Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Better Worms and Gardens - Part II - The Living Cities
article by  E. Jane Brunton

My "kids" are off to school!  I am as nervous as any mother must be when she sends her progeny out into the world. I have dithered over what future awaited my little fellows and how to "dress" them for the event.

But I had to give myself a shake. I was talking about little red wiggler worms not little red-cheeked children. I have been caring for these critters for the past three years. Six months ago I had a population explosion and didn't know how to handle the overflow. I just didn't have room for more bins.

I could have sold them to the store on the corner for bait but somehow it didn't seem fair to see my faithful helpers end their lives on the end of a hook. Nor would releasing them into my zone 5 garden solve the problem. Sure they would enjoy their summer of freedom but when the icy temperatures set in, unlike their hardier cousins that are acclimated to this zone, these little surface dwellers would be faced with death. Not something you do to friends.

Enter Nathan Putnam. Nathan is a student in Biology and Chemistry at Queen's University in Kingston Ontario. Last week I heard him speak of his vision on CBC Radio One. He and a group of eco-conscious friends are providing enough worms to clean up the compostable garbage output of the entire University, residences and kitchens alike. This inspired me to find his web site www.livingcitiescompany.ca/home.html and then contact him by phone.

Nathan's vision goes far beyond vermicompost to encompass urban farming and sustainable city living. Visit his web site for how this ingenious young man and his friends are taking Kingston by storm.

Since that day we have been in contact about the wheres and whens of the Great Worm Transfer. And today is the big day. But what am I doing sitting here writing about it? I should be up to my elbows in wigglers about now. Time's awasting.

Hours later...........

I managed to gather 4 pounds of worms from two of the three bins. I tucked them and about a pound of bedding snugly into a couple of brown paper bags and hustled off to meet Nathan at the Living Cities' "urban farm." There, several varieties of healthy lettuce, and peppers were threatening to burst out of their carefully tended raised beds. Last night's frost had convinced Nathan that this might be the tomato's last hurrah although he figured he could make the Swiss chard and lettuce last another few weeks.

The exchange was made. I had toyed with the idea of trading my worms for Living Cities'own design of stackable wooden worm bins. But in the end I settled on two terra cotta colored rain barrels with overflow hoses and screw on, mosquito proof tops. My fears that they would not fit in my car were unfounded. How I love my amazing ten year old Hyundai Tiburon with its just over 90,000 kilometres of service. Yeah, I know it looks like a sport's car but it acts like a small truck when there are things you need to transport. And at least I am keeping it out of land fill for awhile yet.
As we chatted Nathan cleared up some concerns I had about misconceptions and well, lets face it, downright incorrect information that is circulating on the internet.

I asked whether worms require powdered eggshells to aid in their digestion of the refuse we provide. As I suspected, this is not so. It is merely to sweeten the compost produced and even out the pH by neutralizing acid in the bins.

Nathan also clarified the fact that worms don't process the refuse on their own. They are aided by a host of bacteria and fungi that first break down the refuse into a liquid form. Then the toothless worms slither up to the soup plate and slurp it all up. This allows the bacteria access to the deeper layers of fruits and veggies. The worms do their part by aerating the bedding and refuse, speeding up the process for the bacteria. Because the worms are always eating the "mushy" compost as soon as the bacteria soften it, it never has a chance to putrefy, which is why vermicomposting is essentially odourless.

I smiled ruefully at the thought of how those who were already squeamish about worms would feel about cohabiting with fungi and billions of bacteria! If they only knew that our homes are full of these creatures already. Worm bins do harbor a lot of other helpful critters like spring tails and fungus gnats but neither they, the bacteria nor the fungi are harmful to humans.

Given the repugnance that a lot of people feel towards things they don't understand, overcoming this reluctance is an uphill battle. Thank goodness for groups like Living Cities who are making progress one convert at a time.

As for my homeschooled worms, raised on a diet of the Napanee Guide, they skipped right over the lower grades of education and have taken up residence at Queen's University . There they will dwell and work in several of the upscale wooden worm bins designed and built by The Living Cities crew.

If you are like me you might have wondered how tiny, soft bodied worms would defend themselves against large and generous students who might want to share a drinky-poo with them. Or others who might want to take the goldfish-swallowing trend (so popular in my parent's day) a step further by downing a few wigglers. Nathan assured me that the boxes will be locked and under the protection of the Dons of each residence.

It was a pleasure meeting Nathan.  I have always believed that this battered old gal, who has been called by many names, such as Paccha Mama, Gaia, and Mother Earth, will survive in spite of us.  But with help from groups like Living Cities she and the creatures that call her home will do more than that - they may actually thrive once again.


eljovendario said...

Very interesting issue. I love the way you write, it changes my mood ;)

Peeoknee said...

I agree your writing does something to the soul. Love this post and I can see you taking your friends to higher education halls.
What a real treat for everybody.

down to earth said...

To El Joven Dario and Peeokee

Thanks honey bunnies! And I love you both for your kind comments! You soothe MY soul!

Little D You know I have always been a big fan of yours.

Miss you buddy


down to earth said...

Damn! I miss spell check. Sorry about the error in your name Peeonknee!

S.Thompson said...

Sniff...love happy endings. And what a wonderful thing for your 'kids' to be when they grew up! I hope Nathan and his group has spectacular success. I'm sure it helps when people like you spread the word. Paccha Mama. Did you know that there was a great restaraunt named that in Kansas?