• This July 28, 2010 photo shows an assortment of Canadian nightcrawlers working in a standard compost pile in New Market, Va. Vermiculture or worm composting requires a little more management than regular composting but then the payoff is greater, too. Earthworms turn table scraps into a gentle, slow-release fertilizer that has five times the nitrogen, seven times as much potash an and one and a half times more calcium than typical topsoil. (AP Photo/Dean Fosdick) Dean Fosdick—ASSOCIATED PRESS

For the Monitor
Published: 7/8/2020 10:03:17 AM

I think one of the reasons our beautiful New Hampshire countryside is still so sparsely populated is the abundance of insects that fill the air this time of year. Black fly season has just passed, the heat driving them back into the woods. As they waned, our friend the mosquito made her appearance. Ticks are with us all season long. And of course the ever-persistent deer flies are now on the prowl. It seems there is no end to little critters that find us appetizing.

I’ve developed a grudging respect for these tiny terrors. Black flies are admirable for their unrelenting effort to take a bite out of us. I gave up using insect repellent long ago. It just doesn’t work in the deeply wooded area where we live. But a bug jacket does the trick just fine.

Black flies are food for baby trout, hatching only in unpolluted streams. If the day comes when black flies no longer appear, I will not rejoice, knowing it’s because a larger problem has occurred in our local ecosystem.

Mosquitoes aren’t as challenging because they stay away during hot, sunny days, and are a nuisance mostly in the evening. But they do last until the first frost, and can make being outside at night a challenge. As annoying as they are, I find the myriad devices that attract and kill mosquitoes in quantity to be more concerning.

Appreciating these little creatures, despite their effort to feed on us, is a message I’ve imparted to granddaughter Eliza over the years. Now 8, she has a healthy fear of being munched on by insects, and doesn’t much like wasps or ants or spiders either. The more she learns about the roles those insects play in nature, though, the less fearful she is. And her attitude toward worms is another story.

A number of years ago, after a decade of gently prodding my wife to let me put a worm compost bin in our garage, she finally relented. Eliza was only a year or so old when I first showed her worms in the compost, and from the outset she was fascinated. To this day she has no compunction holding worms; indeed she seeks them out in any garden.

Eliza seems to understand intuitively the important role worms play in the ecosystem. We both admire the fact that worms eat and digest their body weight daily! They enrich the soil with their poop as they burrow about, creating tunnels for air and water, and pathways for nutrients to reach plant roots.

Worm compost builds up soil fertility quickly. Worm castings are the most sought after natural fertilizer. Gardeners consider it liquid gold. A 20-pound bag of worm castings can cost $35. But it’s free when you produce it at home.

Our worm composter has bins that stack on top of each other as they become full. Into them I put all of our kitchen waste. Worms like to eat most vegetables, other than citrus. I add a handful of dry leaves, cover the bin with damp newspaper, and leave them to it. My wrigglers produce nearly 20 gallons of worm compost annually, at no cost. The average price for worm compost is $2 per pound, so that’s more than $300 worth of the world’s best fertilizer.

Even if you don’t have a garden you may want a worm composter to recycle your kitchen waste and keep it out of the landfill, where it rots and releases methane. Many cities offer curbside composting programs in which food waste is segregated and picked up, similar to other recycled items. From there it goes to local composting programs.

Recycling our own food waste reminds us that we are all food for something else. It is humbling to realize we too are a food source, despite our position as an apex predator. The tiny creatures buzzing around help us understand our place in the universe. The fact they keep the population down is a bonus.

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