And Down Went My Uncle Sol*

I added a new species to our menagerie last week. In retrospect, it’s very clear that  I just took another step towards micro-farming.  My new dependants aren’t cute or cuddly,  and unlike the chickens I hope to bring home one day, I have no plans to try clicker training with them.  But I’m totally smitten.

Run out of guesses? I’m talking about a half pound of Red Wiggler worms.  Their job is to eat as much of our food waste as they can; hopefully everything but meat and citrus fruit. Worm composting is an efficient way to keep your houseplants thriving and your food waste out of the landfill.

I know what you are thinking, since I’m thinking it too – I’ve taken yet another step over the edge. The really ironic part is in my former life, I once pitched a story about a worm farmer in Oregon to my editor based purely on the freak value of the whole scenario.  That kind of story is always in demand during slow news cycles.  And now I’ve become a part of it.

I’ve been bothered by our food waste ever since I landed here in Boise.  In Seattle, it didn’t matter that I didn’t have my own compost pile – the Emerald city has curbside composting – indeed, composting is mandatory – so I never had to worry about it. But as a result, I now find it nearly impossible to toss coffee grounds, vegetable scraps and eggshells into the trash can.

If you’ve never thought about the impact of food waste, read  Jonathan Bloom‘s  American Wasteland – or his recent editorial in the LA Times.  It turns out,  the average American sends 4.6 pounds of solid waste to the landfill every day. In addition to that staggering figure, Bloom estimates that each of us throws away 25% of the food we buy.  The book looks at all angles of the problem and is a challenge for all of us to do better, as individuals and as a society. Composting is just one part of the solution – the easiest part.

If I could, I would simply set up an outdoor three-bin composting system. We’ve done this before, and as long as you have time (and in my case, fencing to keep out inevitably curious dogs), the traditional method of creating compost works very well.

But at our rental house, I don’t have a garden to use all that compost,  nor the freedom to build a bin in the yard. Which makes worm composting really the only practical choice. Here in Boise, it’s a solution used by one forward thinking local restaurant and even a group of pre-school students.

The process is pretty straightforward. Set the worms up with everything they need;  an appropriate container,  moist bedding, the right temperature and be careful not to overfeed them, or disturb them too much and then leave them to it.

There’s lots of worm information available online and your local library, like mine, probably has a copy of the worm keeper’s bible Worms Eat My Garbage, by Mary Appelhof.  I bought my bin at the local feed store, and was able to source my worms through them as well.  My worms have been in place for about a week now – and while I am still throwing out some food waste, I’m hoping that as the worms get more established, and I get the hang of all this, that they will be able to eat nearly everything we waste.

Or else, I may have to get some more.

Some of the anecdotes in Appelhof’s book  – people using their my worm bins as coffee tables, and inviting every dinner guest to check out the disposal system, really give me pause.   I know worm keeping, unlike say, making granola, or even homemade dog food pushes the alternative- lifestyle -line back more than a few yards.  (I wanted to hide the bin in the our huge suburban garage, but it’s too cold out there – for worms to really do their stuff, they like the temperature to be at least 60° F.).  So for now, my small worms bin sits in the utility closet under our stairs, out of sight, but not out mind.

The big question is, what comes next? It’s probably for the best that we are renting right now.  A friend of mine has recently taken up bee-keeping – which really is fascinating – even if, like me, you are terrified of bees. At least the worms aren’t going to sting us, or swarm into my neighbor’s yard. Or so I hope.

* The title of this post is taken from e.e. cumings’ poem “nobody loses all the time“.  The full quote is: “and down went my Uncle Sol and started a worm farm”


6 responses to this post.

  1. We are big recyclers and composters here in my little village, they come around weekly for both. Our past holiday this year to Florida we were shocked that they are just getting on this band wagon. No recycle bins, well there is at Disney but not like here where they are even on street corners. We all have to do our part to help out our planet, and hey if worms is the way to go, then you go for it.


  2. How funny to come read this today. Our worms are actually in the mail on the way to us as we speak! It was a gift from my aunt and I’m actually excited to get started! We’ve been saving compost for the past week and a half in prep for their arrival. Our kitchen counter is overflowing. Bring on the red wigglers!


  3. I didnt know this is possible for us who rent.We will definitely consider this and find out more where we can get worms.Thanks for sharing this


  4. So far so good. They seem to like the high volume of coffee grounds I provide!


  5. Congratulations on your new colony! I have been raising a small colony of tiger worms for a couple of years now and the little fellas now eat up to a litre of scraps a day. When I started I got some great advice: (1) do not over feed them (they should eat what you give them in a few days), but if you want them to eat faster put your scraps through a food processor before feeding it to them; (2) keep the pH basic by using lime (one big handful mixed into every feed) and considering how much news paper and coffee you put on; (3) until they have built themselves a good structure, you need to ensure there is aerated water for respiration – I did this by adding corrugated cardboard that has been torn into smallish pieces and saturated with water. Stinky worm farms are usually the result of sulfur producing anaerobic bacteria moving in, these three things will prevent this from happening. Happy farming.


    • Thank for the tips, Irene. It is really hard not to overfeed. I am thinking I may need to add somemore worms to that they can keep up with us.


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