Thursday, November 13, 2014

Vermicomposting 101

A couple of days ago I posted a photo of the compost that I collected from my vermicompost bins.  40 lbs. of rich, dark compost!  And people started asking me how I did it.

The short answer is, I didn’t.  My worms did. 

The long answer is I read some books, watched some YouTube videos, bought some bins, bought some worms, collected some bedding, set up the bins, added the worms and let them do what worms do best – namely eat and poop!

A vermicompost bin is pretty easy and fairly inexpensive to set up.  You don’t have to do anything fancy – unless you want to.

I started with two 60 litre totes with lids and made small modifications to them.   Along the top under the rim, I drilled some air holes.  That’s it.  Worms don’t like light, so I used a solid coloured tote with a snug fitting lid.  Then I added some bedding:  leaves, cardboard that I tore into small pieces, some cow manure and a bit of dirt.  The dirt is pretty important as worms need grit to digest their food, sort of like birds, and the dirt is the perfect source for it. The bedding (cardboard, leaves and manure) provided space and warmth for the worms.  The space is important because it allows oxygen to flow through and oxygen assists in the decomposition process, making it easier for the worms to a) eat; and b) breathe!  Once the bins were ready, I added a pound of worms and some food and let them work their magic. 
Shredded cardboard makes
good bedding.

A bit of yummy cow poop, helps
get things started.
Grass clippings and leaves can
generate too much heat if added
when they are too fresh.  

Worm food is table scraps:  fruit & veggies mainly, but I also give my worms dried & crushed egg shells and coffee grounds.   Meat, dairy and citrus are not recommended,, so I avoid those.  But pasta, rice and bread are okay, too. 

Table scraps for feeding worms.  

The worms eat the bedding as it breaks downs as well, so it’s important to keep adding bedding.  Grass clippings or leaves are fine as long as they are not too fresh.  Fresh grass or leaves generate a lot of heat as they begin to decompose and that heat can disrupt the balance of the bin causing great discomfort for the worms.  They don’t like it hot.  They don’t like it too cold, either.  (Fussy little devils, aren’t they?) Over the winter when grass and leaves are not available, shredded paper is an option.  

Basically, if you have a not too hot and not too cold dark space with lots of bedding, food, oxygen and water, your worms will happily make compost for you forever.  I would advise anyone who would like to start a vermicompost bin to read up on it and/or watch YouTube videos for more precise directions than what I am sharing here. 

A simple bin like what I have described here is easy to start.  The problem with it is that once the compost is ready to collect, you have to remove it and that is a bit tedious.  So I switched to a flow-through system that makes gathering the compost much easier and much less traumatic for the worms.

A flow through system requires three bins.  The bottom bin is left intact without any modifications.  The second and third bins have holes drilled into them under the rim for air to get in just as I described above.  They also have holes drilled into the bottom.  When you are setting up the first  bin, it is important to put a layer of wet newspaper down on the bottom before adding the rest of the bedding.  This will help prevent the worms from crawling through the holes and escaping into the empty bottom bin where they will starve and die or dry out and die.  On top of the newspaper, add your bedding, food and worms, put the lid on and nest it inside the unmodified bin.  Make sure that the air holes are exposed and allowing air to get into the bin.  You can use a tray on the bottom instead of a bin if you prefer.  Just make sure that the bin is raised up a bit and not resting right on the tray.  This way worms that might think of venturing through the holes will be put off doing so by the light and any excess water can drain out fully.  

When the compost is ready to collect, start another bin by filling it with bedding and food (no need for the newspaper layer at all), nest it in the bin right on top of the compost and put the lid on it.  The worms will migrate up through the holes in the bottom and start working on the new bin.  Leave the three bins stacked like this for a couple of weeks to make sure the worms have all migrated and are settled in the new bin.  Then you can take the middle bin out and collect the finished compost. 

If you find water in the bottom bin, don’t throw it away.  This is called worm tea and it’s great for plants!

To collect the compost, leave the bin open without a lid in bright light for a while (a half hour will be more than sufficient).  If there are any worms left in that bin, they will burrow to the bottom away from the light.  Carefully scoop the compost out of the bin into bags or whatever container you want to store it in.  Once you have removed all the compost, put any worms that remain into the other bin so they can continue to fulfil their purpose in life.  Wash the bin and set it aside until it’s time to rotate the bins and collect the next batch of compost.

A stacking flow-through system makes
collecting finished compost easier.  With a third
bin (or tray underneath) you can continually
rotate the feeding bins and collect
"worm tea" at the bottom.

Check your bin often!  These are living creatures and they need to be taken care of.  If their environment gets too dry or too wet or they don’t get enough food or get too much, things can – and will! – go wrong.  Your worms could die and you’ll be left with a smelly mess of rotting gunk.  That’s not compost!

In a well-balanced, healthy environment, worms will propagate quickly.  Remember that their whole world is inside the limited confines of the bin, so overpopulation can be a problem.  You can harvest the worms and use them for bait or give them to other people for their own bins.  Or you can accept that many of them will die and become part of the compost. 

If you notice a lot of fruit flies or other bugs in or around your bins, that is an indication that you are giving your worms too much food.  There is, of course, a need for certain kinds of bugs in the process, but fruit flies buzzing around are just annoying.   Pay close attention to how much food your worms are eating and only feed them what they can consume in a reasonable amount of time.   Measure the food and monitor how long it takes the worms to eat it.  It won’t take long to figure out exactly how much and how often to feed the worms. 

When you feed the worms, cover it up!  Covering up the food with bedding material will help to keep the bugs away.  Chopping the food up will also help reduce the possibility of bugs because it makes it easier for the worms to eat it.  Large pieces of food will simply rot and bugs love rotting stuff. 

The actual compost that my worms produced over the summer.
40 lbs of nutrient rich soil enhancer!  
My worms produced 40 lbs of compost over the summer.  I was pretty pleased with the results.  But what to do with the compost now that it’s ready?  Well, some of it will be mixed with potting soil in the coming days as I transplant my house plants.  The rest I will bag and use in my garden later. 

I am hoping to start a proper worm farm in the near future that will produce worms, compost and worm tea for sale.  It sure would be a cool little business to have.    I just need to get over my squeamish aversion to touching worms.  I know it’s weird and irrational, but….  Ew! Eek!  Yuck! Shudder! 

Friday, October 31, 2014

On What-the-Heck-Was-I-Thinking-? Day

October 28th used to be three-days-‘til-Halloween day for me.  This year it was what-the-heck-was-I-thinking-? day!

In the weeks leading up to October 28th, I lived in complete denial.  Surely, I thought, something will intervene and October 28th will go back to being three-days-‘til-Halloween day, like it ought to be.  I looked to the weather gods and was pleased to see the forecast for October 28th calling for snow.  Yes!  Three feet of the white stuff will keep people at home.  Alas, they were just toying with me.  It merely rained, but not hard enough.

When people asked me about it, I responded with a firm, “I don’t know,” as my eyes darted down and to the left giving away my lie.

There was no getting around it.  In the end, I had to go with what-the-heck-was-I-thinking-? day and make my way to the All Candidates forum where I, along with eleven other candidates (2 for mayor & 9 others for Council) delivered two short speeches and responded to questions from the media and the audience.  Thankfully, there were only a few that I had to answer directly.  The mayoral candidates, however, were put through their paces and challenged on some sensitive issues.

I thought that I had been hoping that not many people would show up.  I thought that I had been hoping that the turnout would be poor.  It was anything but.  Nearly every chair was filled and a sea of attentive eyes and ears were focused upon us all throughout the evening.  Oddly, as the hall filled, I became quite pleased by the turnout.   One of my biggest pet peeves as a citizen of Houston is the lack of community participation.  Well on October 28th, the community participated.  It was fabulous!

The event was stimulating.  There was a lot of information to absorb and by the break my mind was nearing capacity.  I tried to pay attention to what the other candidates were saying and watch the people in the audience.  I love people watching and there were a lot of people to watch.  Some nodded in response to what candidates were saying.  Some appeared to be present in body, but elsewhere in spirit.  Some chatted with their neighbours.  Were they comparing notes about the candidates?  Or making plans for the weekend?  Hard to say.

After the break I found it hard to focus.  The political rhetoric had left me a bit numb and the audience was reaching that point where they seemed to have heard enough and were just politely waiting to be dismissed.  I said my reasonably well rehearsed piece and also waited politely to be dismissed.  I had much to think about; much to process and filter.  I knew that my mind would not go easily to sleep and I accepted that.

I accepted that!

I realized it just before midnight when I looked at the clock and was slightly surprised to discover that I had made no attempt to get ready for bed yet.  Hmmm…  While it is not uncommon these days for me to still be awake at that hour, it is typical for me to at least be in bed reading.  Winding down.  Resting, if not sleeping.  But not that night.  That night as October 28th became October 29th, I was wide awake and mentally reviewing the events of the evening.

And then I realized something else.  I was not beating myself up for not having said something I didn’t say.  I was not regretting a word of either of my speeches.  I was thoroughly content that I presented myself authentically.  This is who I am, I thought.  There was nothing to apologize for and nothing to regret.  My thoughts turned to the other candidates.  Did they feel the same way?

I have always only voted for one reason:  so that I could retain the right to complain.  I feel quite strongly that if people don’t participate, they forfeit their right to whine.  I don’t want to forfeit that right.  Neither do I want to spend all my time complaining.  A couple of weeks ago, someone posted a picture on Facebook of a sign that read – Before you complain…  Have you volunteered yet?  It struck a chord with me.  Putting a tick beside some stranger’s name on a ballot wasn’t really enough.  It was a weak and indolent approach to take just for the right to complain.  (Oops!  A worm of regret slithered through me.)

I am not a political person.  I don’t involve myself in pondering the “issues” and I often feel like the issues are just things that get invented so that politicians have something to condemn each other over and blame each other for.  I just want to be a good person.  That’s enough.  Isn’t it?

I think that politics is changing.  There have been so many barriers put up and now people are starting to realize that they can’t see what’s really happening.  It’s time to take those barriers down.  And maybe that’s why I’m doing this.  Running for Council.  Because I think it’s time to challenge some of the established ideology and look for some different ways to do things.

I have felt for a very long time that I have some purpose here in this world that I have yet to identify.  I have been waiting – sometimes not very patiently – to discover what the purpose is and to try to fulfill it.  For over a year, the notion of running for Council has been an ever-present specter permeating every aspect of my psyche.  It isn’t just something that I thought I might try; I was compelled to do this.  While there have been moments of anxiety, moments of dread, it mostly feels right.

I don’t know what it going to happen on November 15th.  I know that I will be disappointed if I’m not elected.  Yet I think that I even if I’m not I will be happy that I tried.  I have a lot to offer; I know that.  But if the voters choose otherwise, I am confident that something else will come out of all this – something good.

Only fifteen more sleeps!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Heat is a Good Option

People who know me, know that I keep my house rather on the cool side.  Some of my friends keep slippers at my place so their feet don't freeze when they come to visit.  It's not uncommon for guests to wear warm sweaters or wrap one of the throws that I keep in the living room around their shoulders, while I parade around in a t-shirt.  I can't stand being too hot.  

When I arrived home from work on Tuesday evening, I was not the least bit uncomfortable.  My house felt cool and refreshing at 18 degrees and my evening routine unfolded without my being the least bit suspect that anything was amiss.  

Until bedtime.  At 10:30 I prepared to retire to bed to read for a while and I noticed that the house felt unusually cool.  I was surprised to see that the thermostat said that it was only 15 degrees though it was set for 18.  Hmmmm...

I tapped the switch up a notch and was satisfied to hear the furnace drone to life below me.  Confident that the furnace knew what to do I continued with my evening ablutions.  Teeth brushed, hair braided, face washed, I was fluffing my pillows when it dawned on me that there was no warm air rushing out of the vent in my bedroom.  Hmmmm....

After a bit of investigation I came to the conclusion that the furnace was not working.  It was far too late to be calling anyone, so I grabbed an extra blanket and plugged a space heater in and went to bed.  The noise from the heater kept me awake and I finally unplugged it.  It wasn't that cold!  I figured I'd survive the night and deal with the problem in the morning.

In the morning, I called a repairman.  There was no answer, so I called another repairman.  That repairman was unavailable, so I call the first one back and left a message.  Some friends texted or called to offer support in the form of extra heaters and other advice.  I was not about to attempt any furnace repairs on my own, so I was ecstatic when a very good friend offered to come and check it out for me that evening.  When the repairman called back, I thanked him for getting back to me and put him on hold for Thursday in case we couldn't figure it out.  

In very short order, we determined that the furnace wasn't getting any gas.  But we couldn't figure out why.

"Did you pay your gas bill?" my friend asked.  

"Yes!"  Of course I paid my gas bill.  Silly!

As the confusion elevated, the notion to go outside and look at the meter popped into my head.  I had no idea what looking at the meter was going to do for me, but I went anyway, exiting through the basement door (which I very, very rarely use).  Yep, that's a gas meter, I thought as I shone the beam from my iPhone flashlight over it.  And then I went back inside.  Something on the handle fluttered as I opened the door.  

It was a notice from Pacific Northern Gas informing me that they had installed a brand new meter and had left the gas off.  Oh, for heaven's sake!

"I think I know what's wrong," I called out, waving the notice in the air.

I handed the notice to my friend, who executed a perfect eye roll and uttered a mild oath. 

It would have been better if this had been left
on my main entrance door, instead of the basement
door that I rarely use.  But it is still better than a
repair bill!  
A few minutes later, the furnace whooshed to life and began to merrily force hot air through the duct work again.  Soon my house was back to normal cool, a comfortable 18 degrees.  

As I lay in bed later, I realized that I had not once agonized over this situation.  Not once did a worst-case scenario invade my psyche and send me into a dither.  Somehow, I managed to remain calm about it all.  Somehow I knew that it would all work out.  

And then I felt a profound appreciation and sense of gratitude envelop me.  The kindness of my friends who offered to help was so heartwarming.  I am so very, very fortunate to have such amazing people in my life.  For this I am truly thankful.  

I am thankful, too, that it did work out the way it did.  Even if my house is usually on the cool side, heat is a good option!   

Sunday, October 12, 2014

It's Official.

I am feeling strangely calm about my nomination for council in the upcoming municipal elections.  In a totally freaked out sort of way.  That I can’t explain. 

Let me explain…

As is my wont, I had a bit of a meltdown after submitting the paperwork.  I’m expecting there to be more of those to come.  But right now, right this minute, I feel utterly calm.  

It could very well be due to being somewhat overwhelmed by all the official-ness of the whole process.  They make it sound like this is a way bigger deal than I think it actually is. 

Not that it’s not important.  It is.  But wow!  What a lot of…  what’s the word I’m looking for?...  crap! 

When I went to ask for a nomination package I was handed an enormous envelope stuffed not only with the required forms, but with six or seven books and booklets.  My first thought was:  Really? 

Was this necessary?  All this paperwork?  All this information?  All this paper? 

The paperwork turned out to be not all that daunting.  When I sat down to fill it in, it took me all of three minutes.  A bit of information.  A couple of signatures.  And – poof! – it was done.  In fact, the whole thing - filing my nomination papers - was rather anticlimactic.  

I did attempt to read the information.  My eyes glazed over about three pages into the first book I picked up and so I put it aside for several days, coming back to it with a small measure of determination and a wavering heart about the whole thing.    The scales of decision have been tipping back and forth for ages.  Not even the over-load of information was enough to keep them on the don’t-do-it side. 

The notion to run for council popped into my head about a year ago.  I tried to shake it.  But, like a dog with a bone, my mind would not let go.  I tried to come up with a really good reason for not running.  I couldn’t.  I mentioned it to various people and got mixed reactions.  Some were very encouraging.  Others were like: You’ll hate it.  (As if winning was a given, which was kind of flattering, and I was completely unsuited to the task, which was kind of insulting.  And since none of these people had any practical experience, I couldn’t put much stock in their responses.)

I talked to a couple of people I know who are on council, asking what it was like.  They were weirdly vague and unhelpful.  “It’s interesting.”  “It’s a lot of work.”  “It’s not what you think.”  (I didn’t know what to think – that’s why I was asking!)

But the feeling that this was something that I needed to do would not go away.  And now that I am officially an official candidate, I am at odds with this sense of calm that has settled over me.  Usually, when I make a life-changing decision it is the equivalent of strapping myself onto an emotional rollercoaster.  Where’s the drama!?  I’m used to drama.

I am a little concerned about all the rules.  In scanning the information that I have so far been able to force myself to scan, I’ve come across some slightly scary shit that made my guts gurgle a little.  There are definitely some no-nos involved.  It kind of made me wish I had a campaign manager.  (I’m amazed it didn’t make me run screaming in the opposite direction!)

This is quite out of character for me.  I have never had any desire to hold any kind of public office.  I have tried all my life to avoid (unsuccessfully, mind you) any professional authority or responsibility.  I have always thought of myself as the kind of person who should stay in the background.  And yet I don’t seem to be able to do that.  So maybe this isn’t out of character at all.  Maybe I am operating in complete denial of my true self and purpose. 

Maybe I need to go install the shelf and rod in my spare room closet and stop trying to analyse this. 

In case you might be interested, my Facebook campaign page can be found here:

And my campaign blog (in which I will stick to campaign stuff – I think) can be found here:

I'm not unexcited about running for Council.  I am.  Excited, that is.  I just didn't expect to be this calm about it.  And while that could change in an instant, I do intend to have some fun with it all.  

Happy Thanksgiving, by the way!  

Monday, October 6, 2014

Real Food

Dinner last night consisted of meat and potatoes and peas.  It doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? 

Well, for me it was in a way.  You see I grew the peas and the potatoes.  And the meat was a yak roast raised right here on a local farm. 

Yep.  I said yak.  Locally bred and locally raised. 

My dinner - all locally grown/raised.  Real food!
Over the past few years I have learned a lot about a lot of stuff that I probably would have been happier not knowing.  Stuff about stuff.  Stuff about how stuff affects us all.  
It’s kind of scary – stuff is.  And not to sound overly dramatic, stuff is dangerous.

Sadly food has become stuff. 

But the food I ate last night was real food.  It wasn’t stuff.  (Though I was quite stuffed by the time my plate was empty!)  It was grown and raised and harvested quite naturally.  Except for a bit of butcher paper that the yak roast was wrapped in, there was no packaging involved.  There was no transportation from some faraway place.  The carbon footprint of that meal was pretty much negligible compared to the stuff I normally eat.  There was no advertising.  No corporate branding.  A mere handful of people were involved in the process from farm to table. 

And it tasted amazing!

Food – real food – like this makes want more.  Wouldn’t it be grand to have a big garden?  Wouldn’t it be awesome to have access to local farm raised meat on a regular basis?  And eggs.  And milk.  And cheese.  I think it would be so cool to have a local food co-op where people raise and grow their own food and share it among the members. 


I would never make a farmer.  It’s not in me.  Every cow, every pig, every chicken would have a name.  I can’t eat anything if it has a name and I know it.  But I could grow veggies.  I could collect eggs. 

Well, maybe someday.  You never know.

For now I will enjoy the real food whenever I can.  Like right now.  Dinner tonight is left overs!  

Saturday, October 4, 2014

I Cut Off My Muse to Spite My Art!

After a brief (ish) foray into the world of WordPress, I have decided to return to this, my old blog and see if I can’t resurrect my blogger muse.  I’d be happy if any creative muse would grace me with her presence these days.  Sheesh!  I can’t knit.  I can’t draw.  I can’t write…  It’s like I’ve had a secret creative-ectomy. 

Not good.

So I’ve been pondering… Where does inspiration come from?

And I’ve come up with a few answers:

Sometimes it’s spontaneous.  It just happens.  An urge overcomes me and I just do.  It’s not thought out or planned.  This is relatively rare.  And getting rarer.

Sometimes it is a response.  In my case it’s often been a response to resistance that I interpret as a challenge.  When someone says “you can’t” or perhaps just poses a negative attitude, I feel compelled to push back against it. 

Three and a half years into my independent life I just realized that I no longer have that resistance to push back against.  There is nothing challenging me.  (Not that life is without its challenges; there are no shortage of those!)  I can do whatever I want now, and, weirdly, that has led me to a state of complacency rather than the freedom I had anticipated.  I don’t have to prove anything.  So I don’t.

How freaking sad is that?

The very thing that made me absolutely nuts it seems was the very thing that fueled my creativity.  I cut off my muse to spite my art!

Well, damn!

There is no longer anyone in my life to bounce ideas off of either.  Thankfully, I still have tons (and tons) of ideas floating around in my head.  There simply isn’t anyone around anymore to play devil’s advocate with them, no one to build excitement for them with and no one to collaborate with. 

With neither a naysayer nor a champion around my creative energy has grown stagnant.  I still want to do the things I love to do, yet doing them isn’t happening. 

So what do I do?  How do I get my muse back?   What will whip what has grown torpid back into a tempest?  I need a generator in which to plug the tools I create with back into.  I need to find the magic again.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


I collect TED Talks.  I’ve been watching them for a few years now, but for the last couple of months I’ve been collecting them and saving my favourites. 

My absolute favourite TED Talk is The Power of Vulnerability by Brene Brown.  You can watch it here:  My second favourite is Listening To Shame, also by Brene Brown and you can watch it here:   Actually, these two are probably tied for first.  If you watch no other TED Talks, watch these. 

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design.  People from all walks of life – including children – speak for a limited amount of time about “ideas worth spreading.”  The talks themselves are short.  I think 18 minutes is the maximum.  You can see the clock counting down the time in front of the speakers and it’s kind of inspiring to watch them deliver their messages as the numbers on the timer tick away. 

It all started as a one-off event in 1984, which featured a demo of Sony’s compact disc and became an annual global event in 1990.  The brainchild of Richard Saul Wurman, TED now offers over 1700 Talks that can be viewed free on-line.  Though it started out in California, the main conference event is now held in Vancouver, BC with its companion event, TEDActive held in Whistler, BC. 

Some TED Talks are really short.  One of the best is only 2:55.  Terry Moore, Director of the Radius Foundation,  demonstrates how to tie shoes.  That’s right – a TED Talk on tying shoes!  It changed my life! 

And in case you have ever been curious about why the letter X represents the unknown, well, Mr. Moore lays it out for you in less than 4 minutes here:

My secret fantasy is to someday be invited to deliver a TED Talk.  I think that would be the coolest thing on my bucket list to accomplish in this lifetime.  I have no idea what I would TED Talk about, but what a thrill it would be to walk out onto that stage and share some amazing idea.  I would love to come up with something or do something TED-worthy in my life.  But for now I will continue to be inspired by the ideas worth spreading at