by Learning Lead – Melinda Munding

At the end of May my family welcomed a large number of house guests into our small home. We were able to host them all in because they move around slowly and noiselessly. Despite living with us for the last month, our grocery bills have not increased as they are happy to chow down on our leftovers. They did not even complain when we moved them to our backyard after we wanted to reclaim our living room space. They do not use up our internet data or leave their laundry lying around. Our guests even help us to take out the garbage and pay us for lodging in black gold! Here is the photo we took to commemorate their arrival: am sure you have guessed that I am absolutely just jesting with you, and that our houseguests are actually red wriggler worms.

Melinda, Pascal and houseguests. Photo taken by Melinda Munding.

Before I get into the details of our project, I would like to make a quick introduction and tell you a little bit about us. My name is Melinda, and I am working on this project from our home on Petun, Haudenosaunee, Anishinabewaki, Mississauga and Wendake-Nionwentsio territory in southern Ontario with my toddler son, Pascal. I stumbled across the Cautious Optimist Project and Danielle’s story while browsing a sustainability website, and was immediately drawn to her positive energy. Though I did not know her, it is clearly evident how much Danielle enjoyed the innumerable opportunities for learning that our Earth affords. I remember having a conversation with a former colleague about the ephemeral nature of life, and that there are so many things that I would like to learn how to do. Rather than let the choices overwhelm her, Danielle came up with this magnificent plan to learn a new skill every month and we are so honoured to be part of her legacy. 

Melinda and Pascal tending to the vegetable patch. Photo by Melinda Munding.

I knew that I wanted to involve my son when I was choosing a skill to learn that will help us to survive climate change, and therefore the project had to be toddler friendly. We just moved into our first owned home in December and were itching to get out into the garden when I drafted my application. I began thinking about how our immediate environment would be impacted during climate change and decided that it is (and will be) important to maximize the small space that we have to grow food over a long period of time. Though I am not particularly well-versed in agricultural practice, I do know that we will have difficulty growing food if our soil becomes depleted and thus we need a way to sustainably add nutrition. I have had small classroom vermicomposters in the past, and know that the tiny particles of digested organic matter (also known as black gold) are incredible for maintaining the health and aeration of soil. Also, which child does not love worms? I really want Pascal’s relationship with nature to be beautiful, positive and fun, and I believe that these worm friends fit the bill. 

Our beautiful vermihuts from Red Spruce Woodworks. Note that our vermicomposters appear inside but we recommend putting them on non-permeable flooring. We have moved ours outdoors to a shaded area during the nice weather. Photo by Melinda Munding.

In my past forays into vermicomposting, I used a simple small plastic bin with a lid and rotated the food into the different corners to encourage movement in the worms. The small bins did not make a dent in the amount of compost we produce, as the worms in the small bin would only finish eating a single banana peel after a week or two. We go through double digits of bananas weekly and have unavoidable food waste from other meals as well, so I wanted to go BIGGER to use up more of our food waste and produce more worm castings for the garden. Not only that but I have been consciously trying to consume less plastic in favour of sustainable wood and metal products. It “wood” have “bin” nice to have the experience of building a worm bin or vermihut, but it would have been unsafe for me to do the sawing and hammering with my son. That said, had I made my own bin, I am positive that they would not have turned out as beautifully as the ones we purchased from Ned at Red Spruce Woodworks in Scotsburn, Nova Scotia. You can see Ned’s beautiful, sustainable farm and orchard along with the vermihuts he has for sale here: Ned provided such kind support prior to purchasing, after making my order, after shipping and then following up to ensure that we are having a positive experience. I cannot thank him enough for all of his help and for making these products available to us. 

Our vermihuts are composed of three layers of bins, some stilts and a tray for catching the “compost tea”. Each bin has four wooden sides and a hollow bottom covered in wire to hold the bedding in. The wire allows the worms to travel through each layer and enables us to harvest their casting easily and without having to use a sieve, as I had to do in the past with a single bin composter. Silly me thought at the beginning, “hmmm, I am curious as to how the worms will travel upwards.” They do not. I had this moment of realization that the worms will travel downwards during a lucky night waking. I will get into the travelling in my next blog though, as worms typically need only to be encouraged to move bins after a month or so of feasting in one bin.

A typical feeding amount for four-five days. Photo taken by Melinda Munding.

 I have purchased worms more locally in the past but our vendor was out of stock for an extended period of time. We purchased our red wriggler worms from out of Mirabel, Quebec instead. Martin was incredibly helpful in making sure that I obtained the correct species and number of worms in my shipment. After our worms arrived, Pascal and I mixed up the bedding for their home. Worms need sources of carbon, soft bedding that will not injure their delicate skin and material which will hold some moisture so that they do not suffocate. Pascal and I ripped up some brown corrugated cardboard into small pieces to place on top of the wire to prevent the worms and bedding from falling through the layers. We combined the soil bedding sent with our worms, with coconut coir and more shredded cardboard strips. The feeling of the bedding should be moist but not sopping wet once finished. We learned that coir is more amenable for worm health because it becomes softer when moist and is non-toxic to worms unlike some types of woodchips.

Now the part that Pascal loves best: giving them food! 

A typical feeding amount for four-five days. Photo Taken by Melinda Munding.

I knew that worms love banana peels from my experiences with my classroom worms, but Pascal and I have found that our worms particularly enjoy our avocado skins and melon rinds. If we open the lid to our vermihut really quietly, we can hear them wriggling around in a big ball inside the skins and rinds. I think they enjoy the moisture content of the melon and the cozy shape of the skins. We make sure to “water” our worms with a spray bottle to ensure that they stay moist and healthy. 

Pascal putting bedding into the vermihut. Photo taken by Melinda Munding.

Our next steps in this adventure will be to help our worms migrate from the first layer down to the second layer and to move some of our worms from our first vermihut to our second vermihut once our worm family has approximately doubled in number over the next couple weeks.

We will also make a post about some of the questions that we documented during our learning and those that our friends and family have asked us about (such as, why red wriggler worms? Do worms feel pain? How much do they eat? Are they an invasive species? Can they eat all food scraps?). Maybe you are curious too!

Pascal working on our learning journal. Photo taken by Melinda Munding.