May 15, 2014
My fourth-generation family farm is turning 100 years old this summer. Even though the extent of my farm duties were feeding the calves and lawn care, I refer to it as “my farm.” As in, “I’m a farm kid.” “I’m from a farm family,” I say. I live in the city and have since 1990, but every time I flip through an issue of these modern farming magazines, my heart fills up with pride for being from a farm. I look at my little urban yard and figure out the next farm-like thing I can do.
This spring: building a worm bin! It’s easy and can look a lot of different ways. Everyone can do it! My four-year-old son, Teeg, and I are working on naming our worms (My dad, a strapping third-generation farmer, would probably be squirming like a worm in his grave at the thought, but…)
The earth is one great recycling machine, reincarnating everything from branch to berry to bone. Even rocks turn into dirt if given enough time. Patience!
To start your own worm bin, all you need is newspaper, a bin and a pound of red wiggler worms. Bins can be bought online, or you can make your own — but they need to have ventilation on the sides and, ideally, some small drainage holes on the bottom. Fill the bin with damp, shredded newspaper, add the worms and you’re ready to go. Since worms like to do their work in the dark, make sure the paper covers your food scraps. A pound of worms can eat about three pounds of food per week — but if you notice the uneaten scraps are building up, it’s time to get more worms or lay off for a while.
Your worm bin can be tucked into any corner of an apartment or house — it can go inside a closet, under the sink or inside an unused fireplace or shower. Some people build their own wooden box which can double as a bench or coffee table. Don’t worry — the worms won’t escape. Warning: Your little one may want to visit with them, especially now that they have names.
Outdoor boxes come in all shapes and sizes, but the key to success is in maintaining a 50-50 ratio of what experts call browns and greens. Browns are your dry yard waste — leaves, dry weeds, sawdust or old soil. Greens are wet, nitrogen-rich food waste, manure or grass clippings. Every week, mix and turn the pile to make sure plenty of air gets inside.
The secret to good compost is patience. My dad certainly had it. Teeg and I may be just some urbanites playing in the dirt, but this picture of him with a toothpick in his mouth (a signature of my farmer dad) signifies to me he has some understanding of even the smallest of things.
The earthworm may be small, spineless, and blind, but its role in the ecosystem is profound. I love this about farming. If you look at the big picture, everyone and everything is contributing to the whole.
So much depends on the humble worm — but with Teeg naming them, they are larger-than-life superheroes.