Wanna know how to keep your red wigglers safe from toxins? Yeah. I did too. Especially since finding out we are surrounded by loads unseen toxins Yikes!
They’re out there all right. Toxins are dangerous to humans, pets, plants, and really mess things up for our worms. So I figure I’d better tell you where they lurk and how to avoid them as well.
This month, instead of learning what to put into the bin, you’ll learn what to keep OUT of it. Plus, we’ll discuss a few ways to deal with those questionable materials you aren’t sure are safe.
According to the Oxford dictionary, toxins are “antigenic poisons or venoms of plant or animal origin, especially those produced by or derived from microorganisms and causing disease when present at low concentration in the body.” Wo, that’s a mouthful. And only part of the story.
We all know certain things growing outside can be poisonous. But did you know that all plants have toxins? In nature, they are used to protect plants against herbivores as a means of survival.
Believe it or not, even after a plant has completed its life cycle, these agents can remain in the dead material.
Natural Toxins From the Garden
It’s not all bad though. What is toxic to one may present no danger to another. For example, peanuts, soy, milk, and eggs. These contain deadly toxins for some, while others safely consume them daily.
Compost worms, however, seem able to stomach nearly anything grown from the ground. As reported in the Nature Communications journal, “the earthworm’s gut contains a suite of molecules that neutralize the polyphenols that give plants their colour, serve as antioxidants and discourage many ravenous grazers.” Amazing.
Yet, there are naturally occurring plant compounds that even keep worms away. These are the ones that we, as red wiggler stewards, must be diligent to avoid.
Some, like potato peels, may surprise you. Potatoes, along with eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes, come from the nightshade family. All nightshades produce solanine, saponins, and atropine-like toxins.
Another toxic plant found growing in gardens throughout the world is the chrysanthemum. These plants contain pyrethrin, a natural defense against insects. Almost immediately upon contact with this compound, an insect dies from a form of paralysis. Worms fare no better.
Other garden plants to steer clear of include leaves of the neem tree, eucalyptus, garlic, onion, citrus peels, and hot peppers. Instead of throwing these to the worms, why not blend them up, add some water, and make your own natural insecticide!?
Man-Made Toxins on the Rise
You know, I appreciate a nice, natural pest deterrent as much as the next gal. There are so many creative and effective methods. What I can’t wrap my mind around though is the vast amount of dangerous poisons sold to do these jobs in our homes and gardens.
Do you or your neighbor use chemical lawn fertilizer, fog for mosquitoes, put out bait for rodents, or have a PVC hose? Each of these contributes to toxins in your environment. Yes, even cocoa bean mulch, natural but processed, is loaded with caffeine and theobromine. Both are insecticides to keep out of the worm bin.
As we consume and discard toxic products, nature’s delicate balance is thrown off. Wind and rain distribute these compounds far and wide, introducing them to eco-systems (kitchen garden/worm bin) they were never intended for.
Avoiding Toxic Relationships with Kitchen Scraps
One more unfortunate road leads to toxins in the worm bin. It happens when our tasty leftovers overwhelm the bin with salt, acid, or begin to ferment.
The problem with salt is that it burns delicate worm skin in relatively high concentrations, leading to death. Without precautions, it takes only months for a bin to become too salty. It happens with both naturally occurring salts, as well as those added as preservatives and flavor enhancers.
Acidic foods also burn the skin and leave worms without something good to eat.
Being overfed, on the other hand, is problematic as well. When a worm herd can’t eat all they’re given, that food often begins to ferment, causing toxic gasses to accumulate.
Wow, this all sounds scary and unavoidable, doesn’t it? But really, it’s not that bad.
Conditions in your worm bin depend on the food and water you add and the frequency of your harvests. But thankfully, we have some reliable safeguards for you to keep things in order.
1. Remove the Offender
If something smells bad, it probably is. Just pull it right out of the bin and compost it. If it’s everywhere, move on to #3.
2. Rinse and Repeat
Wet food isn’t gross to worms. Go ahead and rinse food scraps to remove salt, vinegar, oil, and anything else added in preparation.
3. The Periodic Pour-Over
Shower your red wigglers’ food and bedding with clean water- right in the bin. It will wash accumulated salts and sludge right out. Make sure you have adequate drainage first!
4. Start Low and Slow
Any new material you want to add to the bin should always be given a trial first. Add just a bit in a corner and see how your herd reacts. Add more once you are sure the worms have no adverse reaction.
5. Dual-Probe Meter
Of course, your trusty pH meter will be useful in assuring controlled acidity. And a moisture meter will let you know if you need to add water.
The Bottom Line
Now, half your battle has already been won. You know what’s out there, how to find it, avoid it, and get rid of it too.
But just because you know it’s there though doesn’t mean you are off the hook. It still means you’re better off composting your prized, black-gold fertilized tomato plants in your hot compost rather than in the worm bin. The other nightshades may not be as harmful.
And remember, that’s not enough when it comes to salt! You have to harvest your worm compost regularly or rinse often to keep levels safe.
For the very best in healthy-living, worm accommodations, opt for your own custom-built stacked tray-style worm bin for showers and pour-overs. These worm towers are the very best toxin avoider/eliminator because of their perforated trays and catch basin at the bottom. Together they let the water flow through without ever losing a drop of that nutritious leachate.
No matter what, enjoy your worm herd this month! And stay tuned for next time when we’ll discuss a unique and valuable talent our red wigglers are prized for the world over!