As the earthworm turns


Lucinda left hers alone for three weeks. “They’re fine for that long,” she said. Phil’s were thrown out by someone who thought—correctly—that they were garbage. Kelin’s “disapparated.” Andrew had “ceased upkeep” of his. Eve was on the waiting list; Jennifer never got any either.

Finally, I found Alexander Muir, ’09, a biology major who was still caring for his composting worms, handed out mid-spring quarter during Earth Week. Composting worms digest plant and vegetable peelings and produce fertile soil; they help the environment both by reducing the amount of trash that ends up in landfills and by assisting plant growth. Muir, who considers his earthworms a “fun science experiment,” intends to grow all of his herbs and spices in soil they produce, and has started with potted basil.

“Technically only half of the worms are mine,” Muir said. The rest belong to a former roommate, gone for the summer. Muir was speaking figuratively: the hermaphroditic worms reproduce like crazy and the current residents of the 2-by-1—foot plastic box will not be those that Muir’s friend reclaims in September. The earthworms are similar to those in a backyard, but, because composting is best with a highly efficient worm, Zoe Vangelder, ’09, purchased special wrigglers—40 pounds of them at $20 per pound—to distribute at the workshop she coordinated on vermiculture. Her supplier was Cecelia Ungari, the Shedd Aquarium’s conservation programs coordinator known as “the Chicago worm lady.”

Even while housed in boxes, the worms created problems for some of their hosts. Muir and his worm-venture partner never informed their third roommate about the worms, Muir explained, because they knew she might be averse to sharing the house with vermin. They placed the box under the kitchen table and slipped their apple cores and carrot tops in while she was out.

But in the chaos of moving, she found and opened the box, probably thinking it contained books and clothes. Seeing the creatures, she “screamed so loudly," Muir said, "the upstairs neighbor called 911.”

More vermiculture workshops are being planned for the fall. Check the new sustainability site for updated information.

Shira Tevah, '09

Photo: Alexander Muir shows a few of his composting worms.

Photo by Dan Dry.

August 15, 2008