I did a bad thing today. Well, not really, in the grand scheme of things. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Actually, today I took the first step in realising a long-held gardening goal of mine: vermicomposting. That is, using composting worms (different from the usual earthworms) as an aid to composting. This is particularly attractive when, for example, there is a foot of ice and snow on the ground between the back door and the compost bin. Here in Mississauga we do have organic bin and yard waste recycling pickup, but I prefer to compost as much as I realistically can for myself. Pretty much the only kitchen stuff I put in the green bin are bones and meat and fat scraps.

Anyway, composting worms are different from normal earthworms because in the wild, they usually live in the very organically rich layer of leaf litter just above the soil. This means they are accustomed to a very loose, airy, but moist environment, one that is high in organic content and low in mineral content. In contrast, earthworms live in the soil, where the mineral to organic ratio is much higher. Earthworms consequently need more space to forage, they reproduce slower, and they are generally not happy in containers.

Conversely, composting worms are well suited to life in small spaces. They cannot, however, survive freezing temperatures, so they must be brought into warmth during cold weather.

Anyway. Today I finally got some composting worms from the Mississauga Seedy Saturday event. Seedy Saturdays are small local gardening events in late winter/spring where seeds are swapped and sold, with a definite emphasis on homegrown seeds, heirloom varieties and organic methods. I wasn’t able to attend, so I asked one of my Master Gardener colleagues (as we always get involved at these events) to pick them up for me. In anticipation, I actually started the worm bin bedding last Tuesday. The worms are Eisenia foetida (often called red wigglers), which is one of the most common species used in worm bins.

I’m well aware that vermicomposting is not quite as easy and miraculous and dummy-proof as its proponents might portray it. Then again, nothing really looks like it does in the brochures.

Getting back to the bad thing, the reason I didn’t attend Seedy Saturday was because I went to the Southern Ontario Orchid Society show instead. The bad thing is that I bought something. I’m constantly bitching that I simply “cannot have any more houseplants because I have no room for more.” So what happens? I see a Maxillaria schunkeana for sale and I buy it.

I used to have orchids when I lived in the tropics, but looking after tropical orchids in Canada, especially in winter, never seemed worth the trouble. Don’t get me wrong, I like orchids, but I’m not crazy about them the way I am about, say, carnivorous plants.

…but I am also crazy about black (or near-black) flowers, and M. schunkeana is “the black orchid”. Right now it’s under a bell jar (it’s a fairly small species) under a plant light. I’m entertaining thoughts of setting up a terrarium for it, but probably not. In a month I’ll need the plant lights for starting seeds, and there’s no room for a terrarium in the sunny window.

There was a while during which I felt terrible after buying it though (aside from the aforementioned lack of space). I was so excited (for me, that is) when I saw it that I forgot to ask the vendor if it was nursery-raised or wild-collected. (I really ought to check Canada’s laws about wild-collected imports, if there are any such laws.) I do not support wild collection of mature plants for commerce. When I got home, however, I looked at the label and it turns out my specimen is a cultivar (‘Ebony Queen’). This went a long way toward setting my mind at ease, because something with a horticultural cultivar name is almost certainly of nursery origin. On the other hand, I can’t find any references to M. schunkeana ‘Ebony Queen’ online…

So…worms and a houseplant. It’s sad what makes gardeners happy, sometimes.