Before you buy worms off the internet, READ THIS!

(Umm…what?)
This post is about my failure as a person.
Yeah. So on a previous Balanced Bites Podcast I waxed all peaceful about my new homesteading journey.
More on that when we are OFFICIALLY installed and done with all the furniture-moving, non-toxic paint choosing, and passive-aggressive-stressed-comment-making by a certain spouse. (And by “spouse,” I mean me.)
Seriously, though. We are SO happy and excited about this new chapter, and I’m SO excited to share it with you!
Back to my rose-colored homesteading glasses.
So in preparation for our move, and our head-first dive into total Ron-Swanson-dom, I decided I’d jump right in to composting. I’m sick of throwing away scraps, I’m planning my gardening failures exploits, and come May, I’ll have lots of room to compost.
Of course, The Google affords a wealth of information on all things compost-related.
Wait, did I say wealth? I meant giant sludgy pool of incomprehensibly varied information from which there is no escape. It’s the Death Star Trash Compactor: Compost Version. Or something.

What I thought was as simple as make a pile of natural stuff has turned into a vortex of kitchen pre-composters, outdoor homemade composters, and you-can’t-use-compost-for-a-year internet posters. Gah!
I’m easily overwhelmed.
Because it sounded awesome and squirmy, I decided just to roll the dice and go with a vermicomposter. A Worm Factory 360, if you will, ordered along with an Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm.
 
(Apparently you don’t have to order worms over the internet; you can find them locally. Well, clearly you can find worms locally. I meant you can find worm farms locally.)
This contraption is actually incredibly awesome. (Image from Amazon.) It’s a multi-level bin-type contraption that allows worms to migrate UP as new compostables come in, clearing the “finished” compost of worms so you can use it without having to comb through and pick out your creepy-crawlies.

It came with extremely detailed print instructions, plus a DVD, from someone who clearly appreciates worms. The instructions couldn’t have been better, clearer, or more helpful. (It’s the person receiving the instructions that’s a problem).
Anyway. Go with this one if you follow in my (pathetic) footsteps.
Here’s what (little) I know: these worms produce their body weight in nutrient-rich castings again and again. They break down your food scraps much faster than an outdoor pile. What they’re creating in there is called humus. (Not the kind you eat.) From the Worm Factory 360, I can also get “compost tea.” (Not the kind you drink.) 
It’s all quite amazing for plants. It’s like fermented cod liver oil for your soil. (This is also fermented cod liver oil for your soil.)
All sounds awesome, right?
It is. Until you perpetrate some negligence and the worms escape.
Yes. THE WORMS ESCAPED.
Piece of advice: when you have to meet your family for brunch after introducing yourself to your worms as their “new mommy” but before you set up the composter, PLEASE. Please. Please don’t under-estimate the worms’ drive to find food after 4 days in Peat Moss.
If you don’t close the bag reeealll tight, they will escape. And you will come home to this:
 
worm fugitive
And this:

 
(Note that one of the first instructions in the booklet was to have your composter ready for your worms when they arrive. Whoops.)
Coming home to a bunch of hungry, squirmy worms on the floor was my first introduction to the delightful journey I’m about to take on. And I went wimp. (Not limp. Wimp.)
Check it out. And listen to my Cave Momma and Cave Husband making fun of me. Mercilessly.
Also, realize that upon watching these videos, you probably won’t like me any more. If you ever did, that is.

I honestly think that had I been ready for a bare-handed worm sesh I would have handled it less…annoyingly. But I got all squiggly, and then it just snowballed and suddenly I was acting like a total ninny-squiggler. I promise, my future homesteading videos will be more…composed. Maybe. Don’t hold me to that. Yeah, definitely don’t hold me to that.
So once we dealt with the Great Escape, we had a minute to ponder nature. And my failures.
 

 
So that’s all for now. This “fake Cave Girl” is off to practice some bare-knuckle worm touching.
What do you know about compost? Vermicompost? Worm ownership? Please – help me in the comments!

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27 Responses

  1. I’m a worm rescuer from way back! Hint: do NOT squeeze their little guts by pinching them between thumb and forerfinger. Instead, slide a dinner knife or spatula or paint scraper close to their little bodies. Gently push their sides onto the semi-slick surface with the backside of your fingernail. Then they can be quickly airborne to their new destination and dislodged easily.. When these little captive beings crawl in soundless terror on your hand, you’ll be surprised that there’s no yucky feeling to it. It’s something you get used to immediately. GENTLE TOUCH, NO SMUSH!

  2. I would definitely want gloves for that, too.
    If you decide to write a book based on your homesteading adventures, I would pre-order that book right this second.

    1. I second that! You would have to make it an ebook though so you can include all of the (hilarious) videos. Working title: The Misadventures of a Homesteading Fake Cave Girl: A journey to life on the farm without gloves
      🙂

  3. Hey Liz, I’ve done the worm composting. Fortunately I read about worms escaping before I bought the worms. The problem is that worms don’t like to be transported, they freak out. You want to have the bedding ready for them, and when you put them in the bedding, leave the top off, and leave a light shining on them. The worms don’t like the light, so they will dig down into the bedding. Once they have been in the bedding for a few days, they will get comfortable there and they won’t try to escape.

  4. Just wanted to give you some encouragement! In listening to you on BB podcast for over a year, I knew you’d have a “long row to hoe” homesteading due to your perfectionist ways. I just want to remind you of one of Joel Salatin’s sayings, “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing POORLY AT FIRST.” You can do it! Relax! Same advice applies to writing your upcoming book (which I preordered, so hurry the H up!).

  5. You. Crack. Me. Up. Every single time I read a post I LOL (for real). Worms are wriggly and icky though for sure. No squeezies though – that makes them extra ick.

  6. It’s possible that Fake Cave Girl, Barehanded Worm Sesh *and* Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm are all leading candidates for being placed into the hopper when it’s time to reach in and choose a new band name. Just sayin’.

  7. Be careful not to add too much food to the bins. I made that mistake with my first attempt at compost worms and the bins turned into awful anaerobic cesspools. I made my own bins out of Rubber Made storage containers, but I think the worm factory might be a better way to go especially when it comes time to “harvest”.
    I would advise going slow with the homestead and garden projects too. It’s easy to start too many at once and get burned out. There is a lot to learn and there are certain to be future “Gardens of Sadness”. I laugh about that every time one of my crops doesn’t work out.
    There is no failure, only feedback. Keep on being awesome!

  8. Hah! I love your posts but this one made me laugh in fond remembrance. I too had a Worm Factory before my last PCS and I too had escapee worms, like when I forgot to leave the light on at night. I’d find dried worm carcasses in the laundry room more than I’d care to admit. But like a previous poster mentioned, light keeps them in their home, not in yours! I hooked mine up to a timer so that on those days when it got dark before I came home, I didn’t come home to a worm party. Good luck, and I look forward to reading about your future adventures.

  9. Great story. And I loved the videos.
    I’ve been composting for years and years, but never ventured into the the worm composting. We have always just piled into a little composting hut we bought and let the stuff decompose naturally. It takes a while, but it can go faster if you mix it up often and let some air get in.
    This year, though, WE HAVE CHICKENS! Now all our kitchen scraps go to the chickens, and they compost it for us, leaving behind wonderful “compost” for us. They do a much better job than just letting it rot.
    You so need chickens! They’re adorable, my kids love them, and they’re way less slimy than worms. Oh, and on the slimy-worm note, my kids have been picking up worms and other creepy-crawly critters since they were babies. So, toughen up, Cave Girl 🙂

    1. Hahaha…fair enough! I have to toughen up fast, because we close on the homestead this week!
      So…do you feed your chickens anything else, or do they get all they need from scratching around & eating scraps? We’re definitely getting some, but I want to be sure they get what they need!
      Also, RE: the compost the chickens leave behind…where is the “bulk” of it (I assume in a coop?) and do you remove coop poo to the compost pile?
      Do you leave the poo that “happens” outside, outside?
      Sorry for all the questions 😉 I have lots of books and websites bookmarked, but sometimes it helps just to ASK somebody!

      1. Being in the blustery cold North East area, Boston Winters aren’t known for their lucious green-lawns in the winter. So we have to supplement with chicken feed we get at the local Agway. The quality of this stuff varies, and is sadly, mostly grain filled. Fortunately, though I haven’t seen any soy listed on the ingredient labels. We’re still learning in this area ourselves, since they’re only 1 year old right now.
        My goal for this year to let them have enough outside time each day that they fill up on whatever they can hunt & gather (CaveChicks?). That way, they won’t eat nearly as much supplementation.
        The bulk of the coop-poo ends up in a giant tupperware storage bin. I build their roosting bars such that I could slide this thing underneath them to make cleaning the coop easier. Now I can just slide the bin out and carry it to the compost hut and mix it in. There is a run underneath the coop which is now covered with hay. They tend to poop all over that, which is fine, since they then scratch it up and move it around. At some point I’ll have to rake this out too, but it’ll be quite a while. When I do, it’ll all go into the compost for further breakdown.
        By “poo that occurs outside” do mean on the lawn and our deck, etc? Yeah, it just sits there. May as well fertilize the lawn. When they come up on the deck to visit and leave us “gifts”, we’ll usually wait until it dries out and sweep it off. For particularly messy “gifts” we’ll dump a bucket of water on it to wash it away.
        In general, chickens are pretty easy to deal with. They’re very instinctual, but pretty dumb too. They mostly take care of themselves, and, other than building a coop, there’s not a lot of work to do. I think I mentioned to you on FB to check out http://backyardchickens.com, it’s definitely the best source of info for chickens.
        Here’s a picture of the coop I built. Though, I modified it some, and their’s looks better than mine 🙂
        http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/the-maxwell-houses-member-page
        Feel free to ask any questions you have. I’m more than happy to share my experiences. And the next time you and Diane get up to Boston, feel free to come by and visit for a look at our coop. I’m only about 30 minutes from Diana’s farm too. So it’s not too far out of your way 🙂

  10. I think you mentioned you were also looking at getting some livestock and potentially a dog to protect them? We were looking at Great Pyraneese(sp? probs Pyraneessseeeee right?) but recently heard some recommendations for a donkey instead. We lost 3 goats last night (Luna, Grace and Hatchi, RIP) to wild dogs so the protection piece is really important 🙁
    Either way excited to learn new stuff from your adventures as well!

    1. Yes, Great Pyrnees! I’m so, so sorry about your goats…how awful…thank you for stopping by to re-iterate how important the protection part is!
      A donkey, huh? Oh my…my husband would LOVE that!

  11. I’ve had a vermicompost bin for, oh, 2.5 years now. When I first put them into their bin they did the “worm flight” and about a dozen escaped. It was no fun trying to get them back to their bin but I found the tip of leaving the lid off and shining a bright light onto them for around 24 hours. Good luck! My house plants love the compost tea!

  12. While serving in the Peace Corps I was able to do some vermiculture and I loved it! I would have loved to use something like the Worm Factory but being in Paraguay I had to get what I could take..which was an old suitcase. I poked some holes in it and left it unzipped, filled it with dried leaves and some kitchen scraps and cow poo and let em at it! It was better than the normal compost pile since my old neighbor didn’t yell at me for having a suitcase in my yard as opposed to a huge pile of leaves (‘leaves are dirty garbage and should be burned’). Also my community got a kick out of the fact that I had worms in a suitcase, ready for a vacation.
    I tried to get them to rotate back and forth by filling one side with fresh food when the other side looked ready, which backfired. So then I tried separating the worms from the compost by putting it all on a tarp half in the sun and half in the shade, spreading out the compost and hoping they would run (squiggle) for the hills (shade). It just ended with me picking them out one by one.
    I never did get a chance to use my precious compost they made for me because my service ended and I had to leave!
    Anyway, if you would like to see a picture here is a link to my blog post about my worm wrangling activities!
    http://storiesfromparaguay.blogspot.com/2011/08/my-worms.html
    Also, just got the skintervention guide in the spring bundle and I’m sooo happy it was in there because I’ve been meaning to get it for awhile and was waiting until I had the dolla dolla bills! what perfect timing!

  13. Too funny! I think your homesteading adventure is great. I look forward to hearing more about it. I hope to learn stuff for when my husband and I retire to a small farm. That’s our dream anyway. Hopefully, within the next ten years.You have youth on your side!

  14. Wow this post gave me flashbacks to my first days after I decided to take up vermicomposting. I went out into the garage the next day to find that many had crawled out and were now…well…no longer living. But after reconstructing their homemade home and giving them some time to settle in, they now live very happily on the top shelf in the coat closet. Give them time and they will begin to enjoy their new digs. You’ll find that they are the easiest “pets” by far to have around the house. They’re quiet and awfully self-sufficient. I keep my veggie scraps and crushed eggshells in ziploc baggies in the freezer and add them as needed along with shredded damp newspaper. Hang in there. It will get easier.

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