It's not the kind of thing I would usually do on a Thursday afternoon, mind you, but I had no rubber gloves and no alternative during the code brown wormergency. My newly returned under-the-sink compost bin had mysteriously developed a thick layer of sludge during my time cavorting around New Orleans and Turin and I had a nagging feeling that something had gone terribly wrong. I mean, I know worms breathe through their skin, and actually prefer a moist environment, but sludge?? Not good.
The problem was not simply the distinctly swampy consistency (though that would've been reason enough for concern). I also noted that it was smelling a little like a dirty diaper in there. (Faint but distinct -- parents, you know what I'm talking about here.) Something was definitely off, and the wobbling, slow moving fruitflies were making me suspicious that they were tipsy. Hey, I'm all for invertebrates enjoying a drink now and again, but I'm pretty sure worm bin fermentation is a warning sign of things going awry.
[Note: I do not believe the recent downturn of the bin is in any way due to negligence on the part of my wormsitter, who returned my herd of red wigglers when he came by for dinner last night. I'd still write Mike a glowing reference letter for future wormsitting gigs. I mean, the man is devoted to developing the optimal fruitfly trap and the high quality food scraps over at his apartment are almost on par with my own.]
I recalled reading that too much water could wipe out a whole herd of wigglers. There wasn't exactly standing water, but such a development seemed imminent. (Drowning in a pool of fermenting poop -- what a way to go.) "Quick!" I thought, "I need to add something to absorb some of the moisture!" I scoured the apartment, tossing in a dry coffee filter and shoving some pieces of ripped up cardboard along the bottom. Then I sent off a panicked message to The Worm Ladies.
Within an hour or two, Susie, my friendly neighborhood WMT (Wormergency Medical Technician), wrote back to tell me that my instinct was correct, that there was too much moisture and I should add more dry material. Oh, and she also said to dump the bin out on a black garbage bag and sift through everything -- the "everything" being a big mess of stinky excrement -- to rescue the worms and any uneaten food, transferring them to a new bin. So I did.
Well, I didn't have a second container, so I dragged everything out to the garden, rinsed out the existing bin (while its contents were smeared across a Hefty bag for God and my neighbors to see), layered in some fresh brown paper and cardboard and food scraps (not too many high water content ones this time), and moved my wriggling wormies one by one into their remodeled home. (No, I didn't rinse them off first...but I sure was tempted to.) The drippy, aromatic remains on the garbage bag found a new home in the outdoor composter. Actually, maybe it'll make my regular compost even more amazing for the spring.
I checked on the shell shocked wigglers again a few minutes ago. They seem a little sluggish -- maybe they're hung over -- but I'll be sure to post an update on their recovery soon. Oh, man, I hope I don't lose my vermiculture merit badge for this....
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