composter. They decide to find the darkest spot and - even though the bed you just put them in is nice and dark and food-rich - they opt to crawl out.
Thus, the great worm suicide. I put them under a window. I put a small light directly shining on the lid. And yet a dozen or so (which is actually very little of the pound) crawled out to their death on the floor of the basement. Do not fear though! Had I taken the time to get a high-powered workshop light over there, I probably would not have any problem with suicidal worms. But it is apparently a common issue. If you are not fond of seeing worms, but are willing to try vermicomposting, I suggest laying some newspaper extending a few feet from all sides; if you do have any suicides, it'll be easy to roll them up.
The first couple of months went very well. We cut up our food scraps into bite-sized pieces (human bites, not worm bites :-P) and buried them under the bedding as directed. We created a good bit of food for them, but they seemed to be eating it. By the time I had buried little piles all through the first tray, the first pile in that tray was decidedly less distinguishable than the newer scraps.
As Thanksgiving approached, I figured we would need another tray to accommodate all the scraps as we hosted 6 adults for the holiday weekend. So I made it a couple of weeks in advance so the worms could start migrating up to the new tray and get acclimated. (More on how to make your bedding in part three!) That weekend, we added scraps and more scraps and even more scraps. The top tray filled pretty quickly, and we stopped giving them any more. Out came the old kitchen bucket and we started hauling out to the brush again.
I didn't think much of it until a couple of weeks later. I checked on the progress, and lo-n-behold, the progress was slow. I had overwhelmed them. With too much to eat in too little time, combined with some of the types of scraps we put in (like fruit skins), fruit flies multiplied, en masse. December was a crazy month of holidays and travel, so I didn't look into it further. I just put out some fruit fly death soup (apple cider vinegar, sugar, water, and a little dish soap - it all tastes yummy until they lose their footing!), swatted them away when we used the finished part of the basement, and hoped that I hadn't ruined my wormies. We opted to stop feeding them for a while, until things got back to normal.
Had I read the website and booklet, I would have learned a simple trick for containing the fruit flies. I could have just filled our spare tray with shredded paper and used that as the top tray. The flies wouldn't be able to navigate through it to get out, and would prevent them from coming or going. Chrysanthemum spray would work too. Lessons learned! Don't overwhelm the tray, and fruit flies can be handled easily!
I checked on them again last month: the fruit flies were gone, the bottom tray had made a lot of progress, and the top tray was not looking like a dirty salad anymore. I noticed that some of our scraps, especially the eggshells, weren't really breaking down at all. Mostly it was the bigger pieces, as I was pretty inconsistent with that, so I think we'll definitely start chopping the bits into smaller pieces; apparently eggshells should also be dry and crumbled too, so something else we'll need to work on.
Overall, though, the worms pulled through just fine and are quite hardy. You don't have to slave over them, really. Leaving them alone for a few weeks, without even checking in, is not the end of the world.
So, now that we've gotten it established, worm care is pretty easy. Follow a few simple guidelines and a rotation schedule every 4-6 weeks, and the fresh compost will start rolling in...
So, what sorts of bedding do they need? Don't they die at some point? What happens once the compost is ready?
coming soon -
part three: better living with worms