Turning Trash into Gold!

Red Wigglers Rock!  

They thrive in rotting vegetation, compost, and manure; They are rarely found in soil, preferring conditions where others cannot survive. I am, of course, referring to the earthworm also called manure worms, or as their friends call em Eisenia foetida.  But whatever you call em, Red Wigglers rock!

Red WigglersOver the years I’ve had several “defining moments” with earthworms.  Early on, I found I wasn’t that enthusiastic about growing food, but I loved building compost piles. Maybe it was all the effort that double digging required, or the book by Ruth Stout about just building a compost pile on the driveway and things will grow. Somehow I got the message earthworms and compost piles are where it’s at….

After a sheet mulching workshop, I came to understand earthworms love cardboard and paper. For the heck of it,  I started composting all the paper from our household trash in our backyard pile.  I’d wet down the pile as I alternated layers of paper,  food scraps, yard trimmings, and leaves. I bought  a  bunch of red wigglers from the local “worm lady” and added them to the pile.  After a season went by, all there was left was the little windows of “vellum” from envelopes.The rest looked like great soil.   It amazed me how much of our trash was paper and it amazed me how the worms just chowed down, if I kept the moisture up to their liking.

From this experiment it dawned on me, there are two different types of composting; One happens when the carbon nitrogen ratio is something like 30 to1 and the heat loving microorganisms begin the progressive feast.  After the temperatures get really hot and the pile “melts” down, the lower temperature microorganisms take over.

The other kind of composting, the low temperature sort, has thousands of earthworms chomping down the carbon (with a little nitrogen thrown in for flavoring). The microorganisms in the earthworm’s gut converts the carbon and nitrogen into fertilizer.

Another defining red wiggler moment, happened during a permaculture cistern workshop. After we got the large culvert set on end in a bed of concrete, the landowner took us on a tour of his house and land.  In the bathroom on the south facing wall, were two toilet looking toilets  One was for peeing, and the other was for going #2.  The #2 toilet wasn’t plumbed, in fact it was just a lid and seat on top of a 5 gallon bucket sort of tube, open on the bottom. The owner got more and more animated as he explained the system.  Taking us outside to the hinged cover on the backside of the #2 setup,  he opened the cover and stuck his hand down into the poop hole. We all recoiled as he pulled out a handful and exclaimed, “Look! they’ve turned it into wonderful soil in just two weeks!!”  He took a deep breath of the rich black “dirt” in his hand and gleamed.  As I regained my composure, I was deeply struck with the simplicity of how his poop is dealt with, in contrast to the millions of dollars we spend for sewer lines, sewer plant operations, fresh water, and all the plumbing needed to “get rid” of our human manure.  To complete the story,  the other toilet was for pee only, and the pee went into a 4’ diameter pond filled with cattails and fed the plants, cleaning the water.

To me, our times are challenging us to figure out how to live in balance with our earth.  How do we create a prosperous, quality filled, joyful way of life that is “good for people, the planet, and the polar bears?” We’re innovating our way to a sustainable future. We share ideas of what works from around the world, and then try to figure out how how those ideas can be incorporated where we live.  Elegant, high quality of life solutions that are social , economically and ecologically sustainable win!! Having a bunch of pet red wigglers devouring your poop may not work for you……unless the “packaging”,  the “system interface” is done really well.

So bring your design sensibilities and let’s see if we can come up with sustainable solutions where you live.  Keep in mind, Red Wigglers rock!  Let’s make sustainable real!

Image courtesy of Harrell Industries

2 comments to Turning Trash into Gold!

  • Two weeks?! That’s extremely fast, even for vermicomposting. Did the owner talk about how his C:N ratio was in his poop bins? And how much worms did he put per bin to process that fast?

  • Brian Skeele

    Good questions, Chris! I don’t know what kind of container he had inside the access panel. I think it was just he and his wife, so it needed to hold (I’m guessing here) a month’s worth of poop for two people. As far as the speed of conversion, and how many worms, I guess the worm population would grow to cover the food supply…How many red wigglers does it take to convert one person’s poop??!! Santa Fe New Mexico is dry, really dry, so the moisture content needs to be monitored, I should think, to keep the worms happy. You’ve got me thinking now…I can see if the set up is still in operation and get more info as to the specifics! I don’t recall him saying anything about adding anything to the C/N, so it would be poop without peep. the Nitrogen would be higher if he was carnivorous, right? It was summer,so the temperatures were warm, which would put the worms at peak happiness temperature wise, I should think. Not too hot, as the sun would be directly overhead. I’ll see what I can find out!

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