Caution: Worms were harmed 
before I wrote this column

I have a small confession. I had worms.

No, not that kind of worms.

I had the kind of worms that you use to compost dead stuff and they create beautiful fertilizer from all those carrot peels and egg shells. Tending a small worm farm is a great way to keep that waste out of the landfill and redirect it to your garden.

The confession part comes from the past tense I’m using here. My poor worms met their demise after three short months of trying my hand at vermiculture.

See, worms are easy to forget. Successfully keeping worms requires a delicate balance – not too hot, not too cold, not too wet, not too dry, not too much food, don’t starve them.

See? Worm farming is a delicate business. I had no idea.

My unfortunate foray into the worm-tending experiment began with an order for 1,000 red wrigglers from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm (not kidding). Yes, my friends purchase things like maxi-dresses on the Internet, but I order worms.

The worms arrived without incident, and settled nicely into their new home: a plastic bin I prepared for them using shredded newspaper for bedding. They magically dissolved apple cores and curled up so cozy in their little eggshells. It was a worm utopia for a while.

Then hubby started complaining.

Why were these worms watching TV with him in the living room? Well, I didn’t want to forget them. I needed to check on them regularly and if they weren’t in plain sight, I would forget.

What’s that weird smell? Obviously it was the dog. What’s preventing the worms from escaping in the middle of the night and eating him?

I acquiesced to hubby’s irrational fear of worms nibbling him to mush as he slept and relocated the worms. At first, I remembered to check on them in the garage closet pantry. By this time, I probably had close to 2,000 worms, since Uncle Jim says they double every 90 days or so.

And then I decided to feed the worms a lot at once. I cut up a small watermelon I forgot in the back of the fridge and gave that to them. This was a very bad idea (remember the delicate balance?). And then we had company and I went out of town and it got pretty hot in the closet and ... the worm utopia met its horrifying demise.

I probably neglected the worms for three weeks. That’s all it took. When I went to feed the worms some past-due tomatoes, I knew something was wrong when I opened the bin. All the newspaper bedding was absolutely soaked. Were the worms making a piñata? It looked like paper mache in there.

Then I noticed the murky brown line of sludge running just below the newspaper.

Hubby saw me staring at the worm bin with a grim face.

“How are the worms?” he called from across the yard.

“Um ... fine?” I answered, grabbing a trowel to pull back the first layer of muck and investigate. I reached the trowel into the brown muck and it came away with a gloppy sucking noise.

That was a horrible mistake. Exposing the depths of this bin of death unleashed the most wicked stench known to humanity. Stink doesn’t even begin to describe this foul odor.

I gagged a little and my eyes watered as I looked for any signs of life, digging through the worm sludge. Hubby approached from across the yard, but only made it halfway before the stench hit him.

“Dear lord, what is that? That smell is unreal!” he coughed and gagged as he came closer, covering his face.

“The worms are over,” I said.

“Ughhhhh,” he said, peering into the bin, which revealed a lone survivor wriggling among the melted remains of his 1,999 peers. “It’s like worm soup. I can’t stand the smell. It’s like a thousand port-a-potties got dumped in here. It’s worse than the landfill in July.”

“What do we do with it?” I asked, my breath sounding a bit like Darth Vader through my futile hand mask.

We briefly discussed putting the worm sludge out with the trash on Monday. But we decided this was too horrible even for those trained to handle waste on a regular basis. And we didn’t have a way to mark the bin with hazmat warnings.

We basically had a bin full of decomposed bodies. And what do you do with bodies?

I started digging a hole in the corner of the yard, near the fence to limit the visibility of the worm massacre cover-up. Hubby finished the hole, as I retrieved the sludge bin and carried it across the yard, trying to hold my breath. A putrid whiff of worm death overcame me as I set down the bin.

I clung to the fence, retching, as hubby dumped the sludge into the hole, gagging and yelling, “Never again!” and other words unfit for print. He filled the hole unceremoniously and garnished the mass grave with an old tire so the dog wouldn’t excavate the fetid treasure.

I stumbled into the house to wash off the stench and shame. My phone beeped with a text, which read, “Ok, your nosy neighbor is dying to know what that was about. Are you burying dead people in your garden? LOL!”

Yeah. LOL. We only buried about 2,000 dead things in the garden. And our neighbor Margaret stood at the window and watched the whole thing: the digging, the retching, the yelling and screaming and gagging. Nothing gets past Margaret. Keep in mind this is the same neighbor who witnessed me bludgeoning a plague-ridden squirrel with a broom handle a few years ago.

“You guys are constant entertainment,” she said. “You’re probably the best neighbors I’ve ever had in that house.”

Well. I’m glad it was fun for someone.

Erin McIntyre is an advanced master gardener, writer and Grand Valley native. Please email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with story ideas or feedback.


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