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Craft Ecologies is an exploratory exhibition hosted by Viral Ecologies. Through this exhibition,11 undergraduate students from the course Knowledge Lab at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, look closely at the complex systems that bring material into being.


The worms arrived yesterday in the mail, while I was out. I got home and they were waiting on the kitchen counter for me, in a bag inside a box with holes punctured in it for air. The box smelled awful, earthy but tinged with sharp rot. I opened the box, then the bag, and dumped the worms and their cushioning peat soil onto a paper towel on the counter. There were clustering clumps of worms amid the dirt, which was mostly dried out, bone dry. The worms were not moving at all. I thought maybe they were just tuckered out from the journey from Pennsylvania, but I was pretty sure they were dead. I prepared their bedding in one of the worm bin trays: a layer of coco coir (soaked in water first till the block of it dispersed into handfuls of damp particulate), then damp shredded newspaper, then a few dashes of the broken up egg shells D saved for me in a sour cream container, then the worms and their peat, then the damp paper towel I had used to wipe up bits of the coco coir and peat that had spilled onto the counter and floor. I put the worm bin in my room, and kept peaking in it every once in the while, looking for movement and not seeing anything.

The compost bin stunk up my whole room throughout the night. The smell woke me up multiple times in the night. Before bed, I watched unboxing videos on Youtube of other people receiving worms from the same company I did. Theirs were very clearly alive from the get go, pink and hearty and wriggling. Mine were grey and thin and still. I noticed one moving, but when I inspected, it was stuck to a clump of dead ones. In the morning, I opened my window, left a bowl of vinegar to suck up the lingering smell, and threw the worms and bedding in the trash in the alley behind the apartment. There was a singular worm still in the bin after I dumped it, and it was alive, and I could tell because it looked so different from how the others had. It was wriggling along the bottom of the freshly empty tray. I plucked it out and set it down on the ground in the alley behind our apartment, because it wouldn’t be able to reproduce on its own if I had kept just it. I feel guilty!!! And I feel sad writing this.

I ordered some new worms, and reported the dead ones to the company, and will be trying again.

I’m starting to get a sense of time within this project, thinking about that time spent in transit and imagining the worms’ life before they got sent to me. Imagining how long it will be before I can get new worms. I have a strong sense of the worm’s mortality. Am also realizing their work, swallowing up my discards and turning them into something valuable, will take much longer than I think I have subconsciously been expecting. A few months, not a few days. I will have to listen when the worms tell me how fast they will work. I’m sad and embarrassed that the project is off to this discouraging start. Part of me wishes I hadn’t dumped the bin, because maybe more of them survived than the one I saw. But if they did survive, which I doubt, that means they will turn the trash can in the alley into their own autonomous worm bin, which isn’t a bad outcome at all. I don’t know if red wigglers are indigenous to Illinois, so I hope the one I set free doesn’t wreak havoc on the ecosystem in my neighborhood.

Mom said I should compost the dead worms, which makes sense to me. Throwing them out feels like dealing with a problem in the exact same way I am trying to resist... making it someone else’s problem because I am uncomfortable facing it and seeing it all the way through till the end. Ugh. This constant question of how to actually live into my values. The idea of feeding the dead worms to their live comrades feels pretty morbid, though.

ALL OF THE NEW WORMS ARE IN AND I JUST FED THEM FOR THE FIRST TIME!!!!! The company sent me a reshipment to replace the ones that had died, and I ordered an extra 250 just to be safe... 500 total! Half a pound. Theoretically, they should eat half their weight a day!

I was on my way out the door yesterday to work in the class garden for the first time, and there was a box waiting for me in the entryway, having made the journey all the way from Florida. I got them set up in their bin before leaving, with bedding of: the remaining coco coir, shredded paper bags from Quimby’s and Trader Joe’s, some paper egg cartons D saved for me (plus some dried out leaves from their houseplants), some ground up eggshells, and wet paper towel.

Working in the garden, we found four fat, juicy earthworms while clearing out the planter beds. They were pink and HUGE, and we admired them, turned them over in our hands, before covering them back up with dirt so the sun didn’t kill them.

Throughout the day, I was thinking about my relationship to bugs. I was reminded of that time in fourth grade when I got a ringworm on my forearm, which is not actually even a “worm” at all... it’s an infection caused by contact with fungus. I was also thinking about when we lived in the house on Lost Springs St. and Mom found a black widow spider in the backyard. And in the summer, we would put out mason jars with soap and vinegar and sugar in the bottom with holes in the top, all the flies would get trapped and the jars would fill all the way up. Some were dead and the rest were frantically buzzing until they died too, glistening in the light as they tried in vain to escape, drowning in dead kin. Here in my apartment, I noticed a gnat in my bathroom, and a daddy long leg spider in our storage room. I’m thinking of moving my worm bin out of my bedroom and into the storage room once it is a little warmer out, but for now, the worms and I are literal roommates.

When I got home yesterday, I kept peeking in the bin. Most of the worms had made themselves invisible, burrowing under the surface of the bedding. There were two or three that were hanging out on top of the damp paper towel I had covered them in. I got concerned that the bedding might not be damp enough, so I dripped some water in on them.

When I got home from the ceramic studio today, the second shipment of worms was waiting for me. I decided to rehydrate them and the peat they came in BEFORE putting them in the bin with the other worms. I’m not sure if the water or the shorter commute (they were coming from Pennsylvania rather than Florida), was to account for their liveliness, but they seemed more active than either of the two shipments I had received before.

I put them in the bin with the other worms. And then I decided to feed them for real for real! It is recommended that you let them get acclimated to the bedding for a few days before feeding them, but I decided to fudge that. When I opened up the metal container I’m using to keep food scraps, I immediately noticed this frothy, fuzzy, delicate white mold blanketing the food scraps. I realized that I had started collecting the scraps a few weeks ago, when I ordered the first batch which arrived dead. Underneath the initial layer of white mold, towards the bottom of the bucket, there was additional blue mold and slime on some of the older fruits. I put those in the worm bin along with everything else, but then I did some more reading, and read that the worms are likely to avoid food that is OVERLY rotten, so I took out the stuff that had any blue fuzz or slime: apple core, banana skin, and some mushroom bottoms.

I also moved the bin from across from my bed to under my desk, since I did wake up with a throat ache this morning... Potentially due to the change in weather, or from sleeping on top of my covers instead of under them, but also potentially from some sort of proximity to decay. I don’t know!

What remained after I took out the especially moldy stuff: coffee grounds and paper filters, yarrow and green tea bags, pepper tops, some old grapes and grape vines, more egg shells, butternut squash rind, and lots of my own hair from when I trimmed it the other week. Joked with J about the worms acquiring a taste for my flesh....Need to look up, can they eat nail clippings?... I was kind of surprised at my own scraps, have I really not been eating more vegetables than that? I’m going to see how they do with that stuff, and maybe try feeding them a little more in a few days.

I had left the bag they came in out on the counter while I was getting them set up in the bin, and I caught a few stragglers I had initially missed trying to make a break for it. There were four total that I caught crawling away. I immediately disinfected the counter... And I had a moment of being surprisingly grossed out while I was voyeuristically thumbing through the bin, inspecting the worms. I sent a video of one squirming around to the family group chat, “I love them. And they disgust me.”

Woke up this morning, got my coffee, and checked on the worms. There is A LOT of white mold on top of the food scraps. I am shocked so much of it sprouted overnight. Same look as the mold that was in the food scraps container, fibrous and fluffy, almost furry. It is sort of billowing out from certain scraps, squash especially. I am reading conflicting information online... Some sources are saying to mix up the bedding to break up the mold fibers, some saying an excess of mold can kill the worm, some are saying that this is a perfectly normal part of vermicomposting and that I should let the growth do its thing, that it will not hurt the worms and they can eat it. Again, I am slightly concerned about sleeping in the same room as the bin with this much mold, but I’m hoping the lid is containing the spores. It makes sense to me that this is a normal part of

decomp, but there is quite a lot of it, and I am concerned the mold will overtake the whole bin. Hmm.

I am going to try to exercise restraint. Again, this exploration is really making me think about time. I am becoming aware of the ways I am expecting the worms and this process to move so much more quickly than it is seeming like it will. Imposing a capitalist pace on them. There aren’t any worms on the surface right now, they have all retreated “underground”. I have to force myself to trust them to do their work, at their own pace, whether it is visible to me or not. I’ll check on the bin again after I get home from volunteering, and make a decision about the mold then. Even though I feel resistant to allowing much mold to grow, the worms might treat it as a comrade, and I don’t want to deprive them of constructive kinship. I feel this anxious frenzy in myself around the bin, I want to check the bin often, I want to dig around to make sure the worms are alive. It is a control thing. I am reminding myself that I am stewarding this process but not dominating it. I have to relinquish a little control, otherwise there is no room for the worms to exercise agency. Ultimately, my role is just facilitating and observing. What happens in the bin is what happens in the bin, and there is only so much I can do to shape it. Thinking about (finally) sending C C a letter and seeing if he has run into this issue too, with the worms he keeps under his kitchen sink... I hope he still lives at the address he gave me.

Ok, I lied. I closed my computer and opened the bin again. I used a popsicle stick to poke around and there are lots of worms gathered together underneath the moldy squash rinds. And overall, less mold than I initially thought. It’s kind of really pretty. I’m probably not going to break it up too much.

There is still lots of mold in the bin, but I’ve decided to leave it. I’ve also decided I would like to try blending up the food scraps before feeding them to the worms, so that there is less chance of big pieces sitting for long and getting so moldy again. The squash rinds were in pretty large pieces, so it makes sense to me that they are taking awhile to get eaten and needing the assistance of mold to break them down. It looks like one of the pepper tops is starting to dissolve, though. And some of the white mold is taking on a blue-r tint. I want to try feeding the worms small amounts of food more often than once a week, so that nothing has the chance to rot too badly before it goes into the bin. Plus, if I blend everything up, the worms should be able to eat things more quickly.

Today I fed the worms: mushroom stems, some slimy spinach, carrot tops and ends, pepper tops, sweet potato skins, yarrow and green tea bags, apple core, and a pink and green leaf from my Aglaonema.

I’ve thought about the worms a lot, and have been inspecting the bin a lot, but haven’t been able to easily synthesize my thoughts into written words. Some observations in the past few days:

the mold has gotten darker and more condensed, less furry... In part because I’ve been gently stirring the bin around every so often (not to break up or bury the mold, just to look around) and in part because the squash rinds have decomposed a lot. It has also transferred onto the ripped up paper bag that I have overtop of the scraps. I think having the lid off periodically while I’m inspecting the bin has dried everything out a bit, creating a slightly less conducive environment for mold growth. Although, it does make total sense that there would be some considering the conditions... I’m deciding to stop worrying about the mold altogether. Mom said that the mold is like the worms’ garden. I love the visual.

In poking around, I realized that the mold softened the rinds, so I was able to break them into much smaller pieces. Overnight, they became unrecognizable, which means they are being eaten! The worms have not really touched the grape vine, and there is a lot of eggshell remaining. The grapes and pepper tops are mostly gone though, which is why I decided to go ahead and give them some more food. Not a ton, and in much smaller pieces this time, but some fresh stuff and some variety to see how they do.

I suspect that the worms eat things from the bottom up, rather than top down. It seems like they have eaten quite a lot of their bedding already (I’m not seeing as much paper as I remember being there initially), before moving to the organic stuff towards the top of the bin. I read that burying new scraps under the surface when feeding can make it easier for them to find the food, which I tried to do today when I gave them some fresh stuff. When I lift up a scrap on the surface, there is a fury of motion as many worms underneath burrow away from the light. I realized that the worms hiding when I expose them like that, is their way of setting boundaries with me. They are happy in the bin as far as I can tell, but they do not like being disturbed or exposed, so they run away. I’m not sure what it looks like for me to set boundaries with the worms, but this is one way they are doing so with me.

I’ve been talking with my therapists a lot about social anxiety lately... One thing that has been unearthed is the way I create buffers in the relational space between me and another person, in order for me to feel more safe. Those buffers are sometimes boundaries or activities or sculptural objects. The purpose of this (mostly unconscious) strategy is to give me and the other person (but mostly me) something to do with our hands, something to fill some of the space between us, giving a context to the time we spend together. In the case of my relationship with the worms, the social buffer is the food scraps. The food, shifting form, passes back and forth between me and the worms, serving as our main way of communicating with one another. In time, I think the food could become a kind of language- once I learn their preferences. And once I learn to trust them enough to leave them alone, rather than treating the relationship as more fragile than it is (another thing that has come up in therapy), by checking up on them many times a day, interrupting the process. And, and once I develop a routine and (hopefully) earn some dependability and credibility with the worms. I’m also feeling this thing of like... I need to be more intentional about feeding myself well and with variety so that it reflects in the health of the worms. Trying to remember that the focus should not be all on the worms or all on me, but on this life-process we are participating and creating together.

A few things have happened in the past few days.

First off, today I found new PLANTS growing in the worm bin. There are 3 sprouts, sprung up from the mire, more yellow colored than green. I was so surprised when I found them, my best guess is that they are bursting forth from pepper seeds. They are such a tangible sign of life among the decomposition, such proof that whatever is happening in the bin is fertile and very much alive. I can’t believe how much happens in the bin every day... I get a sense of it every time I open the lid and see so many flashing glints of light as the worms move to make themselves invisible.

After I saw the sprouts, I thought a bit about D F and his family, and how a few years ago, they had PUMPKINS grow out of their compost. I think they keep a corner of their backyard dedicated to compost, just a pile behind the shed that they turned occasionally, but I will have to ask for more details next time we talk. Their yard represented so much to me growing up, I loved it so much because it felt huge in relation to my body, and because their family is so hospitable and attentive. They had a trampoline, a handbuilt wooden playset, and, of course, a zipline. We climbed a ladder to the platform on the big tree, then grabbed onto a bar and cascaded diagonally down the zipline before crash landing on the ground. It was so magic to me. The older I get, the more confused I am about if I am attracted to D F or if I’ve just always wanted to be a part of his family. Feels like relief and disappointment at once.

Second thing, J’s baby ball python, Cinnamon Bun, died a few days ago. J has been having such a rough go of it lately, and this was the cherry on top of it all. I thought to myself that maybe worms could eat the body, but I did not say it out loud. And after a while of sitting together in that immediate shock portion of grief, J said they had a morbid thought, and I already knew what it was and I said no. We had a little laugh about it, but the moment got heavy again quickly. We have both had dreams about dead snakes these past few nights. It’s really sad. Theoretically, the worms could eat meat, but I don’t want them to. It’s a little too frugal, even for me.

There is more to process, but I’m getting tired and my thoughts are coagulating inside my head before I can type them out. More to come. Spring equinox tomorrow, I will be starting my seeds in peat pellets for the windowsill and the lot out back.

Had a dream that I opened the worm bin and a flock of ladybugs and moths surged out of it past me, and inside were more ladybugs, and a smattering of radioactive blobs which I understood to be ladybug eggs, and there were multiple hairy spiders the size of my fist, and the bin did not have a bottom, but the longer I looked into its depths, the more insects I saw and the more it looked like a landscape scaled closer to my own body’s size than a worms.

Things that are not worms, but could be:

- Ringworm, aforementioned
- CTA trains, which I call the “big metal worms” with their segmented cars, squirming and

burrowing tunnels above and below the ground of the city - A broken rubber band on my desk, a trick of the light

Things that are not conversation, but feel like it:
- Kissing (if both people are present enough to listen) -

C is visiting today and I was making lunch, and I realized I hadn’t told him about this project at all, and I was planning to feed the worms some avocado rind from my salad. J encouraged me to show C the worms, and I made a joke about how dirty my room is as I led him in to see the bin. (I’ve said multiple times now, to multiple people, that I am reverting to my awful teenage habit of throwing my clothes into piles on the floor as I struggle to pick outfits. It is exhausting using clothing to manage the uncontrollable factor of how other people will witness me. The clothes piles have so much energetic pull, they suck up all the air in the room.)

Later, C and I were talking about the worms again over dinner. How I have found information on vermiculture, problems I have bumped up against in the process, the way the worms are disgusting and the way in which I am obsessed with them, and how they ball up for comfort or mating. How difficult it is trying to communicate with something which is not human, how we will never fully understand the way they communicate with each other. C articulated the visual of five worms in a line, touching tips, and passing information from the first to the last. And the visual of me walking a worm on a leash. We disagreed on whether or not worms count as “bugs”, a term I have always used as an umbrella for anything small that creeps or crawls or flies. (I have also claimed “Bug” as a name for myself, but it is weird to nickname yourself so I did not mention this) But of course, he and I are very used to disagreeing with each other and I am not afraid of generative conflict. While C dissolved into a Google hole looking for information on which phylum worms belong to, I realized that I never learned about taxonomic ranking in school. I was dismayed when he listed the classifications out in order.

My red wiggler earthworms are: 

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Annelida
Class: Clitellata
Order: Opisthopora
Family: Lumbricidae
Genus: Eisenia
Species: E. fetida

And in this conversation on bugs, we talked about the gnats which briefly overtook the bin until I got traps set up outside of it, and I realized how weird it feels to purposefully kill one type of bug in order to cherish another. I’ve been thinking lately about the child version of me who used to go out to the creek in Nana and Papa’s Pennsylvania woods and challenge V to see which one of us could shoot more frogs with the BB gun. I’ve hesitantly dipped my toe into inner child work in somatic therapy recently, and I’ve thought about all of the iterations of me which nestle inside my current version. I do not slough off my outgrown skin, like a cicada leaving their shell behind. Instead, I hold all of my selves at once, even the selves who have more capacity for callous violence.

Thinking of my desire for mentorship, queer elders, and intergenerational relationships... Because earthworms are very old -descending from ancient worms that lived hundreds of millions of years ago- they are harbingers of deep knowledge and maybe could be that mentor for me.

On my most recent weekly Facetime call with W, my 6-year old sister, we talked about bugs. She is in Arkansas, I am in Chicago. 11am-1pm, each Monday, we spent together.

Her favorite bugs are: ladybug, butterfly, and worms Her least favorite bugs are: centipedes and millipedes.

Sometimes, she asks to see my “wormy worms”. When I asked her why they are some of her favorites, she remembered what I’ve told her and recited that they can eat our trash and turn it back into dirt which is good for the earth! A few weeks ago, when I was on a kick of asking everyone I know if they consider themselves animals, W said she doesn’t consider herself one. And when I asked what makes something a bug, she said a bug is something “TERRIFYING!!!”. But this is the same kid who cheered and danced for joy when she saw a bee, “THE FIRST POLLINATOR OF SPRING!!”.

Sometimes we draw pictures together over Facetime (mostly of treehouses and “phantoms”, her word for alien monster creatures). Sometimes we do stretches or dance. Sometimes we play “imagination games” and pretend to be superheroes or astronauts or spys. Sometimes we make “witches soup” out of dandelion stems and hose water. More often than not, though, we romp around the backyard and build fairy houses out of sticks and rocks and weeds and flowers. I realized recently that when we are on Facetime together, my physicality, in her presence, is reduced to the scale of the bugs and fairies of which we often speak . She brings me into her playhouse with her, which I cannot fit comfortably inside when I am there in person. She sets our mother’s phone down to eat her lunch and my view is fringed with blades of grass rising up around me. From this perspective, I can begin to imagine what it might be like to always be so small that a human child could tower over me or carry me in their hands. My worms do not have eyes to see the largeness of my body in proportion to theirs as I hold them in my hands. They rely on a sensitivity to vibration in order to survive, experiencing lots of vibration as stress- the potential of a predator, like a mole nearby coming to swallow them up. I must remember this, when I drag the bin out from under my desk instead of lifting it gently, or when I rifle through the contents of the bin with my hands, looking for some confirmation that the process is working. These motions, innocuous to me, must be experienced as thunderous to the worms. I wonder if they feel my footsteps on the floor we share, even when I am not walking towards them. I wonder if they have come to expect disruption at certain hours of the day, on certain days of the week.... But of course they do not experience time in the same way humans do. I wonder what time must feel like when your entire lifetime is spent feeling through continuous darkness.

I will be taking the bus to Indiana in a few weekends to visit V V, to celebrate them and become acquainted with their family home... I am thinking now of a conversation we had a few weeks ago, before they left Chicago, sitting out on a pier and talking about worms and people. I don’t remember all of the context but we were talking about social anxiety, and they said something along the lines of “yes, and now you are trying to build a relationship with a whole colony at once”. I hadn’t thought about it in those terms necessarily, that this is not me building a relationship with a singular other, but 500 others. It has been easy for me to think about them not as individual beings, but as a collaborative unit. I can notice superficial differences: some are much larger or smaller than others, some are more pink and some more brown, some with yellowish coloring on one tip. But when I speak of them, I speak of The Worms, not worm#1, worm#67, and worm#439... When I see one, it is impossible for me to remember if it is the same worm I have seen the day before. At this point, I have no idea how many worms I even have.

Multiple people I’ve been close to have articulated to me, at different moments, that I am a difficult person to get to know. I talk about this in therapy a lot, about the way that I have to physically share space with someone many times before my nervous system stops communicating that they are dangerous to me. My body tries to keep me safe in this way because experience has taught me that people certainly can and will hurt me, but these unconscious survival strategies do not always serve me. In a lot of cases, they lead me to appear more aloof and standoffish than I’d like to be and stifle potential relationships before they start. Because I am like this, I have friendships which are narrow, but deep. With the worms, the relationship is not a friendship, and it is wider and shallower than the way I am used to operating... I am cultivating this system with many other beings, and the scope of our relationship is limited to this decomposition practice. Rather than this other way I operate in relationship, with fewer people but more vast a scope of how we interact. It takes work to get to know the worms too.

Just got out of somatic therapy: I had just finished talking about the painful experience of a friendship ending, a situation that I have a bit of emotional distance from now, and my therapist said something along the lines of “you are digesting and integrating this experience” and then we both laughed a lot because I was like “that’s what my worms are doing too!!!” We are both chewing on all this gross stuff and then processing it into a new way of being!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Feeding has not been entirely intuitive on my side. Rather than waiting until the worms have consumed everything in the bin, I’ve been in the habit of feeding them once they’ve mostly eaten most of the fresh stuff, which has led to a handful of problems. I decided it would be best to feed them a few things, a few times a week rather than a lot of things once a week. This might have been okay if I had also been replenishing the carbon in the bin in addition to all the nitrogen I was introducing- a suggestion S brought to me but, like many other pieces of advice I’ve received, I disregarded until I came to the same conclusion on my own. My first indication of trouble should have been the gnats, which I had noticed but decided to ignore, even as more and more respawned inside the bin. D, who was staying over, pointed out that they were flying out each time I opened the lid. I already knew this, but something about subjecting another person to a buggy bedroom seemed gross, so we got some fruit fly traps which worked like a charm in a few days' time. I had noticed tiny red and white mites in the bin too, but they don’t impose themselves on my life outside the bin, so I have not worked to kill them. To be clear, the presence of gnats demonstrates that the worms were not breaking food down as quickly as I was adding new material. I’m not as certain what the presence of mites indicates. All this was back at the end of March, early in the process but I didn’t write about it because I didn’t want to observe my own mistakes.

Speaking of, March 26th was a hard day in vermiculture history. I’ve been putting off writing about it for awhile. For about a week prior, whatever change was happening in the bin was not making itself visible to me. It seemed like the decomposition process had stalled out, so I decided to feed the worms even though there was still green stuff from the last feeding. I had seen a vermicomposting Tik Tok where someone recommended blending food scraps up to make them easier for the worms to process... Which I did, even though the mix turned frothy black from the mold that had been growing on some of the scraps in my metal scrap collection bucket. I had to add quite a bit of water so everything would blend, too. I wanted to follow the suggestion of burying food under the surface for the worms, so I dug holes in the existing bedding and poured in the food mix. In hindsight, I know that this suggestion of burying the food means adding NEW BEDDING, new carbon on top of whatever I feed the worms, but I hadn’t grasped that yet. I got carried away ruffling up the bedding, just pawing through to see where the worms were, in a weird anxious and voyeuristic frenzy, mixing everything up to integrate the new slop. I also decided everything seemed a bit dry, so I misted it. Almost immediately, worms started crawling up the sides of the bin, trying to escape. It was extremely distressing to me. I kept closing the bin and putting it away, then dragging it back out to see if the worms were still trying to escape (they were).The culprit was a combination of unfavorable conditions: adjusting humidity levels, the stress of not having enough bedding to retreat from the new food into, the stress of being continuously disturbed, and their existing burrowed oxygen tunnels being broken up by my stirring. Too much change, too fast. J read the panic in my body language and kept reminding me that they are just worms, that things would balance out eventually, that even if I killed them all, it would be okay. It certainly did not feel okay that night. I had planned on going over to D’s apartment after they got off work, to crash there, but I simply could not stomach the idea of leaving and coming home to a floor of dead worms. They came over to my place instead, and we set up a lamp to shine down on the open bin, drying it out and incentivising the worms to burrow back into the bedding rather than flee into the light, which would kill them. I’m remembering myself crouched over the bin, listening to the softest pitter patter of dirt dropping through the holes in the bottom of the tray into the collection bin below, audible proof that they were moving and getting reacquainted and reoriented. I was incredibly anxious and frettful and stress dreamed about them all escaping all night.

The worst part is that a few weeks later, I did the same thing again- fed the worms way too much nitrogen without replenishing the bedding, and misted the whole thing. And of course, they started crawling up the walls... not all 500, but enough to freak me out. I think the new water triggers some sort of instinctual upward migration, like out in the real world when it rains and worms come up to the surface of the ground. I read recently that the bin model I have tends to run dry, because it is so well ventilated, and I think lack of sufficient moisture has been an issue this whole time. It is so humbling to do this process badly. My assessment of the conditions of the bin and instincts on how to manage it are simply not always correct. My first instinct has been to fill the bin up with new food every time I start to wonder if the compost process is “working”. But I think what’s actually been happening is not a lack of food, it is not enough bedding (they don’t like to rest in rotting matter or their own shit) and not enough moisture in general. Nothing teaches me why things must be done a certain way like seeing what happens when they are done wrong.

After this second mishap, I got a second tray set up with brand new bedding... much more of it than in the first tray. I put just a few food scraps amid the damp shredded newspaper and cardboard, and started putting the escapee worms in the new tray. I also found a clump of worms, balled up together for comfort or moisture, and I transported them to the new tray as well. This happened to be the day I finished The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, which is a story about twin planets, one with abundant natural resources but a violent, capitalist system and one with few natural resources (and fewer people) but a collectivist, decentralized societal model. The main character travels from one planet to the next, and we are able to see the elements of utopia and dystopia in both societies. The war-torn, capitalist world moves towards revolution and the anarchist world gets more and more bureaucratic. To compare the twin planets to my two worm trays would be too direct of an analogy, but I definitely thought about them as parallels: my first tray has bad conditions but all the worms, and my second tray has better conditions and few inhabitants.

Had a first date in the park.
More worms have escaped the bin and died on my floor than I’d like to admit. My family found 3 newborn kittens under the shed and 2 dead ones in the yard.

The bin model I have, with its multiple trays, is supposed to encourage the worms to migrate upwards to the next tray on their own accord when they are ready. Since I set up the second tray, I’ve been putting scraps only in there to incentivise the worms to move on up to the better conditions. I don’t know if I will get any compost at all from the first tray, because at this point it is all very dry. Cast should be able to clump together, but it doesn’t there. I believe part of why so many have wound up shriveled and dead on my floor is that they are trying to move up to the new bin and going the wrong way. The well ventilated bin = space enough for escape. Sometimes I will catch them alive on my bedroom floor, and they flail and writhe with such force as I put them back in the bin, whipping their whole body back and forth furiously. Doing the fight part of fight or flight. Yesterday, I checked the first tray and there were a few clumps of balled up worms and hoards of them in the corners, which I transferred over to the second tray. I noticed that after moving most of the remaining worms into the second tray, and putting a big sheet of damp paper over the entire top of the tray, I did not have any escapees last night. I’m optimistic. For a moment, I was considering ordering a new shipment of worms, but I am hopeful I won’t have to with them getting officially comfy in their brand new bedding.

I woke up to a message from my mom, “A blessing on your wormies”, and a screenshot of a poem she found on Facebook about worms having taste buds. Hehe. I’ve been feeding them avocado lately because I read they really, really like it.

Starting over in a new tray after working the process for almost two months is frustrating, but I’m glad I haven’t killed all of them. There is a lot of ego wrapped up in thinking I might master this process, quickly or at all. I feel like just as much of a student to this process right now as I did when I first started. Feels like each mistake, I am spiraling closer and closer to maintaining the worms effectively. Fingers crossed.