Friday, February 17, 2012

Got worms?

As part of our general commitment to not be harder on the planet than necessary, we're big fans of composting kitchen scraps.  If we had a yard, we'd be fans of composting yard waste as well.  But we don't have a yard which means that it's kind of hard to have an outdoor compost pile back in some out-of-the-way corner.  

Fortunately, urbanites such as ourselves or, really, anyone, can take advantage of a worm bin for composting.  This method is known as "vermicomposting."  

We had a worm bin when we lived in Minnesota and it was great.  After several months there we had a bin full of really nice-looking compost.  Unfortunately we never got to use it since we moved across the country in early summer.  The contents of our worm bin were added to the large outdoor compost pile at Eric's mom's house and I'm sure descendants of our original worms are living quite happily there to this day.

We tried a worm bin again when we first moved to New Jersey but it didn't go quite as well that time and, again, we moved in early summer and never got around to gardening.  Life was too busy to maintain it properly and we gave up.

This spring and summer we have big garden plans for our little patio and we want to produce as much of our own compost as possible.  Today was the big day--our worms arrived in the mail!  We've ordered every time from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm.  They sell through Amazon and get mixed reviews there.  We have always ordered directly from the company which gets us slightly lower prices and we have always been happy with the worms.

I'll illustrate the general idea but we get all of our information for vermicomposting from the book Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Apelhof.  If you are interested in vermicomposting I strongly recommend purchasing the book.

We use a 10-gallon Rubbermaid storage bin.  You want an opaque container because worms don't like light.  You also want high surface area for the volume.  Since the container needs to breathe we've drilled holes all over the bottom and all around the top as well.

Then you need to create bedding.  There are several different kinds of materials.  We're using half shredded newspaper and half coconut coir.  But the coconut coir was hard to find locally and hasn't arrived in the mail yet so we started with just newspaper. 

Once you have a good amount of bedding you want to get it wet.  Worms are about 75% water, just like us, and their bedding should be about the same.  I used a spray bottle to make the newspaper wet and just kept tossing it until it was all evenly wet without it being completely saturated.  You can see that the bedding reduces  quite a bit once it is wet.  And a concern with a 100% newspaper bedding is that it can become too matted for the worms to thrive.  The cocount coir should help with that once it arrives.  Also, this really isn't enough bedding but it was a lot of work shredding the newspaper (you want it fairly fine to keep it loose enough) so this was more of a "keep the worms alive for a couple of days" approach until the coconut coir arrives. 

We bulked things up a bit and gave the worms some "grit" to aid with digestion by tossing in several handfuls of dirt and old garden clippings.

And then Margaret added the few kitchen scraps we've collected since yesterday.  We keep a quart-size container on the counter and just empty it every day or so.  Worms can eat about half their weight in scraps each day.  Last time we had a bin we produced more scraps than they could handle so we're actually setting up two bins this time around.

Here's our small pile of scraps so far:  a banana peel, some grape stems, a crushed egg shell, and some garlic peels.  Worms can eat most kitchen scraps.  Too much meat or citrus is a problem as are bones.  Bones won't hurt the worms, they just don't really get eaten and then you've got bones in your garden down the road.

Then it was time to open the box.  They ship Priority Mail through the USPS with a big, yellow "Live Shipment" sticker on the top.  I wonder what the mailman thinks . . .

The worm farm sends them out on Mondays only so they don't languish over the weekend.  The little guys are packed in peat moss and then tied up tightly in a breathable bag.  They are somewhat thin and lethargic when they arrive but perk up with food and water. We ordered 2000 worms in order to set up two bins.

The worms are dumped in one big pile in the center of the prepared bedding and then we move more wet bedding on top of them.  They disperse on their own over the course of a couple of days.

The kids really love having a worm bin going and Joseph has read quite a bit of the worm book which includes a good bit of science about worm anatomy, the ecosystem of a worm bin, worm reproduction, and other critters.  We don't have to try to hard to get science education in around here.

We popped the lid back on once we'd all gotten our fill of watching the worms.  William patted the lid and said, "Good night worms!" and visited them again just before bedtime.

We don't expect to have compost ready to harvest until July so we'll need to buy compost for our initial planting this spring but we'll have our own good stuff, if all goes well, by the time we're getting our fall harvest ready.

Oh, and the bins will live in our basement while the weather is cold.  Once temperatures are consistently above freezing we'll move the bins out to the patio.  The bins don't stink at all but they do develop fruit flies once in awhile and the kids like to dump the scraps in and check on the worms so having them on the patio will keep them more accessible for everyone.  We place each closed bin on a spare plastic lid from a bigger bin.  Plastic worm bins tend to collect excess water.  This can drain out of the holes on the bottom and the lid/tray underneath will keep it contained.  This water is great for watering plants.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cute little baby update

Just in case you don't have your own cute one-year-old around . . . 

He's not walking, yet.  He's really not even close.  He cruises and crawls at high speed and often forgets he can't stand and falls down.  Fortunately he is a very determined guy and not easily frustrated and he just gets back up again.

We've never had any of this kind of baby play equipment before but as life gets busy it seemed like a good idea this time around so we borrowed this jumper from a friend.  Gregory really, really loves it and it makes dinner prep much easier for me.  But it, apparently, has a rather hypnotic effect at times:

In this picture you can see his hemangioma which I've mentioned before.  It's gotten bigger and redder as he has grown but is stable at the moment.  He's being followed by a specialist in New York (did you know there were doctors who specialized in vascular birth marks?) and it's not a big deal.  But we will most likely treat it with surgery in the next year or two.  While the redness should decrease significantly as he grows, there is also some bulkiness to it that will become more pronounced as his baby fat disappears.  The surgery is fairly simple and will also take care of the red completely.

We've enjoyed our mild winter this year and Margaret took Gregory for a spin on a riding toy on the back patio while I did some garden planning recently.

And, in close, though it can't possibly be as cute as real life, I give you this short video.  We were at Costco the other day and, as usual, the kids were sidetracked by the big-screen tv display at the front of the store.  The trailer for the 3D version of Star Wars was playing as we came in.  Joseph had just been asking about Star Wars so I paused to let the kids watch it.  The rest of the shopping trip was taken up with William (sitting in the shopping cart) sword-fighting with his pretend light saber with Joseph.  After awhile I noticed that Gregory (who was sitting next to William in the shopping cart) was trying to get in on the light saber action.  Extreme cuteness.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, William!

After living with William while he made the most of his "Twos" the entire family breathed a sigh of relief when William turned three a couple weeks ago.  Of course, those old sayings don't actually determine behavior, but there is certainly something to them.  Eric and I observed, once Joseph was about four that age two seems to be hard on the parents but age three seems to be hard on the child.  That held true for Margaret and, so far, for William as well.  Three-year-olds seem not so much naughty as in need of a lot of support as they see their big ideas fail in light of their limited abilities.  

We love our sweet little William (of course!).  He has been the family ham and clown since he was very young.  He has, I think, the most advanced verbal skills of any of our children yet and he is at a particularly cute age as he prattles along a mile a minute with that dinstinctive toddler accent ("Mommy!  I heaw da twash twuck!"  "Is dat da wivah?")  We can't get enough.

William woke the morning of his birthday to this in the living room:

Some of you will, no doubt, recognize this as the "circus tent" from IKEA.  It's been a big favorite on shopping trips for several months and it was actually supposed to be part of the kids' Christmas present.  But they were all sold out when I did the shopping in early December.  Since we give the kids their "big gift" on Epiphany I didn't worry.  But they were still sold out in early January.  So I decided Gregory would get it for his birthday.  But they were sold out on January 12.  January 29th was finally my lucky day and I got this home in time for William's birthday.  It's not actually very big and it is somewhat collapsible.  All the kids can squeeze into it comfortably when they are playing together and they can drag it from room to room.

Funny story:  I set up the tent the night before after the kids were in bed but left the lights on at that end of the house.  Before we'd gone to bed William woke up needing to use the bathroom.  Eric carried him down the hall and--in a sleepy stupor--William looked over Eric's shoulder and said, "Are Joseph and Margie in that tent?"  He was not at all surprised to see a tent in his living room in the middle of the night.  We killed the lights and put him back to bed and he didn't remember it by morning.

\His other gifts (a set of puzzles from GI Grandpa and a hat and mittens) were waiting inside the tent for him.  

The tent has been a huge hit with the whole family.

 For dinner William requested "bean pizza" and chocolate cake.  We've been trying to eat less wheat and I recently found a fantastic black bean cake recipe.  If you are looking for a gluten-free chocolate cake recipe for yourself or someone else, I can't recommend this one enough.  It is really, really good.  And I don't mean "good, for a bean cake."  I mean, it's our new favorite cake.  Eric wants it for his birthday (but with frosting).

For the "bean pizza" I basically made a taco pizza but with black beans instead of ground beef.  It was very yummy.

A lovely celebration for a lovely boy.