Patrick's Rants


Death in a Bucket

Filed under: Gardening — site admin @ 7:46 pm

I heard through the grape vine that the original source of our worms had a complete die off. The worms had, as she put it, drowned. Now, keeping worms in the small space of 5 gallon buckets can be tricky. I have had relatively few problems, but the small systems can be very sensitive to any imbalance. I have spent hour after hour researching vermiculture on the internet. I carefully built my bucket systems based around what I have learned. I periodically empty the leachate from the bottom bucket. I feed slowly and methodically, never too much. My worms are thriving and I’ve harvested quite a bit of vermicompost as of late.

After hearing that our benefactor had a total loss, A was sure they had a complete failure in the vermiculture department as well. But, with worms, benign neglect is worse that dutiful over feeding (and not emptying the leachate) and A & J’s worms were just fine. I did decide to do a harvest of the system. As I was using the reclaimed colander to shake out a few castings I pulled out the wood pieces and decorative gravel that the original designer had placed in the bucket. I never understood what the gravel was for – turns out neither did the system designer. He just threw it in there. I threw the gravel onto the driveway, losing some castings in the process. The wood I threw onto the driveway as well.

At the bottom of the first set of buckets the designer had placed a rock to keep the top bucket from getting stuck in the bottom. The idea was imperfect, the rock had cracked the bottom of the lower bucket. Turns out benign neglect saved a pool of stench in their garage. If the buckets had any moisture, there would have been a permanent reminder stain. I consolidated the worms into one system and brought the Homer buckets home – to await a time when I can collect enough Burger King pickle buckets to rebuild the bucket set.

As fate would have it, I was at my mom’s working on a few things so she can move when she crooked her finger at me, beckoning me to the garage. She had me lift the active bucket from atop the solid bottom bucket of her worm bucket system. The active bucket slurped away from two gallons of leachate. Leachate is anaerobic. So is the human colon. And they smell the same (although leachate could be worse). I dutifully carried the six inches of stench around to the flower garden and poured it over the surface. Six inches of undrained leachate contains about two inches of solids. And when first poured off it looks pretty much the same as it smells. Thick, black as night, anaerobic. It’s disgusting.

Mom had been doing so well with the worms. When she was on a weird diet she bought a single banana per week just to let it go mushy so she could squeeze the innards out onto the top of the bucket like an over sized tube of banana tooth paste. The worms were ecstatic, thriving, vibrant. But that all changed because mom is moving. She stopped feeding her outdoor compost bin and doubled down on the worms. Nay, quadrupled down. Mom’s buckets could have used the next working bucket placed on top, but the bucket sat empty next to the stack. When I dared open the top I saw a two inch layer of lettuce and smelled the unmistakable odor of dead worms. I cannot describe it, but I know it when I smell it. I stuck my unprotected hand into the top layers of lettuce and paper. I pulled slightly to the side and was both sickened and saddened by what I saw. Worm bodies in a semi decayed state, still with stretch but with no life. Barely a day away from being unrecognizable. But such is the way of life, ashes to ashes, worms to muck.

This allows me to perform a small experiment – assuming that mom doesn’t ditch the entire waste treatment plant in a bucket. Leaving the buckets alone for a month or so should allow the lettuce to melt into mush and any worm egg casings to hatch. In theory, the hatchlings should repopulate the buckets. I should really add a second set of buckets to mom’s system so they can handle the double down. I may have to add some more worms to her system though.

Get your own Red Wiggler worms (EF)

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