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Worms Eat My Garbage

Worms Eat My GarbageUsually, my non-fiction reading consists of whatever captures my fancy (and is available), but this summer, I've been focusing on books I'd been meaning to read for a while.  That focus has resulted in me mining a lot of "beginner" books in search of possible gaps in my knowledge.  I always find at least one or two tidbits in these basic texts, but some stand up better to being read by an intermediate audience, and I'm sad to say that Worms Eat My Garbage isn't one of the latter.

I suspect that when Mary Appelhof put out the first edition of this book in 1982, it contained earth-shattering information, but now vermicompost is old hat for many.  I've dabbled in worm bins for a few years (getting much of my introductory information from the internet and from Worm Cafe), and I found little to provoke thought in Appelhof's book.  I was also a bit turned off by the writing style --- it's very basic since the author comes from an education background and clearly wants teachers to be able to use it with school kids.  On the other hand, if you're just getting started with worms, this book probably is the one to read to learn all of the nuts and bolts that we figured out the hard way.

Despite being a bit disappointed in Worms Eat My Garbage, I did learn a few things:

  • Worm castingsVermicompost is different from worm castings.  The latter are produced if you let your worms keep plugging away at the same materials until they die out as a result of living in their own waste, while the former contains lots of bits of compost that haven't gone through a worm's gut.  The information I presented in a previous post about not using pure worm castings on plants (probably because of concentrated salts) doesn't apply to vermicompost, only to castings.
  • Measuring manure temperatureWater manure two days before adding worms.  I learned this the hard way very recently when we filled a bin with relatively fresh horse manure, soaked the bedding, added worms, and watched them die.  Appelhof notes that two days is sufficient time for the manure to heat and cool down, making it safe to add worms.
  • You use different techniques to raise worms or produce compostWhen I accidentally left our worms eating the same food for a long time, I was using the lowest maintence technique of Happy compost wormsfilling a bin and letting it sit for at least six months, which produces pure castings at the expense of your worm population.  At the other extreme, folks breeding worms to sell tend to move their stock to fresh bedding every two or three months, leaving behind unfinished compost.  Most people will prefer to use a middle of the road technique where they let worms work compost for about four months before moving the worms to a new bin (or pushing old bedding to one side and filling the other half with fresh bedding).  This third method strikes a balance between producing compost and keeping your worms happy, and is the one I want to work toward.

My final analysis?  As a beginner book, Worms Eat My Garbage is worth a read, but there's still space out there for an in-depth text geared toward a popular audience.  Maybe you'll be the one to write it?

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free alternative to filthy open water dishes.


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Here in Japan, only about 10 people have heard about vermicomposting. And I taught 9 of them. Just kidding, but I have found Appelhof's book to be a wonderful resource in teaching my students about composting with worms. It is very much a beginner's book, and the 6th grade reading level is perfect for my students who are interested (not many are though).

I agree- if you have dabbled in it before, or researched online, it is a bit redundant. Probably most of the readers here have little need of it. But it is good to recommend to your friends who are just getting started in sustainable lifestyles.

Comment by Eric in Japan Sun Aug 19 10:02:29 2012
Eric --- Students do seem to be the target audience, so it sounds like you're using the book exactly as intended. I agree with you about giving it to complete beginner adults too. But we still need an intermediate worm book so you can push Japanese vermiculture even more! :-)
Comment by anna Sun Aug 19 19:12:08 2012

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime