by Emrys Westacott
Here is my one-word piece of advice to anyone hoping to get with the times, be healthy in mind and body, attain happiness, promote peace, fight injustice, and leave the world a better place after they've gone: worms. More specifically, red wriggler compost worms which you can keep all year round in a wormery. A typical small-scale wormery is a set of nested plastic perforated trays. You put your kitchen waste in the lower ones; the worms eat the waste, poop it out, and eventually crawl upwards through the holes in search of more food, leaving behind a tray of worm casts that is just about the best fertilizer you'll find anywhere. You scrape it out, use it in the garden or on houseplants, and put the empty tray back on top ready to receive more waste. Repeat. Forever.
Here are seven reasons for keeping worms.
1. Worms are dirt cheap. You don't have to buy them kibble or tinned food or overpriced little liver treats. They don't need shots, collars, leashes, or toys. You never need to take them to the vet, or to the groomer. You don't have to board them when you're away, or hire a pet sitter, or a dog walker. A wormery can involve a one-off outlay of around $80 (less if it's used), or you can make one yourself for virtually nothing.
2. Worms are very clean. They stay in their wormery. They require no house training. From day one, they only poop where they are supposed to. They never throw up on the carpet. They don't roll in deer carcasses, get themselves sprayed by skunks, or bring dead birds into the house.
3. Worms are care-free companions. They are entirely free from neuroses. They never complain. They never wake you up in the night. They do not kick, bite, peck, scratch, sting, hiss or growl threateningly. They are not picky eaters, but they don't chew anything they aren't supposed to. They don't roll their eyes at you or act surly when you try to give them good advice. Their needs are marvelously simple. They like it dark, obviously. The temperature of the wormery should be kept between 50 and 75 degrees F (10 and 24 degrees C). And they need to be fed. If you're going away for several weeks you can just leave them with a decent supply of edibles and they'll be fine. They won't invite friends around; and they won't trash the place. Their habitat will actually be neater when you return than when you left.
4. Worms can help us save the earth. Most organic waste that goes into the landfill decomposes anaerobically and produces methane, a greenhouse gas. Although this methane can be captured and used as fuel, this doesn't happen in most landfills as the process is costly. If everyone fed all of their kitchen waste (except for a few unsuitable items, like meat) to their worms, this would significantly reduce the amount of methane being released into the atmosphere. And if everyone then used the worm casts to improve some soil and grow healthy plants that absorb carbon monoxide…..Well, you get the idea.
5. Worms can help us improve the earth. Literally. Good soil is precious. It takes a long time to form, and is easily destroyed, compacted, eroded, or washed away. Improving the soil on even a small patch of garden is, in my book, a thoroughly worthwhile enterprise. And nothing improves a little patch of soil like a good dollops of worm casts. As a friend of mine said, admiring a trowel full of the stuff, "you could spread it on toast."
6. Worms provide an occasion to listen to some great audiobooks. Vermculture zealots typically forget to mention this important benefit. The thing is, if you want the waste-to-worm-cast conversion process in your wormery to go as quickly as possible, the more worms the better. So when I have a tray of crumbly black worm casts ready for garden duty, I don't just scoop it out and take it up the garden. Instead, I empty it out on a raised surface and sit for an hour or so happily sifting through the casts, picking out worms in order to throw them back into the wormery. This is satisfying but mindless work: perfect for doing while listening to a good novel. The worms are grateful too. In the garden they'd be exposed to all sorts of hazards–particularly hungry birds and freezing winter temperatures. In the wormery they enjoy a controlled climate, an interesting menu, and guaranteed regular sex.
7. Worms can prompt philosophical reflection. Sometimes, of course, you're not in the mood for an audiobook, or you've come to the end of the one you were listening to. In this situation there is much to be said for simply contemplating the lives of the worms you are handling. For their existence is really not so different from ours. They are born, they eat, they mate, they crawl around in their own shit for a brief period, and then die. The main differences between worms and humans seem to be: (a) their densely populated communities are free from conflict; and (b) we have smart phones.