Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Compost Happens...I Hope

By Red58bill (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0
via Wikimedia Commons
My second summer working and living at Mammoth Cave National Park, I decided it was time to walk the talk. If I was going to encourage visitors to be stewards of the Earth, it was time for me to start being a better one myself. Recycling and using less A/C was not enough. I was going to start composting.

My co-workers' number one suggestion was: “Throw it out in the woods. The varmints 'll compost it fer ya.”

Granted my fruit and veggie scraps would have been far healthier fare for the raccoons, chipmunks, and deer than the usual visitor-proffered potato chip. But unlike the local newspaper that published a reader-submitted picture of herself proudly feeding a doe in the park as heart-warming photo-op instead of a finable offense (facepalm!), my fellow guides knew full well that I was neither allowed to litter nor feed the wildlife in the park. Maybe they weren't taking me seriously because south central Kentucky is pretty conservative and I showed all the warning signs of being a tree-hugging dirt-worshipper. Or maybe they teased because I my flavor-of-week crusade-tirades were hysterical to watch and so easy to evoke from me. Either way, my mission of conscience was a laughable matter to them! Huff! They had no idea! And as it turned out, neither did I.

Just as throwing the scraps out the back door of my barracks-style apartment was out of the question, so was an outdoor pile or one of the huge, pricey plastic bins. So after hours of agonizing web searches, I settled upon a nice, small, seemingly fail-proof indoor composting unit. With dimensions of 2'x2'x2', stackable trays, and even a spicket to collect nutrient-rich liquid for fertilizing houseplants, I was sure I'd hit the composting jackpot. The catch? I was going from zero to full-on vermiculture in a single mouse-click. Yup, from a wanna-be environmentalist to a full-fledged worm farmer. What could possibly go wrong? The website said it was “Easy, guaranteed!” Since everything you read on the internet is true and I'm anal about following directions to the letter, I didn't fear that I was biting off more than I, or the worms, could chew.

The worm farm itself did not include livestock, so after it arrived, rather than going to a local bait shop, I purchased the exact worms specified in the instructions, which arrived in my P.O. box chilled, stunned, and lethargic. “Don't you worry, little squirmies! You are going to LOVE your new home. Do I have a feast in store for you. You're going to think you've died and gone to heaven!”

I fastidiously tore newspaper into the exact widths specified in the directions as a base layer, devotedly bought the yeast packets “worms love!” for sprinkling as an energizing treat into the trays, and dutifully microwaved my banana peels for precisely 90 seconds and them froze them for 2 days to rid them of potential pests. But that's where the science of vermiculture ended. Suddenly my instructions became vague.

“Dampen the newspaper a little. Add some soil. Introduce the worms. Give them a few days to adjust before adding food scraps. The farm is designed to handle a normal amount of table scraps from an average-sized family. Don't over- or under-feed the worms. Worms love munching on the glue from corrugated cardboard.” (That last one may be a figment of my imagination, or rather my faulty memory since this was back in 2005, but I swear there was something positive about glue and cardboard.)

Ack! I'd suddenly become the main character in Goldilocks and the Thirty Worms. The Interwebs had not told me composting was an art! My inner artist had died in 10th grade when I developed chronic writer's block – or rather fear of failure. Plus I was only two years out of college. I was on the road to recovery from soul-consuming grade-aholism, but but I was still plagued by recurring bouts of perfectionism. Guessing, estimating, trial and -gasp!- error were not part of my vocabulary. But I was not about to give up. Failure was not an option. My merit as an environmentalist was at stake, and this had become a matter of life or death. Plus buying refrigerated cartons of high-grade earthworms wasn't cheap.


To be continued tomorrow....

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, we tried the vermiculture thing a few years ago too. Pretty deceptive, all that business about how easy it is. But my current guru Joseph Jenkins insists that his "no work" compost method will provide more than enough worms for both aeration AND fishing!