You know the compost worms are doing their job when…

…they finish eating the cucumber scraps and seedlings pop up amid the worm castings.

The kids I met during my author visit to Grand Isle School today loved the pictures I showed them of my basement worm farm (it’s research for my second Marty McGuire book!).  That reminded me that I haven’t posted a worm update in a while.

Never fear…the little guys/girls (worms are hermaphrodites) are doing their jobs well and enjoying a new layer of damp shredded newspaper bedding tonight.  The compost you see above is awaiting the end of mud season and will soon be nourishing seedlings in the vegetable garden outside.  

Meanwhile, we’re trying to decide what to plant this year – a big decision at our house since the garden has a number of raised beds, with each family member responsible for planning and tending to his or her own territory. 

Any suggestions?  (We’re Zone 4 on a good day!)  What are your favorite vegetables to grow in the garden?

Welcome, baby worms!

So I was just poking around the bin of red worms we keep in the basement to eat kitchen scraps, and this scene is way too tiny to photograph, but…

Imagine an apple peel, about an inch wide and two inches long and curling at the edges.  If you look very, very carefully at the flesh that remains, you can see tiny white squiggles, maybe 1/16th of an inch long and so thin they’re almost transparent.  They are wiggling, and every every once in a while, one stands up and waves its tail.  Or maybe its head. It’s difficult to tell.

Red worms actually reproduce fairly quickly, so this isn’t the first time my little guys/girls (they’re hermaphrodites) have had babies.  But it’s the first time I’ve seen them so soon after they’ve emerged from a cocoon, and they were just so new and tiny…oh heck, I’ll admit it….I almost teared up a little.

(Note to blog readers who are just thinking "Ew!" right  now. I still love you, just as I still love my husband, who looked somewhat horrified when I ran upstairs to show him my wormy apple peel while he was having his coffee.)

2000 Red Wiggler Worms x 4 =

My composting worms are starting to multiply!

See the little brownish yellow balloon-like things?  They’re worm cocoons.  I found them while I was burying the crust from my daughter’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich for them to eat the other day.  My research tells me that up to four tiny baby worms will hatch from each cocoon. 

Worms are hermaphrodites, which means they have both male and female sex organs, and all worms produce cocoons.  As a result, the experts say, I can expect the population of my worm bin to double every month.  All the better for eating those PB & J crusts!

Friday Five

#1  –  We spent yesterday afternoon here, picking lovely, fat blueberries, which led to…

#2  –  Blueberry pancakes for breakfast this morning!

#3 –  Speaking of blueberries, have you seen Laurel Snyder’s adorable book trailer for her middle grade novel Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains?  Laurel’s running a contest on her blog right now to give away a free copy.

#4 – I spent a delightful Thursday evening with readers and writers at the Wells Memorial Library in Upper Jay, NY.  Elizabeth Inness-Brown and I were the featured authors at this installment of the Adirondack Center for Writing’s “Readings Around the Park” series. 

I finished reading Elizabeth’s novel Burning Marguerite just hours before the reading, so I loved hearing her read and talk about her process.  Burning Marguerite is a beautifully written book that reminded me of Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News.  If you missed this one when it came out a few years ago, it’s definitely a novel worthy of these last couple weeks of summer.

#5 – My composting worms have become little garbage-eating machines down in the basement.

Last week, I gave the worms a pretty healthy collection of cucumber and zucchini scraps and pear cores.  Here’s what was left —

Just a tissue paper-thin skin from the cucumber peels.

And the end I cut off a zucchini, in the process of being devoured.

At the moment, they’re chowing down on melon rinds, banana peels, and coffee grounds.  My vermicomposting bible, Mary Appelhof’s Worms Eat My Garbage, says you can dump in the coffee grounds pretty much every day.  I do it, but I keep giggling, imagining thousands of little worms all revved up on caffeine.  Maybe that’s why they’re getting so much done.

I have worms!

Blog readers who said “Eewww!” about my baby spiders and giant slug photos might want to skip this one.

But if you like dirt and squishy things and organic gardening, read on…

See this bin?

Two thousand redworms (Eisenia Foetida) are buried in the mulchy stuff and shredded newspaper right now, eating yesterday’s kitchen scraps. And there may actually be more than two thousand by now because I hear they reproduce quickly.

That’s right…. The Messner family basement is now a vermicomposting center. The kids helped me set up the bin last week, and the worms arrived three days ago.

Kinda cute, aren’t they?  In a wormy sort of way?

The worm bin has three tiers. You fill the bottom layer with bedding and worms and then start adding kitchen scraps. (They’re eating cucumber peels at the moment.)  When it’s full, you add the next layer and start burying your scraps in that one. The layers are separated by a screen through which the worms can crawl.  When they’re finished eating all the garbage in the bottom layer, they mosey on up to the next layer, leaving behind the worm castings that are so good for my giant pumpkin plants. You dump out the castings, refill that tier with bedding, and put it back on the top of the worm bin. Cool, huh? 

I’ll keep you posted on their progress, and if you want to learn more about vermicomposting, Mary Appelhof’s terrrific book Worms Eat My Garbage has all kinds of juicy details on the process and how it works.