Monday, October 19, 2009

No rest for the repulsive!

Autumn in Austin, so the weather's variable--not "four seasons in one day" variable, but a forty degree difference in temperature over 24 hours isn't impossible, and the passing cold fronts don't seem inclined to settle in for a lengthy visit. Not yet. But that chilly seasonally appropriate spell we had last week reminded me that my microherd's larger accomplices will need some protection from the winter weathers presumably to come.

First, the worms. Trey and Sexton are currently accompanied by a bucket wormery (too many experiments, too few planters) and I've got a stunted third tower going as well. The recent rains forced the wriggles up into the tops of all those units, but frequent draining of reservoirs and some more dried leaves should make them comfortable again. For now. Thin-sided plastic offers no insulation, and worms don't enjoy winter much more than I. While they can survive cold temperatures (even brief freezes), they won't be converting bokashi to vermicompost if they're chilled unto dormancy.

I could bring the worms indoors--but I won't. My current favorite vermicomposting technique involves dried leaves in equal volumes to the cured bokashi. Dried leaves may include insect eggs. Not a problem outside, but in? No, thanks. Also, I'm not comfortable with an indoor unit that allows for worm escapes, and a closed unit requires far too much extra airspace to be practical for my tiny apartment.

So Verne & Co. are staying outside. I will be doing a bit of early harvesting, combining the worms to a few trays so they can wriggle together for warmth, and adding a bunch of soil. Say, a layer an inch or two deep. Soil's a great insulator, even above-ground.

But that's not an option for Repulsive. A soil layer, I mean. In fact, that's about the only thing I've found that can stop an active colony of BSFL! It doesn't kill them, nor starve them out, but few mature grubs make their way out of a soil-covered grubbery, and fliers don't tend to retun to the area, I assume due to soil's odor-suppressive qualities. The immature grubs do continue to eat, and between that and the soil microbes--assuming healthy enough soil to have any--matter will eventually be converted to plant-accessible nutrients and humus or something on its way to being so, but if the goal is to maintain an active biological "garbage disposal" over the winter, a layer of soil is right out.

As, I think, is a layer of dried leaves. I did this last winter, because I just couldn't handle the sight of that squirming mass when I opened the bucket, but grub activity eventually slowed too much to keep up with feeding. It's possible I could have emptied the bucket at that point, sorted out the grubs from the decomposed leaf matter, and started again, but I'm not into close contact with armored maggots, and so simply observed and moved on.

Dried leaves do insulate, in sufficient quantity, but I think that insulation would have to be kept separate from the feeding materials to be workable here, and with my limited space, that presents problems of its own. A styrofoam bucket won't maintain its integrity for a full season, not with an active colony inside (yes, I have tried), and while leakage might not be a problem in some situations, it's a deal-breaker here: the liquid will attract scavengers, and styrofoam is no protection against tooth and claw. Also, it smells bad, would stain wood or concrete, and depending on the concentration, could eventually kill plants or soil.

What I'd really like is a mostly buried trash can with a funnel-top and securable lid, not quite bottomless but with heavy mesh or tons of tiny holes, sunk into well-draining soil away from the water-table. But that's not happening. I've got a bucket grubbery. In the winter months, crawl off of mature grubs is greatly reduced or even stopped, so I'll be pulling the Ramp of Death's exit tube and plugging the hole for warmth, then wrapping the bucket in something insulating.

Will that be enough to keep him warm and chomping? Time will tell. BSFL generate heat, so it's not as if I'm relying solely on ambient temperatures, and I've noticed that regular feeding, even of smaller quantities, seems to encourage feeding... Maybe I'll try feeding him hot meals. The next time anyone offers me any Cream of Wheat.

What, you didn't think I was planning to cook for the grubs, did you? I'd almost be more likely to cook them! And you know that's not ever happening.


image from CartoonStock, in honor of Andrew and all the other grub wranglers who may well reach this point with "food waste" before too long.


Bear said...

DSF, not sure I'm the Andrew you're referring to in your postscript, but it ain't happening this winter. My grubs have all matured and are snuggled safely in their pupating bin. I'll have to wait until Spring to see if they emerge and return to lay eggs. How's your grubbery faring?
~Andrew in Berkeley

D. S. Foxx said...

A winter without grubs? That sounds...actually, sounds pretty good to me. -G-

Repulsive's still eating, or was as of Saturday, when I last unwrapped the bucket grubbery to dump in some foodstuffs. Freezing any day now, so we'll get a chance to see how well a lightly insulated bucket fares!