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A Tale of Two Worm Bins

Posted Oct 21 2008 12:12am

It was the best of worms. It was the worst of worms . . .

I raked the castings and shredded newspaper to one side of the completely inconspicuous worm bin that has been on the edge of my living room since that snowy night in January when the worms arrived. I added apple cores and banana peels as the sweet, nice worms lounged about nonchalantly in their homemade "worm condo," taking turns with the TV remote, sharing sections of the Sunday newspaper, chatting with their friends on the phone. I think only about twelve of my worms survived that freezing mail-order trip to my home and are the most pampered worms you'd ever want to see. My bin has been odor-and-fruit-fly free, and extremely low maintenance. I swear I think the little guys wave to me when I open the lid.

Cut to a mile away, to Richard of the Worms. He had taken half the worms that arrived that cold night, and his enthusiasm for vermicomposting led him to get two more batches of worms, another bin like the ones we had made together, and one of those fancy three-level worm factory thingamajigs. He has thousands of the red wrigglers now.

It has been hell over there. The worms have been trying to escape continuously, carrying protest banners and shouting obscenities. Richard has been out of his mind trying to figure out what they want. Air? Moisture? Food? He has been at their service day in, day out, for months now. Whereas I feed mine maybe once or twice a week, Richard's kitchen scrap needs are so extreme he has been collecting garbage from friends and family members, food-processing it and freezing it so that he has a continuous supply. He says he hears a constant rustling in the bins as the worms eat.

Richard has been leaving the cover off two of the bins and shining a light into them in order to keep the worms down. Once he moved the worm bins out to his garage from his basement, the fruit flies appeared. Now that the weather has warmed up and the bins are under an eave in the back yard, the worms have calmed down a bit, but I gotta' tell you, it doesn't look like fun over there.

When we started this experiment, Richard had intentions of starting a real worm farm, a business perhaps. I had been anxious to create a logo, a name, some marketing materials for him. I asked him about that now, and he said:

"I don't think so. You can read all you want and do all the research, but until you can figure out what they want, it's a real challenge."

Until you can figure out what they want.

Now, that's the bottom-line truth. These worms are a daily reminder that nature cannot be beaten into submission, that we are not the rulers of the world, and that sometimes we simply must admit that we don't have all the answers in order to live in unity on this earth.

Yet Richard keeps trying. We walked around his front and back yard and in the last six months alone, Richard has added six fig trees, three rasberry bushes, two raised beds for vegetables, a front-yard herb garden, a rainbarrel and of course, his push reel lawn mower.

Later in the day, I got a call from Richard. He was on his cell phone, and even thought the call kept breaking up a little, the excitement in his voice was palpable.

"I made a decision," he said.

Oh no, I thought. He was going to give up on the worms.

"What is it?" I asked, sitting down, wondering if I should encourage him to keep going, that things had gotten better outside with the bins, that he almost had them figured out.

He lowered his voice a bit, as if someone on the highway might overhear him and think him crazy, and he told me words that almost made me cry with joy.

"I'm getting chickens."
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