Sunday, September 26, 2010

Adventures in wormsitting

I now know how parents must feel when they leave their infant with a babysitter for the first time. Certainly they interview a few candidates, and I did as much for the person who would be watching my worm bin. (My own interview process consisted of mentioning that I had a worm bin and gauging each person's reaction: "Really? Worms? Ew! Do you have to touch them?"... Next.) Leaving the kids with a trustworthy individual is important, but after a series of reassurances the sitter is left with 47 ways of contacting the parents in the event of an emergency....

Okay, fine, before you get all offended, let me revise that: maybe worms aren't quite on par with a child, but somewhere between houseplants and a puppy. But still, someone is left in charge of a living thing (or in the case of my worms, about a pound of living things) near to my heart and they are completely dependent on this other person who is not me for their very survival. During my little ten-day jaunt around Chicago and various Michigan locales recently, I entrusted my friend Mike with my beloved worms.

I felt pretty confident that "Uncle Mike" -- as the worms refer to him -- could handle them. He'd been hearing about the red wigglers all along, had contributed some lovely food scraps, had even peeked into the bin once or twice with me -- I can't imagine why I am not more popular in social circles with this habit of showing dates my worm bin -- and was not an avid fisherman (and thus not tempted to "borrow" a few plump ones). Since he had otherwise not interacted much with them, Mike came by the evening before my departure and I gave him the rundown, or what I like to call Worm Care 101, and then he took them home.

We talked through general care (what, when, and how much to feed them), things to look out for (standing water, fruit flies, weird smells), and what to do in the case of emergencies (call me). What's that? Yes, I said worm emergencies... like a mass exodus of worms attempting to evacuate the bin. They're pretty low maintenance, but there are things that can go seriously wrong. Aside from opening the bin to find a worm graveyard, seeing a whole mass of worms trying to escape means something is seriously amiss. (A rank smell emanating from the bin can also be a concern, but Mike had learned from my ill-advised inclusion of shrimp shells a few weeks ago to stay away from animal-based food scraps.) I felt pretty good about turning them over into his care for a week and a half. He seemed capable.

You can tell a lot about a person by how they react to challenges. Some are proactive troubleshooters, others call friends in a panic, still others stand around swearing or simply do not react. Mike falls into the first category, I think. (Whew.) Once, when he noticed a few worms slinking up along the sides of the bin, he guessed there was too much moisture and tossed in a few coffee filters to absorb some of the excess liquid. Then came the experiments with trapping the growing (but not unmanageable) fruit fly population. I do believe he is looking forward to setting various fruit fly traps when he will be left to worm caretaking once again, for a solid couple of weeks as I venture to New Orleans and Torino next month.

When he brought my bin back to my apartment a few nights ago, after joking about giving them a bath before my return or playing whack-a-worm, my faithful wormsitter said that he rather enjoyed having them in his care during my absence. To quote an e mail from yesterday: "I'm happy you're back but I sort of miss the worms."

Welcome home, my little wigglers. I've missed you, too!

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry


  1. I can't wait until we get worms!

  2. When I was a busy (loney?) grad student (studying fruit flies) that couldn't have other pets, I used to love my pet worms. I played with them daily, and love to watch the tiny baby worms. Also, they love to eat avocado pits from the inside out, I would open them up to say hi.

    By the way, my job in grad school was to set fly traps: Put a chunk of banana in a jar. Cut a cone out of paper with a tiny hole at the tip just big enough for a fruit fly. Tape the cone to the jar (pointy side down) making sure that the sides are completely sealed. The fly will smell the banana and fly in the jar, but won't be able to figure out how to fly back out of the hole in the middle (their brains are only the size of poppy seeds). Freeze the jar or use alcohol to kill everything within 10 days.

  3. Hey Sheffy, I meant to thank you for the fruitfly trapping tips. I was just over at Mike's yesterday and saw that he's tried your jar + cone model. Seems to be working rather well. :)


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