Keeping Pet Worms

Reader Contribution by Claire E
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Whatever the pits were, they didn’t break apart very easily. Black things that had once been part of fruit, they finally snapped in half to display a waxy, vaguely pinkish inside. My mother and I found the pits while we were cleaning out our worm bins, of which we have two.

Worms are probably the lowest-maintenance pets you can get–all they ask is vegetable wastes from your kitchen. They’re inexpensive to buy and even more so to keep–effectively, their food costs nothing; it’s just your food, the part you didn’t eat. They keep food waste out of the trash, and although a regular compost bin would do that just as well, worms don’t smell. Plus, they’re fascinating. For example, did you know that you can tell when your worms are happy with your eyes closed? A happy worm bin has a distinct sound: the noise of worms slithering through the castings, and a gentle popping sound.

This is not to say they don’t have problems. For one thing, worm bins may become infested with flies, moths and their larvae, who coexist with the worms and try to eat their food. My mother occasionally resorts to scooping up the spiders that set up camp in our basement and dumping them in the worm bin to catch pests.

For another, your worms may choose not to eat some things, or if they eat too much of them, they’ll die in great quantities. We once had this happen to us; we fed our worms a lot of pumpkin, whereupon almost all the contents of our worm bin died. We called it “The Great Worm Plague.”

My mother occasionally gives them a little less squash, which doesn’t hurt them, by scooping the seeds and the mush around them out of a butternut squash, which she then gives to the worms. They love the mush, but they won’t eat the seeds. I personally think this is really cool, all the more so because it makes perfect sense. Seeds germinate underground. It wouldn’t do to have worms eating all the seeds or nothing would ever grow. In fact, they won’t eat anything that might grow underground–root vegetables and their peelings, onion skins, mushrooms. I think it’s nature’s way of saying, “Don’t let anything happen to the plants and the fungi.” This is why, whatever those mystery pits were, they weren’t eaten.

If you want to keep pet worms too, they need dark, airflow, and material to burrow in and eat. To start a worm bin, take a plastic storage bin, drill small holes in the sides fairly high up for ventilation and a few small holes in the bottom for drainage. Then spray some shredded newspaper lightly with water and pour it in. Add a little food waste and red worms, and then more food waste as needed. Miss Ellen Sandbeck would tend to disagree with me on this vermiculture method. Her way of setting up a worm bin is here.

Whichever method you try, don’t let worms’ potential problems turn you off. They’re fascinating, make excellent compost (which is why we keep them), and if you’re as wacko as I am, kind of cute. In many ways, they’re perfect pets. Now, if only we could figure out what those pits are …

Photos courtesy of  Mom, Wendy C.