Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A worm's eye view of the world

"It may be doubted whether there are many other animals who have played so important a part in the history of the world, as these lowly organized creatures."

Charles Darwin

Every living thing on this blue green planet is food for something else. Even we humans, who foolishly embalm our bodies and then encase them in wood and steel coffins, eventually end up as dinner for some microorganism or another.

This isn't as yucky as it sounds. It's actually very reassuring. We live in a closed ecosystem. Since there isn't any new real estate opening up on the market, it's a good thing that every living thing ultimately is reclaimed and reused. Imagine the pile of corpses of every kind that would add up if it nature didn't recycle. According to The Amazing Flygun website, "If a pair of flies mated and all it's descendants lived and bred without any losses to predators, then within one summer season there would be a million, million, million, million flies. That would be enough flies to cover the whole of Australia 11 metres deep in flies." Glad I live in Canada.

The bad news is that we adults have become so efficient at making our waste somebody else's responsibility that embracing the idea of rot has become a major yuck factor. Why else would we gift wrap our garbage each week before we put it out at the curbside? Even curbside composting programs shield us from actually coming in contact with the remains of yesterday's dinner, thanks to the newest generation of biodegradable bags. Just scrape, tie and drop in the little green bin. No physical contact required.

Kids, on the other hand, love yuck. Rotting anything is a source of fascination for them. I recently discovered this first hand while accompanying a couple of dozen Girl Guides on a nature walk along a beach. They joyously brought me the bleached spine of a long-dead fish, the larger vertebrae of another, and an almost dead Monarch butterfly that had been rescued from the water.

This fascination with nature's lifecycle is precisely why Larraine Roulston, a veteran recycler, journalist and grandmother, has crafted three wonderful books about composting. Roulston is one of the very few people I know who actually walks the talk. A few years ago I attended a board meeting with her and she brought along a portable composting bin. While the so-called waste management experts at the table scoffed at the idea, I was amazed by her courage of commitment. If the rest of us were more like Larraine, Ontario wouldn't be facing its current garbage crisis.

Roulston's trio of books feature Pee Wee Worman, a compost dwelling worm, and his friends, Sammy Sowbug, Mini Millipede and Verme the Earthworm, just to name a few, along with a group of school children, Nancy, Scott, Mathieu and Naseem. Through the magic of Roulston's writing, the children and their non-human friends are transported to Castle Compost where they have great adventures together.

Roulston describes, with childlike clarity and honesty, nature's most basic cycle:

"Compost is more than a fertilizer, more than a soil conditioner," writes Roulston in "Pee Wee's Family in a Nutshell", the third book in the series. "It is a symbol of continuing life."

While the books are designed for children, their message is clearly one that adults need to embrace.

"We've been taught it's unhygienic to touch this stuff and we should just throw it away," writes Paul Taylor, Compost Management. "Instead we have to learn to see organics in a positive light and as a source of our soil's fertility in the future."

To that end, each book contains a glossary, easy to follow instructions on how to compost, and a list of other resources. Completing Roulston's desire to minimize our impact on the earth, each book is printed on recycled paper and uses vegetable-based inks. In addition, a portion of the proceeds from book sales goes to support recycling initiatives in Ontario.


"Pee Wee and the Magical Compost Heap", "Pee Wee's Great Adventure" and "Pee Wee's Family in a Nutshell" can be ordered from Larraine Roulston's website, Castle Compost . The books are very reasonably priced ($ 15.00 for the complete set) and volume discounts are available.

Vermicomposting (or composting with worms) is a great way to compost indoors year round. Indoor composting also provides an excellent learning opportunity for teachers and students. For more information about vermicomposting, or to purchase your own red wiggler worms and indoor vermicomposting bin, visit Cathy's Crawly Composters

For more amazing "Fly Facts" visit
Amazing Fly Gun


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