My pappaw used to make me bait my own hook when we went fishing. That was the rule. His pond, his poles, his fish. If I was old enough to go fishin’, then I was old enough to bait my own hook. And I dreaded it. The baiting. I am not being silly, or sarcastic, or overdramatic when I tell you that I actually heard them scream every time I threaded one onto my hook. Worms. They make almost-ultrasonic shrieking sounds as they squirm, and dodge, and serpentine away from the stabby point of the hook.

Cross my heart and hope to die. They scream when you stick ’em.

It was my my job to gather the gear and collect the worms. Out back, beside the wood pile, was a big box filled with rich, damp, dark and loose dirt. And that dirt was jam-packed with worms. Happy, fat, spoiled-rotten fish candy. Each time I was sent to get bait I’d come up with dozens of wrigglers between my fingers with just one pull. Easy pickin’s. Pappaw planned it that way.

He never said so, but the reality was that he was practicing something called vermiculture; the benefit of which was fish bait, fertilizer, and a convenient place to dispose of Mammaw’s kitchen scraps. Vermiculture; Pappaw’s symbiotic relationship with worms. It’s a win-win arrangement. Pappaw built the worms a home, provided them with leftovers from the dining table, and the worms repaid his kindness by eating that food and pooping it out. The burrows that they made while moving through the dirt in search of dinner aerated the soil, making their box an oxygen rich environment that hastened the development of compost, which provided fertilizer for Pappaw’s food crops. And any time the box got too crowded, he’d release a bunch of worms into the garden where they’d worm their way through the dirt, aerating it, giving the veggies an oxygen rich environment for their roots to enjoy.

It was a satisfying symbiosis. With the exception of the occasional dozen plucked out for fish bait, the vast majority of worms at my pappaw’s place were lucky, lazy wigglers.

But that was out in the country, and way back in the day. It’s been thirty years since I sank my hands into my pappaw’s worm bin. You couldn’t have convinced me, back then, that I’d ever come to miss it. Sadly, I’m not in rural Louisiana anymore, and life ain’t nearly so sweet in suburban Houston. I have no pond out the back door. No wood pile. No worm bin. Instead, I have an annoying HOA that comes down hard on any resident’s attempt to step outside the box. The neighborhood pond is catch-and-release. Front-yard vegetable gardening is not allowed. No chickens. And no bees. But, dammit, they can’t take my worms from me.

We’ve gone stealth. We bought a vermicomposter. A worm tower. Not even the HOA property management spies with their clipboards and binoculars can find fault with the 3-Tray Worm Composter on my patio. There’s no odor, no mess, no harm, no foul. Just an attractive stack of boxes full of dirt, worms, food scraps, and shredded newspaper. It’s like apartment living, for city worms. And it provides us a way of making compost, raising fish bait, and stocking our garden with happy worms that do a great job at aerating the soil, in stealth mode, without offending the neighbors’ delicate sensibilities. Right under the noses of our HOA militants. I gotta admit that I find plenty of satisfaction in that.

With a worm tower, vermicomposting can be done anywhere that’s temperate. Inside or outside. Apartments, or single-family houses. In your parents’ basement, next to the washer and dryer. Patio, kitchen, laundry room, wherever. As long as you don’t freeze ’em or broil ’em the worms keep on composting. Symbiosis. We give them a home, we feed them, and they turn our garbage into gold. We’re growing fish candy, and garden gold. For free.

Well, almost. There is the matter of up-front cost. Amazon stocks multiple brands, and will deliver the whole kit and kaboodle–with written (and DVD video) instructions on how to assemble, prepare and maintain your worm farm–right to your door. Oh, and you’ll probably want to buy your starter worms instead of digging up your yard looking for recruits. But after that, the maintenance expenses are virtually zero.

Vermicomposting is easy to start and maintain. It’s satisfying to watch garbage go in compost and come out. And when it’s time to go fishing you’ll have plenty of bait.

Just remember. I warned you. They scream when you stick ’em.

Videos about Vermiculture