Category Archives: Worms

Introducing Spoon Farm


Is it a garden, or a farm? Who cares either way?

We used to think of what we have here as a garden, because it’s tiny—less than a quarter acre—and decidedly suburban. But lately, our thinking has begun to change. It’s not just the fact that so much of what we eat comes from this scrap of land we cultivate, or that we’ve moved beyond veggies, to include chickens and bees. There’s also power in naming, and in the identities we choose.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn recently that the USDA defines a farm as ‘any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the year.’ Whether or not we sell it, we are certainly producing (and consuming!) well over $1,000 in agricultural products every year. More on this next year, when I hope to finally buckle down and track the dollar value of our production.

Other definitions of ‘farm’ are even more inclusive, ranging from ‘a tract of land devoted to agricultural purposes,’ to ‘a plot of land devoted to the raising of animals, especially domestic livestock.’

Check, check, and check.

So it’s a farm, this place where we sweat and grumble and search for moments to pause and enjoy the literal and figurative fruits of our labor, and the unselfconscious beauty of flora and fauna minding their own business. It’s pleasing to stand looking out at what right now is the ramshackle, top-heavy, last burst of summer crops and to say, this is Spoon Farm.

We sold honey for the first time a few months ago at the San Mateo County Fair and came up with our name then. Kelly made a first round of labels, and on a whim recently, I made a farm website. Check it out at!

Late summer veggies.

Late summer veggies.



Winter babies ready in the greenhouse.

Winter babies ready in the greenhouse.

Overall Gardener Takes to Twitter

Overall Gardener on Twitter??! Ack. I love to garden, and I love to write, but technology and social media are not really my strong suits. So it was with trepidation a year ago that I signed up for a Twitter account for the Overall Gardener blog. I believe I posted one tweet right away, before letting the account sit idly for over a year. What’s Twitter good for, anyway? I’m still not quite sure.

Clearly, I’m not doing a great job of selling you on my brilliant gardening tweets, but if you are brave of heart and not easily bored, stop by. I even figured out how to include a nifty button on the right-hand side of the blog which you can click in order to “follow” my tweets. And better yet, drop me a line and point me in the right direction. Until then, I will be roughing it alone with the handle, @OverallGardener. Yikes, I never thought it would come to this.

Mealworms Bite the Dust

I killed the mealworms. For months, I heard their rustlings as they navigated through layers of laying mash and newspaper. I dutifully gave them halved potatoes and cabbage leaves to keep the proper level of moisture. When the roosters moved away and the hens took up residence in their outdoor coop, I slipped. There’s no good excuse. I just wasn’t passing through the former chicken room as often, and the poor mealworms weren’t on my mind.

Then Kelly informed me that the rustlings had ceased. I went to take a look and found a crowd of dead beetles lying atop the mash. This is what I get for being too busy and too careless to notice. Rest in peace, mealworms.

Fruit Flies in the Worm Bin

Kelly's vinegar trap full of fruit flies.

There are fruit flies in the worm bin. Tons of them. I get a face-full of flies each time I feed the worms. This might not matter very much, aside from the fact that the red wigglers have been snacking cozily in their back bathroom worm bin since last fall, when I brought them in out of the cold and gave them stern instructions to mate like mad all winter long.

Now, the fruit flies have spread from the worm bin to the rest of the house, and try as we may to keep the kitchen sink and counters clean of tempting morsels, the flies seem to find enough to stick around (and sire new generations). Kelly set out a bowl of cider vinegar, which traps a good number, but the plague continues.

Kelly has asked more than once (and quite patiently, I might add) if it might be warm enough for the worms to move back outside, but I’ve resisted, worried that a late cold snap could put a dent in their reproductive cycle. If I hadn’t been so busy with other gardening endeavors, I might have acted sooner to put a stop to the fruit fly breeding party; a trick gleaned from the twelve-week county composting class I took last spring has been nagging at the corners of my mind.

The idea is simple: place layers of newspaper over the compost in the top worm bin and tuck it in snuggly around the edges. The newspaper blanket keeps the fruit fly from accessing food in the bin, effectively halting reproduction.

It sounds simple enough. Now I think I’ll go do it.

Mealworms Join the Livestock Lineup

This is what 500 mealworms in a cup of bran look like (click on the picture to see them up close and personal).

Today we added 1,000 mealworms to our menagerie. The reason? Chickens love mealworms. I’m not completely convinced that raising mealworms for the chicks to snack on is a worthwhile endeavor. It seems like there are plenty of tasty morsels raising themselves in the garden. So far, we’ve scavenged sow bugs, slugs, and snails for the chicks to try. I haven’t been able to bring myself to toss in any hapless compost worms, but I’m told that chickens love these, too, and that they are actually more nutritious than mealworms.

Oh well. The deed is done, and the mealworms are installed in a plastic tub with a window screen covering to (hopefully) ensure that no moths gain entrance and no mealworm beetles have free range of the house. Perhaps I’ll get used to them, but so far I’m not a fan of mealworms. They are too fleshy looking, too creepy crawly. They strike me as land-dwelling bottom feeders. Thus, I was surprised and repulsed to read that some folks eat mealworms. I guess if we ever have to start living off the backyard land…

In the meantime, I’m feeding the mealworms. They’ll eat either bran, or chicken mash (ours are on mash). They also need a chunk of produce, cabbage in our case, to add a little moisture to their environment. Since they prefer humidity around 70%, I also supplied them with a few damp paper napkins folded inside an old ice cream lid.

Supposedly the whole getup will not smell, as long as there is no buildup of dead worms. In theory this shouldn’t be an issue, since they are cannibalistic when given the opportunity. Unlike the Internet sources I found, which suggested sifting out frass (worm poop) and dead beetles periodically, the vet told us that there’s no need to clean out the tub, since the worms and adult beetles munch on everything from grain, to dead comrades and frass.

1,000 mealworms enjoying their new home.

Overwintering Compost Worms, or Hawaii for Red Wigglers

I have worms living in my bathroom. Yup, you read that right. When the nights started turning cold this fall, I negotiated with Kelly for some worm space in the back bathroom. The back bathroom is also home to Pudy’s litter box, our bee suits, my hanging produce scale, and a rotating lineup of anything else that we at one point felt the need to shove out of sight quickly.

In our mild Bay Area climate, red wigglers can survive just fine outside for the winter. All they need is shelter from the rain (to make sure they don’t build up excess moisture), and a diminished supply of food. The thing is, even though they survive, the worms do slow down in the colder temperatures. So if you’d hoped to dump your Thanksgiving leftovers in the bin, you may be in for a rude surprise when the worms don’t chow fast enough and you end up with a rotting, stinking mess.

The other area where red worms slow down is reproduction. This was my main concern because, though I have other ways to compost my kitchen scraps through the winter, it’s important to me that the worms continue building their numbers. I’ve admitted before to being a cheapskate, and investing in worms is no exception.

When I decided to get my worm bin back up and running last spring, I begged a small population of worms off some friends and have been coaxing them along ever since.

I also discovered that there were considerable (if quite dispersed) populations of red worms that found their own way to my freestanding compost piles, as well as (somehow) into my compost tumbler.  When I’m feeling overzealous, I go out with a little pail and hunt for worms to relocate to the worm bin.

In preparation for the worm winter vacation, I spread a plastic garbage bag in the corner of the bathroom in case of any bin leakage. On top of this, I positioned a plastic crate to get the bin off the floor and seated the bin on top. I lined up a quart canning jar under the bin’s drainage hole to catch the slow drip of “worm tea.”


The setup.

Good news: Three months in, and the worms are doing fine. Their numbers seem to have increased, and the worm castings are building up. In fact, just last week I added the bin’s third tray.

There’s no noxious odor and no issue with fruit flies. A guest who recently used the back bathroom didn’t even realize she was sitting next to a bin of worms and decomposing produce. She decided the whole getup was a “gravel sifter.” Go figure.

The worm’s winter diet has thus far consisted largely of rotting apples and overripe persimmons. I’ve also added a fair bit of lettuce and other vegetable scraps. Ultimately, I’d like to be able to compost the majority of appropriate kitchen and table scraps in the worm bin, but at this point I’m still worried about overwhelming their population size with too much food.

The newest tray of food scraps and shredded paper.