Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mom I have worms...

And I absolutely love them!
I mean an organism that eats my trash and gives me super fertile soil for my garden, what is not to love? Old me, of course, hated worms and it was not at all surprising that when I told my mom that I had worms in my kitchen she responded with “Oh, no, how awful.” She thought I was referring to the ‘guru guru’ that unavoidably take over everything left outside in a hot Caribbean kitchen and had no idea that her daughter, who used to be seriously grossed out be earthworms, would by choice have a bin with about a thousand earthworms in her kitchen.

Not only do I have them by choice, I really do love my worms! I get a sense of pleasure when I open the bin and hear them squirming around. Not to mention the joy I feel when I lift up the top layer of paper to find my well-fed worms chomping away on my leftover apples, celery, carrots, pumpkin and coffee just to name a few.
I guess it’s the biologist in me admiring the wonderful circle of life us humans are often so quick to ignore. And in terms of sustainability, there’s really no better way to reduce your trash, and your impact on the planet, then acquiring some worms on taking care of your own waste management.

Making the Bin:
We were lucky enough to have our worm bin donated to us, but it’s really not that hard to make. Check out the video by The Environmentals . These guys are a little crazy, but they made a worm bin that is exactly like mine! Some other sources are Cheap & Easy Worm Bin!, Composting with Redworms, wikiHow or just google "worm compost bin."

Worm Care:
Caring for the worms is also super easy!
Feed them all your biodegradable food scraps, like coffee grounds, tea bags, cereal, vegetable and fruit scraps. From what I've read, avoid citrus (too much is toxic for the worms), avoid meats, dairy and bones (attracts rodents, yuck), avoid junk food and oily foods (attracts ants). I feed my worms about once a week (sometimes twice), putting food in different corners of the bin. So far I haven't had to chop or puree any of the food. I just put it in a little odor-free compost bin and transfer it to the bin whenever it's feeding time. Whenever I see worms crawling on the sides or close to the lid, I know it's time to feed them a crumbled dried eggshell (helps maintain correct PH). Other than that, I leave them in a nice dark corner in my kitchen.
More info at Organic Garden Works, Feeding Your Worms

Harvesting the soil:
I have not attempted this yet, but I have found a site that I am going to use when it’s time for us to replant our vegetable garden. We used store-bought earthworm castings last time and the plants grew like crazy, so I can't wait to see the effects of our home-produced castings.

Don’t have a garden to use the soil in? Don’t let that stop you from composting! You can use the soil for indoor houseplants or donate it to a friend or local garden. In the end, the soil is only an awesome by-product, the real benefit is the reduction of methane in the air and trash in our landfills. Reducing your trash and managing your own biodegradable waste is the best way to reduce your impact on our planet and who knows, you may grow to love your worms too!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Our "reduced" standard of living

Just a few days ago, I got one of the most rewarding messages. My cousin wrote me “Happy 2010! Thank you for teaching me new things and bringing important things to my attention.” I guess I have to add the disclaimer that I am extremely liberal and that she is quite conservative, but I think the experiences and conversations we shared in 2009 are proof that when it comes to saving our planet and bettering our lives it does not matter if you are conservative or liberal, republican or democrat, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim or an atheist, the only thing that matters is that you educate yourself on what it means to live a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle.

An economist today on NPR said that given the state of the world, we have to get used to a reduced standard of living. I don’t disagree with him, our standards of living have to change and yes, it will be “reduced” compared to the way we live now, but I’m not so sure that that is a bad thing. Will it really be so bad to use more public transportation or our bicycles instead of our cars? Or even drive a small hybrid car instead of a massive SVU? Who said that a car indicates a higher standard of living than a bicycle? Or that the size of your car delineates your wealth? I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t trade my fuel-efficient Honda for a gas-guzzling SUV for anything and I am actually waiting for the day I can “reduce” my standard of living to a smaller hybrid car that is friendlier on the planet AND my wallet! Not to mention that in Amsterdam for example, people never even consider buying a car. On the contrary, they want the ugliest bike they can find, so that no one will try to steal it.

Sure, we have to get used to a “reduced” lifestyle, but you might not miss the stuff you are giving up quite as much as you think you will. Just think back to your childhood…what are your favorite memories? Is it that big TV, big car or expensive game? I don’t know, maybe it is for you, but for me, the things I remember and treasure most from my childhood are the family trips we took, the stories that were told, the home-cooked meals and the game nights. Just last week I was at home and what I craved most was my mom’s New Year’s soup and a night at home playing Chinese Checkers and Rummikub. I don't think any material good could ever replace that...