Confessions of a Compost Critter

1,130 total words    

5 minutes of reading

Red wigglers are silent partners in our hub of kitchen activity. Seemingly serene in their digestion of carrot tops, rotten lettuce, and extraneous veggie scraps, we believe that life beneath the soil bears more unpredictability and adventure than the worm castings reveal.

In fact, we spend a potentially embarrassing amount of time considering the daily occurrences in our vermicomposter. More than just waste digesters, these imported European creatures inspire us. We name them in volumes to keep up with their high rate of reproduction—50 Annies, 70 Jeffs, 200 Jacks, and the list goes on.

Catherine integrates worm movement into her artwork, creating a playground on paper where beet-derived dyes follow the worms’ segmented strides across watercolor paper. John documents the worms’ trials and tribulations through a personified series of worm diaries entitled Confessions of a Compost Critter. These writings explore the worm world as we imagine it, and we invite you to join us in these contemplations.

Artist: Catherine Game; Title: “Worm Playground”; Mixed Media: beet juice, coffee, turmeric, grass, cornstarch

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June 1, 2013

Mood: Exploratory

Today I awoke naked inside a delicious two-week-old banana peel, and found a crisp 50 degrees awaiting me outside. I need a vacation fast. Perhaps I should introduce myself—my name is Dave, and I am a red wiggler (Eisna fetida). Several generations ago my ancestors were brought from a spacious farm in Michigan to this humble kitchen abode in Oak Park, Illinois. Life in the kitchen is generally easy and relaxing, but concerns about unrestrained population growth, climate change, and invasive species tend to occupy the minds of me and my 600+ brothers and sisters. Let me take you back to last July. I have tried to document our collective experiences.


July 10, 2012

Mood: Full

Today our caretakers had visitors, who started a feeding frenzy by providing us with watermelon rinds and junk mail. When guests visit, the caretakers like to talk about me, and sometimes try to pick me up. I pretend to be shy and submerge into soil when they open the black gate but, admittedly, I like the attention.

Visitors remind us all of our purpose in life. We hear our caretakers explain to their guests that our home is a “vermicomposter,” and that our existence is a classic case of mutualism: our caretakers make a great deal of garbage (paper, fruit and veggie scraps, and sometimes coffee grounds), and we eat it. Our caretakers take our waste and use it grow plants.


September 5, 2012

Mood: Anxious 

Change has transformed our humble community of red wigglers. Last week, we were supplied with fresh bedding from the outside. The box had become overcrowded from my hermaphroditic counterparts popping out worm-children every three weeks, so our community needed to expand. Our caretakers prepared a new box of bedding loaded with watermelon, moldy carrots, celery remains, and a smorgasbord of delicious tropical fruit. I was drawn to the delightful smells wafting from the new floor above me—there are small holes in each floor, just wide enough for me to crawl through.

Today I reached the new level for the first time and something didn’t feel right; I can’t see (no eyes), but I felt little creatures tickling my epidermis. Then it hit me—my chemoreceptors detected wet leaves. Our caretakers are amateurs and by adding wet leaves to our home they broke an important rule of the worming community. Atop those wet leaves were tiny nuisance hitchhikers. Over the next several months our community expects to battle our latest invasive species. Mites.


November 9, 2012

Mood: Alarmed

I awoke slowly this morning, cradled in an eggshell and spooning a grape. I don’t know what I was doing with that grape—I generally despise them. Days have been dark of late. As a worm, your days are always dark, but figuratively speaking it has been rough. The onslaught of mites has all but completely overtaken the third floor of our abode, and sightings of mites laying eggs in the first and second floors are on the rise. Worm-children are advised to stay off the streets, in order to avoid being mauled. Mite maulings don’t cause immediate physical harm (I documented my first mauling in September), but researchers may have discovered a link between these maulings and fatal heart attacks. It certainly doesn’t make for the ideal worm life.

Now the mites have caused new problems. Since we’ve directed the worm-children to stay inside their homes for the sake of their own safety, they have begun eating all day as a coping mechanism for their boredom. Worm obesity is on the rise, and we fear that our next generation will suffer from Soil Deficit Disorder and Compost-phobia. We are living in fear and there seems to be nothing we can do.


January 31, 2013

Mood: Elevated

Screams of horror echoed from mites and worms alike, coming from the third floor. Hope springs eternal—the coffee man had arrived!

The coffee man is a bittersweet phenomenon; while his gifts of caffeine leave the entire brethren explosively energized for weeks, several of the most unlucky worm brothers and sisters are generally burned when the blizzard of used coffee bits falls from the sky onto their sensitive skin. We don’t let these casualties erode our spirits when the coffee man comes—he’s like a compost critter’s Santa.


March 23, 2013

Mood: Sopping

Disaster has struck. We are amidst a great flood and our livelihoods are at great risk. Over the past eight weeks the liquid level in our home has been rising steadily, probably from all the watermelon and squash in our caretakers’ last harvest season. Many of my brothers and sisters have migrated to the higher levels of the box, escaping the anoxic conditions of soil soup. We are a versatile species, and we expect to weather this drastic change of the landscape. Others may not be as fortunate, as numerous mite carcasses were seen floating in the flood waters.


May 4, 2013

Mood: Calmed

The Great Flood of 2013 ended this morning! After six weeks of swimming in my own waste, our caretakers finally noticed the anoxic scent (ammonia), and made the drastic policy decision to drain the flood waters. We heard that the caretakers’ parents collect our urine to help their gardens grow, so the drainage will undoubtedly please them as well. A win-win for all!

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Did you know that an indoor composting system housed so many adventures? We cannot verify the accuracy of this account but we do thank our worms for the rich material they provide to feed our plants and imaginations.


Worm Composting Resources:

About Worm Composting:

Red Wigglers for Chicagoans:

Our Favorite Vermicomposter:


  • John Cawood

    John coordinates Openlands' Eco-Explorations program and the new Birds in my Neighborhood program. John is inspired by the natural beauty of the Great Lakes region and brings a passion for place-based education.

  • Catherine Game

    Catherine Game is the Executive Director of Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods. Catherine ensures that the legacy of Brushwood Center thrives through strong partnerships and inspiring programs that connect art, nature, and wellness. 

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