The Great Escape

These worms decided to stay.

I’ve had tremendous trouble with compost worms. They are nature’s lesser known escape artists. I’m still in partial denial about my first failure. After smuggling them across the border and into Vientiane, those misguided fellows decided I wasn’t fit to take care of them– this was not entirely my fault as I was rear-ended while waiting at a red light, and they continued to hold that against me. To make a long story short, those worms are gone, and there are six very fat ducks with smug looks on their faces, looking at me expectantly whenever I visit family there.

I bought another batch of worms a little more than a month ago. I left them in the care of Fergus at Penn Worm Farms in Roi Et Province, between Ubon and Vientiane. They sell worms and worm castings to far-flung places throughout Thailand. Meanwhile, I attended a series of therapy sessions mostly at my own pub. Yesterday, on my way down from Vientiane, I stopped in at Fergus’ place to collect my worms, confident that I had put the earlier massacre behind me.

This lid will not deter a determined worm.

This time I wanted escape-proof vessels to house my worms, especially during their journey to Ubon and then on to the Bolaven Plateau. Fergus accompanied me to Home Pro and together we decided on some nice plastic bins with lids. We went back to his place and finished off a couple of 6-packs of Beer Lao that I had brought with me. Fergus assured me that the worms would be quite content in just one of the three bins that I bought until I divided them up when they got to their final destination. Thus lulled into a false sense of security, and being a bit tipsy, I loaded the worm bins onto one of the back seat of my car, covered the bin with the worms with its lid, and took the extra measure of placing my small bag with my iPad in it on top. The bin was at a slight angle, but Fergus assured me that the worms wouldn’t notice the difference.

Nobody, however, had convinced the worms that they should be content in this new environment. After arriving in Ubon and parking behind my pub, I decided it was best to leave the worms, lid on, in the car rather than bring them into the pub and show them off to the rather large crowd there. I didn’t see any worms escaping, although it was dark. Hesitantly, I shoved my hand down between the back seat and the bin. Nope, nothing slimy. I exchanged my iPad bag with a heavy-duty hand drill I’d brought along with me as a weight on the lid, just in case.

After a couple days of airing out, I'll take it for a thorough cleaning.

After a nice night of drinking and worry-free camaraderie, I woke up bright and early and went to check on the little fellows. The first thing I noticed were some dried worms surrounding my car. Only a few. Suspicious, but not yet concerned, I opened my car door, only to find that the worms had taken over. While I was sleeping, many of them, I’d say a couple thousand of the 20 or so thousand, the more ambitious ones, possessing what is an otherwise uniquely dangerous American “pioneer spirit,” had decided to go forth and attempt to multiply. A few of the more adventurous worms had even managed to escape not just from the worm bin, but from my locked car. I noted that a feeling of safety in numbers is a common trait amongst composting worms– there were groups of them all over the place, still very much alive.

I took this all in stride, but kept my eyes out for ducks. I drove to my house in Ubon, worms wiggling about my feet, thinking all the way, why do worms want to escape so much, and how did they get out from under that lid? And, of course, how the hell did they get out of my locked car? I inspected my speedometer with distrust as I made haste, concerned that the worms may have gotten into the gauges.

I separated the worms into two Styrofoam boxes, each having more surface area than the plastic bin.

At home, I removed the worm bin from the car and inspected the underside of the lid. What an absolutely useless lid, I thought. Designed to keep rats out, they were not designed to keep worms in. Of course, it looks fine from the outside. From the inside it shouts “freedom this way.” If they could get out of a locked car, getting out of the bin was obviously child’s play for them. I contemplated a number of ways to make a secure seal on the existing bins, one of which involved the complicated cutting of one of the lids for some large Styrofoam boxes that were laying around. Then I realized how stupid that was when I could just use the Styrofoam boxes themselves; slightly larger than the bins that I had bought, the lids fit snugly, indeed. So, I drilled some holes in the lids to allow air flow (no, worms cannot wiggle along underneath a lid), and separated the loyal worms in the plastic bin into two of the larger Styrofoam bins.  For the moment, they appear content. Some are not moving, probably because they are dead from being moved around so much.

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