The Universal Notebook: The attentive bird gets the worms

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Nothing pleases my lovely wife Carolyn quite so much as dirt. The only thing she likes better is free dirt.

If you’re searching for just the right gift for that special occasion, you can’t go wrong with a yard of loam, a trailer full of mulch or a nice big pile of compost. As a token of your esteem, a bag or two of potting soil will do nicely.

You think I’m kidding? Believe me, I wouldn’t kid about anything as serious as mother’s earth.

Each spring I am dispatched to the Yarmouth Transfer Station, where busy gnomes have spent the winter turning last year’s Christmas trees, downed limbs and yard waste into mounds of mulch. Left to my own devices, I just spread a blue plastic tarp in the back of the station wagon and shovel the rotten stuff in until the rear tires scrape the wheel wells.

Knowing this, Carolyn insisted on coming along this spring and screening each shovel-full herself, lovingly spreading the mulch with her bare hands, picking out sticks and stones, tape and wire, bits of cloth and debris of unknown origin. The result was bucket after bucket of good clean, rich compost.

Then, a week or so later, I got a tip that the town had acquired a big mechanical material sorter and was screening the municipal compost pile itself. First thing Saturday morning I motored right over there and filled the trunk a couple of times. Beautiful stuff. Black gold. Well worth the price of property taxes. After all, dirt is essentially real estate.

Recently, Carolyn has started making her own dirt. Or rather her worms have. She had been talking about wanting worms for a year or more, so as a belated Mother’s Day present I stopped by F.W. Horch Sustainable Goods & Supplies in Brunswick and bought her a Can-O-Worms. First, of course, I assured myself that composting worms don’t smell by sticking my head in a functioning worm bin. Just the clean, musty aroma of decaying vegetation.

A Can-O-Worms is a four-tiered, four-legged black plastic contraption about the size of a small end table or a large hassock. You put food waste into a bed of leaves, paper, or, for starters, shredded coconut fibers, along with a few hundred little red wigglers and the industrious worms do what they do best – turn garbage into compost.

A potent compost “tea” collects in the bottom layer and must be diluted before being poured on plants. Once the first level of the worm bin is full, which I’m told can take months, you just start putting the bedding and scraps in the next level and the little critters crawl up through holes in the ceiling and get to work.

Naturally, Carolyn is delighted. Now she keeps kitchen scraps in a little plastic container by the sink, disappearing nightly into the basement to feed her worms and check on the progress of her compost. Come next spring, if all goes as planned, a year’s worth of leftovers will be lovingly distributed around the flowerbeds in the form of digested dirt. From earth we came and to earth we return.

Ah, the elemental joys of vermiculture.

Sidebar Elements

beem-edgar-op.jpgThe Universal Notebook is Edgar Allen Beem’s weekly personal look at the world around him.