You’ve probably heard, but worm poop is worth its weight in gold. At least that’s how it seems. The “castings”, as they are called, make for amazing garden fertilizer that you can buy. As we’ve discovered recently, you can also make it yourself, or run your own little worm farm/production facility.
When we lived in Seattle, the city encouraged composting on a city-wide scale. Along with garbage and mixed recycling, we had a yard waste container that was picked up every two weeks. We were supposed to put compostable food in the container with plants and leaves. In fact, we could be fined for not doing so.
We kept a little bucket under the kitchen sink with a compostable bag. When making dinner, food scraps went into the bucket and eventually into the yard waste container. When we first started composting, it seemed like a time-consuming extra step, but over time it made sense. Along with helping the city turn food waste into compost instead of it going to the landfill, our normal trash stayed relatively clean and less odorous.
Then, we moved to an island. In our location, trash trucks do not arrive to cart away trash, recycling, or yard/food waste. Like so many other things, we must do it ourselves and feel motivated to make it as easy as possible. Trash and recycling are easy and much more affordable than in the city. Every six weeks or so, we load up a vehicle and go to the transfer station.
Food waste is another matter. The island waste company is in the planning stages for a facility that processes compost where residents can drop off food and yard waste along with the trash. As always, the goal is to keep materials on the island instead of having to pay to remove it by ferry.
In moving into the new house, we needed to develop a system for our food waste. We consistently cook at home and produce a good bit of the stuff. Sachi started looking into what we could do and learned about vermiculture or vermicomposting, which means using worms to process food waste and turn it into fertilizer.
The idea is pretty simple: You put thousands of earthworms, like red wigglers, into an outdoor container with food waste. The worms eat the food and turn it into gold in the form of castings. That’s the beauty of this system. It converts waste into fertilizer for the next round of crops. Win-win!
Sachi researched how to make it easier and discovered a system called Subpod. This is a milk crate type of box with two bays for the food waste and walls with worm-sized holes.
You place the box in a raised bed with the majority of the box under the surface.
Then, you add worms, shredded paper, and food waste to the box, which becomes a buffet for the worms. The rest of the bed can be used to grow food.
Back when we built raised beds, we built one specifically for composting and sized it for two Subpods, just in case. Then, we ordered the Subpod and the worms. A few days later 2,000 red wiggler worms arrived in a bag from the perfectly named Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. We were in business.
They can come and go as they please in the surrounding soil and are likely to reproduce. Over time, the food waste turns into rich soil that can be transferred into a vegetable garden.
A lot of people build their own compost bins and they usually work great, but come with some issues. The food waste can attract pests and rodents, there can be unsavory odors and overall messiness. The Subpod mitigates the issues because it’s sitting in soil, with a cover.
Now that the system is rolling, we collect food waste in a small bucket under the sink, grab the coffee grounds and tear up some carbon-filled egg cartons or paper, and take them to the Subpod every couple of days. The composting process required aeration, so Subpod gave us a giant screw to mix it up and an insulating blanket to keep the compost covered so it keeps temperature and doesn’t dry out. Other than that, we just wait.
The instructions/rules for using the Subpod are handily placed on the underside of the bin:
When we give people a tour of our property, I often ask if they want to see our worm farm. And we are growing worms, but really, it’s a processing plant that processes plants.
The idea of helping homeowners understand the construction process has been on my mind for about a year. As I wrote chapter after chapter, I was looking for some kind of unifying theme. While the explanations, tips, and advice are enough, I wanted to give homeowners a perspective or even a philosophy that helped them see the big picture. I imagined finding a name that was memorable, descriptive, interesting, and hopefully available as a domain name.
Sachi’s early input was to be very direct and focus on the problem it solves or the main value it provides. I agreed and started to look at options involving phrases like “how to build a custom home”, “understand the construction process” and “learn how custom homes are built”. It was at this moment that the challenge became clear.
Home construction is a huge industry with well-established keywords and naming conventions. Virtually anything on the web involving “home construction” seemed to be dominated by much bigger, well-established brands that spend a lot of money to remain visible. Were we going to compete with them? No.
Even at a smaller scale, there are a wide variety of companies and individuals focused on modular homes, tiny homes, DIY cabins, campervan build-outs, etc. It was daunting to consider throwing something new into the mix.
We need to reach people who are planning to build a home or getting started. I know the feeling. The scale of the project and all the decisions that need to be made can feel overwhelming. Many of them are looking for tips and advice, but are unsure where to look. These are the people we need to reach.
I went back to the drawing board and we brainstormed ways to position this new resource. What could we call it? We asked: what is our philosophy? What do we believe about building a home? What’s unique about our perspective?
These questions led us into familiar territory. Big Enough, at heart, is about lifestyle. I wrote it to help business-oriented people see a different perspective about building a business that supports their lifestyle. Whether it’s businesses or buildings, lifestyle is a big part of our perspective and something we value deeply.
One of the amazing things about building a custom home is that it can be built to support the owner’s lifestyle. With a bit of planning, the owner can ensure that the house supports their day-to-day lives. A very simple example is laundry. It happens in virtually every house and a custom home is an opportunity to think about making it easy. This means thinking about where dirty clothes will collect and designing the house so that laundry is near the clothes.
When we planned Flattop, these kinds of decisions were our focus. Our experience with other construction projects helped us think through all the details and work with the pros to build the house around our lives. To me, that’s the best-case scenario for any owner: a house that’s livable.
For example, our primary bathroom shares a wall with the laundry room and we saw an opportunity to add a laundry chute between the rooms. This way, dirty clothes never collect in the bedroom or bathroom. Instead, they can go straight to the laundry room.
The idea of livability stuck with us. You can depend on builders and architects to make the house strong and beautiful. The pros will take care of building the house. But designing it to be livable is the domain of the homeowner. Only the owner knows their unique lifestyle and daily rituals. Only the owner will live in the house.
This idea had legs. Our brand could reference houses and construction, but carve out a niche around the idea of livability and encouraging homeowners to adopt it as a perspective in the design and building process. This means not only understanding every phase of the construction process, but doing within the theme of livability.
I started to look for domain names and soon found that thelivablehouse.com was available. The Livable House. I liked the sound of it and so did Sachi. My only concern is that it’s not descriptive. The name does not imply that it’s a guide to the complete construction process, but that’s okay. I think of it like the popular cookbooks called The Joy of Cooking. The books are mostly recipes, but the theme is joy.
So that’s what the new project is called: The Livable House. It can be found at thelivablehouse.com. I’d love to know what you think about the website. Please feel free to enroll in the mini-course.
I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.