Eight months ago, I left my backyard garden in Wisconsin and moved to an apartment in Knoxville, TN to start my PhD. It was late July when I made the move and the biggest adjustment to my new life was the inability to spend time in the garden when I needed a break from work. Also, for the first time in years, I had to throw all of my organic scraps in the garbage rather than a compost pile. If felt shameful to waste such valuable resources. So, after six long months of apartment living, I decided it was time to make the most out of my small space and start a closed-loop Healthy Patio Project. Over the next few months, I will create a small zen space on the patio with partial shade plants like kale, lettuce, beets, and cilantro growing in pots of compost produced by an indoor vermiculture bin.
It is early February and the nighttime temperatures are still below freezing, but the preparation activities have begun. In the past, I haven’t had much luck growing garden vegetables in containers with soil and compost purchased from the store. This year, I set up an indoor 5-section vermiculture bin (stackable VermiTek bin for $85) to start creating rich compost to give the potted plants a boost.
The bin arrived and contained a block of coconut coir to start a worm bed. I soaked it in a bucket to reach the moisture content needed by worms to breathe easy and added some dried leaves I collected from the property around my apartment complex. The bin was ready for its new residents.
Red worms are perfect for composting because they live in rich organic material rather than soil, like their earthworm cousins. They can also survive in more crowded conditions like a small, indoor composting bin. I wanted to find these worms locally rather than ordering from Amazon and was excited to find A Vermi Farm just outside of Knoxville. Kim was wonderful and delivered a worm compost starter kit consisting of 1/4 lb. of red worms, 100 cocoons, and bedding to me the following day. As a novice worm farmer, one of my concerns was that I would kill my worms and be out $25. However, Kim assured me that if I manage to kill my worms, she would replace them at no cost. Her goal is to support a growing community of vericulturists.
The most surprising thing I’ve learned in the Healthy Patio Project Part 1 is that worms don’t necessarily eat the food scraps directly. In fact, they are omnivores. Bacteria and fungi grow on the food scraps and break them down. The worms feed on these colonies of bacteria and fungi along with the scraps.
My worms are now all moved into their vermi-bin and (indirectly) working on their first meal of egg shells and an chopped up avocado peel. As the days pass, they will be introduced to about a handful of food scraps a week. It all came full circle when a friend sent me the link to her hit single “Wiggle Worm” on Soundcloud. Pure art meets pure compost. Although, I was a little disappointed to learn that I can’t add more than one meal’s worth of scraps to the bin a week, my Weimaraner Luna is still happy to “compost” carrot, broccoli, and apple scraps on their behalf. In the next few months, I look forward to feeding my plants with that sweet, sweet compost when the Healthy Patio Project enters its next phase.
Wiggle Worm Week 1 update: The worms are still alive and gaining their appetite. The scraps show clear evidence of nibbling. Soft scraps, like cucumber and zucchini, seem to be their favorites as they are beginning to disappear. The hard scraps, like egg shells and avocado peels, show no evidence of worm mastication. It is true what the instructions say – about a (small) handful of scraps per week. I would add the caveat, soft scraps.