Excerpt from In My Father's Garden


The Worm Bin

In my father’s garden we had many roses. The yellow roses climbed over the fence and fell in waves into our neighbor’s garden. The white roses intertwined with the pink roses. The red ones sprang up between our other flowers. We gave the blooms away to friends and set large bouquets on our kitchen table. The petals fell everywhere, giving the house a wonderful scent.

The garden was lovely, but it hadn’t always been that way. Gardeners know: without decent compost, roses grow slowly, bloom abysmally, and catch black spot. After a warm night’s rain white mildew appears on the leaves, making the bushes unattractive. To cure these woes I decided to get a worm composter.

A worm composter is just a box to hold rotting vegetables. At first glance it isn’t complicated. But wooden worm bins decompose over time. Plastic bins are too cold in the winter for the poor worms and have to be dragged inside the house. There they leave a stinking brown mess of slime everywhere. Given the complications, I decided to seek professional advice. Fortunately I had a friend who was a horticulturist, and she gave me the name of a woman who specialized in worm composters. This specialist lived not very far from my house. As it turned out, not quite far enough.

At first all went well. I called her and we set up a time to meet. She asked me to come to her house so she could show me her worm bins. She lived in a hovel with a mossy old roof and cracking stucco on the walls. Her house might not have been much, but her garden was breathtaking. Even in early spring, winter still breathing down our necks, her plants bloomed and thrived. Golden narcissus thrust up from the ground, decorating the entire landscape. The apple trees were so laden with blooms that their branches sagged. Tulips formed a barrier around the house as thick as a wall. There was no doubt of her skill as a gardener. I was thrilled; maybe my father’s garden could be as magnificent.

She explained to me that her favorite worm composter cost forty dollars. She could sell me one. Worms cost twenty-five dollars a pound. According to her, I needed a pound. Her composters stood outside under the trees near her garden shed. There, she lifted the first tray of one of her bins and began to give a lecture. Every aspect of the bin required an explanation: the right type of rotting vegetables; the perfect soil; the dangerous insects that grubbed in the dirt; the moisture that could drown the worms; the dreadful heat of summer, and the menacing freezes that came with fall.

For almost an hour I stood in the brisk breeze and suffered through her monologue on the many trials and tribulations that came with owning a worm bin. It began to rain and water leaked into my shoes. My fingers were frozen. Still, she had more to say. Finally, I couldn’t stand anymore and interrupted her. Did she have any brochures that I could read? Of course she did! In fact, for only fifteen dollars, she’d sell me an entire book. To save myself from dying of the cold, I bought the book. Eighty dollars and ten frozen fingers later, I finally took my worm box, book, and pound of worms and went home. Thank heavens I’d escaped! Done is done, I figured. Now I could enjoy my composter in peace.

Boy was I mistaken.  ...

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Illustrations by Liza Brown, Modern Art Media