Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin!

Today is Charles Darwin's 200th birthday. (Bows head in reverence.)
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Towards the end of his long and amazing life, Darwin was finally able to devote himself to a lifelong interest- the biology and function of earthworms. While still in his thirties, he was certain that earthworms performed a key role in soil biology, though he was unable to spend time on what he called his "hobbyhorse" until old age. His last volume is still considered one of the best studies ever written on earthworms, called "The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms, With Observations of their Habits". It was published in 1881, one year before his death. The entire book is available on-line here.

11 comments:

d. moll, l.ac. said...

The great man's work lives on.

PJ said...

There was a wonderful tribute to him on NPR. I didn't know that he was motivated to prove that we were all descended from a common ancestor in order to help eradicate slavery. He had some harrowing experiences with the treatment of slaves in Brazil and when he returned to England he became deeply committed to ending the practice. I am definitely going to check out the ebook.

Coincidentally, my worms arrived today (hands clapping with glee, eyes squinting with overwhelming happiness). I have made my own worm composter using the stackable three bin model on Instructables and was wondering if you have any words of wisdom for me before I take the plunge.

ilex said...

Yay worms! Yes, PJ, I do have some advice. Since you're using a multi-tiered bin, start with one layer only. Layers are added only as the worms fill the bin up with castings. The tiers are supposed to serve as a harvesting aid, and a castings "finisher". It (supposedly) makes it easier to harvest from the bottom tiers because worms move upwards in the bins. But-- count on picking out at least some worms from the bottom layers, since moisture settles to the bottom and worms like it damp.

Harvesting time is long way away for you, though. I didn't harvest my first castings for about 10 months.

Best advice-- don't overfeed (in fact, don't feed at all for two weeks- they will eat the bedding, they won't starve), and keep lots of damp, well-soaked bedding on the top of the bin.

OH, one more thing- most worms will go on a "worm run" when newly introduced to a bin- they go crazy and try to escape. Keep the bin moist and cool, and keep the lid off with a light hung down into (or right on top of) the bin. They will settle down in a few days, sometimes it takes a week.

PJ said...

I've "bin" reading about what to do and I decided to keep it simple. I have three bins but right now I'm only using two. One on the bottom with a spigot and spacers and the second one with damp newspaper on top of hardware cloth - I used a jigsaw to cut out two large squares in the bottom of the top bin - then I added some soil, the worms, some food, not a lot, then damp shredded paper/newspaper. I am a little concerned that the shreddded goodness isn't damp enough. I'm going to keep checking in during the evening and I think I will leave the top off with a light, as you suggested. I CANNOT imagine waking up to a "wormicide" scenario. Gaaaah! Can you imagine the work WCSI will have to do, autopsying all those poor, hapless wigglers? I wonder if I should have bought, or can still use, coconut coir for the bottom of the top bin. I do have a source of bunny poop so I'll be able to incorporate that as well. Thanks for the info!

Irma said...

Yay for Darwin! And Yay for worms!

(And PJ? LISTEN to Ilex, she singlehandedly got me through my first two weeks with my crazy worms who would just NOT behave the way the "instructions" said they would. Now, six weeks later, I am a very happy, very satisfied "Worm Woman.")

ilex said...

PJ, coir is great for a brand new bin. If you want to use a small brick, just to start, I recommend it. It holds just the right amount of moisture beautifully. If not, pre-soak your shredded paper for 24 hours before adding it to your bin (squeeze it out first, of course). It seems to make a difference for the moisture retention. (Hah! WCSI!)

Irma- *blush* aw, pshaw.

PJ said...

Pssssst! (uses small, quiet voice)...Thanks, Ilex, I just checked on them and they're all snuggled up, tucked in for the night...but I'll keep the light on just to be safe!

PJ said...

Irma, thanks for the words of encouragement. I hope you've got those worms of you convinced that it's in their best interests to hang with you. Crazy kids.

PJ said...

I linked to you on my daily city photo blog kiddo.

Rabbits' Guy said...

i do remember reading about darwin's time - i believe maybe with a daughter - spent griding off great undisturbed areas and meauring the buildup of soil, over long periods of time, due to worm action.

on the other hand i may have imagined that ...

Fancy Pants Elitist said...

Thanks for the link on his worm book. I find it interesting that he "...wished to learn how far they acted consciously, and how much mental power they displayed."

So many of us are following in the footsteps of Darwin with our worm composting?

"Promote Global Worming" is a bumpersticker I have. ;)

Love the wormies. I'm getting amazing worm compost from my alpaca manure piles. I didn't even seed them with worms, they just showed up, now I have lbs and lbs of it.