Long, Skinny, Slimy Things

Spring was here! for a few days, it was here, I swear. The skies were clearing up in the afternoons, the icicles broke from our house, and that distinct smell of snow melting and gravel roads thawing tinged the air. It seems to have all been a tease–but what was I expecting? It’s March in Alaska after all. Last year at this time we still had thigh deep snow on the farm, and growing up in Minnesota I would be expecting at least one more big snow fall.

However, the daylight hours are increasing, daylight savings time means that the afternoons seem even longer, and spring really is just right around the corner. With this increased vitamin D comes a jumpstart in our farmer-wannabe attitudes and motivations. Sigh…what a wonderful time of year!

It’s Spring Break for teachers and students alike! I headed south with a friend and spent a few days in Homer, enjoying the spring tease.

Fluffy chicks are hatching or were delivered to Farmgirls everywhere over the last several weeks, some animals are readying for their spring deliveries of the cute and innocent, dormant plants and trees are starting to run their spring sap, and seeds (wild and domestic) are ready to wake up! But, something else is happening, too, something underfoot. The topsoil is finally able to get some fresh air and fresh air after spending months frozen under the snow. What else is happening under there? Worms! Mold! Bacteria! Micorrhizae! Decomposers! They are happily munching away at the world’s refuse, making it useful once again. What majestic and beautiful creatures keep this beautiful Earth beautiful.

Can you picture what your yard, or your city, or your garden would look like without these decomposers? Just a big, gigantic, unwieldy pile of matter–if anything could grow at all. In reality, none of us and none of the world as we know it would exist. There wouldn’t be any soil to support any life. The earth would not be deserving of its soil inspired name. It would be a giant rock floating in space–or perhaps be covered in the primordial goo? Thank you, decomposers, for all you do!

The Magpies (my six and seven year old students) and I are learning about soil for the next few weeks, and I for one am excited! I’m no soil scientist, and I claim no authority in matters of soil. I just LOVE dirt. I love how it feels, I love how it looks, I love how diverse it is and I especially love how it smells.

To help demonstrate how soil is created by a little help from our long, skinny, slimy friends-the worms-I have started a worm bin! Vermiposting has been happening, naturally, since the beginning of time, but it has been happening in controlled, human made environments for a few decades. I’m a little behind the trend, but I am so excited to witness these little squirmy wigglers do there thing up close and personal.

Red Wigglers, ready for some food scraps!

Last week I drove to a nearby farmette to pick up the newest members of my growing collection of critters. Even in Alaska (or maybe particularly to Alaska?), there is a veritable worm breeder that makes a portion of her living selling people bags and jars of composting horse manure full of red wigglers in their many stages. Niche farmers are interesting characters to begin with, and this worm farmer was no exception. That might be a story for another day!

So, I drove home with a bag-o-poo and set up our vermipost system in one of those Can-o-Worms that had been sitting, unused, in the basement of the School House. I put down some bedding of newspaper, egg cartons and straw along with a small portion of food scraps and the newest members of our farm critter family; and I made sure it was all properly damp. We are now waiting, eagerly, for the wigglers to get to work and start making compost!

It’s going to take a while for the worms to make any noticeable dents in our food waste–a long while. I had some whimsical dream of these worms taking over the duties of our sad, frozen compost pile in the yard, of them taking the pounds of waste created by the Farm School Kids at snack time and alleviating our food scrap pile up problem (the long winters make regular composting a slow but doable process in AK). Silly me, jumping the gun with high hopes! The worm farmer assured me that the worm population will gradually grow, allowing for more than the measly handful of food scraps per week that they are presently processing.

Until then, these worms are cool! And while they are not conducive to snuggling outside of their cage or fawning over as they maneuver their newly discovered bodies in the cool air of the big world, I am very excited about their amazing capabilities as an all too important and overlooked link in our food supply.

Betsy and I took the dogs to the beach (this was the day before our ER visit!). Bluebird skies blessed our entire stay in Homer!

In other news, I had an eventful visit to Homer, Alaska for a few days over Spring Break (this week). Unfortunately, it ended with a long trip to the ER for my friend, Betsy. We went cross country skiing and she fell, likely tearing a ligament in her knee. I didn’t get home until 1 a.m. last night…So, this post is going up late! Sorry for that farmgirls, but I’m more sorry for my friend’s busted knee.

We also have a new pope! Dare I say it, but as a recovering Catholic I am excited about Pope Francis. I was taught by Clarist-Franciscan sisters until High School, and St. Francis of Assisi played a large role in our religious teachings. I hope this pope follows in his namesake’s footsteps of rebuilding the church into something welcoming and accepting of all kinds and walks of life.

Until next time my Farmgirl sisters, take it easy, enjoy the spring (even if it is a tease for now) and think about adding some long, skinny, slimy things to your family of furry, feathered, fishy and otherwise textured friends.

Alex, the Rural Farmgirl

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