Worm Composting and Tarot Cards

Hi Yours Truly,

This is more of a request for stories than straight advice. I just moved into a teeny tiny apartment and I am missing my compost pile. I seem to remember you having adventures in indoor composting that involved worms and possibly urine? I would love some advice on getting started with composting in a small space.

Also, I am slowly learning to read tarot and have no context whatsoever. How’d you go about developing a relationship to the cards?

Not Exactly Advice

Fun! I’ll do this in two very obvious parts.

WORMS, or as I like to call them, ‘woims’

Worm composting is a fun, weird, and gross way to get involved with composting if you live in an apartment building and don’t have access to outside space large or distant enough to basically put a garbage pile on (although you’d be surprised–a black plastic composter doesn’t take up much room, is there some shared space you could stick it?). Regular composting is easier than worm composting because as I understand it you just kind of pile up garbage and let it do its own business (may not be true), whereas the worms do take some managing and finagling. But conversely, the worms are much more interesting, at least to me. It is hard to explain the satisfaction of building up a worm colony to the point where it’s eating all your garbage! It is like MAGIC.

So yeah. It’s a long term project, building a small apartment worm bin. You start with a small tub and move up to a large tub after like 6 months. Initially they will hardly eat any of your garbage; by the time you move up to the large tub they’ll be eating a lot of it. Depending on how much you cook at home (i.e. how much actual organic garbage you generate), a large in-home worm bin, in my experience, can process anywhere from 1/2 to all your garbage. We are two people and we cook at home a lot, so I was never able to get all my garbage in there, but if you had space for two large bins you’d probably be good to go–I did not.


Here are a couple step-by-step explanatory sites that I read before I started, but the guide I ultimately followed was the one in this wonderful book which I highly recommend.

There are lots of theories and vibes w/r/t keeping worms. But I say, just to get started, keep it simple and don’t sweat all the small stuff. For example, if you get involved in online forums for worm composting you’ll perhaps get intimidated by people arguing about cedar vs. other types of wood; worm tea, what even is that???; is there a difference between worm poop, worm castings, and just normal dirt?? etc. Just start small, figure it out as you go, and soon you’ll be comfortable enough to start changing it up/moving up in terms of the size of your colony, etc.

There are many fancy worm composting systems available for sale. If you look on ebay you can find cool stacking ones and crazy handmade wooden ones and ones with faucets at the bottom. If you have that kind of money, go for it! I bet they are awesome. But as for me, I started with something like this, and then once I got the hang of it and stopped sweating it, and once my worms had reproduced themselves to where they were actually able to take a lot of my garbage, I switched to something more like this. For every bin you get you need to get TWO lids, because one goes underneath as a tray to catch all the sick liquid that comes out the bottom of your bin and is NOT, apparently, worm tea.

I really recommend getting that Urban Homestead book because it has very detailed step-by-step instructions, as well as a million other unrelated cool household projects. I won’t give you super detailed info here–get that book, or read those websites I mentioned–but the basics are:

– you drill a shit-ton of 1/16″ holes all across the lid of the tub
– you drill an additional shit ton all across the bottom and all four sides of the tub
– you get a piece of very fine wire mesh from the hardware store and line the bottom of the tub with it (this helps prevent escapees, and trust me it’s worth it)
– you half-fill the tub with strips of newspaper and some handsful of potting soil
– you dump in your worms (look on craigslist and call around to your local hippie gardening stores to try to find local worms for sale. I bought mine from a lady farmer who delivered them to me in her car, pretty sweet, I think they were $15. You can order worms online but purists frown on this as travel (specifically, vibrations) is hard on worms and they might all arrive half dead and shocked and then fuck up your experiment and dishearten you)
– you sprinkle a little water, or better yet your own urine (this really separates the men from the boys, in my opinion, when it comes to worm composting) over the mess of dirt, worms, and newspaper (you want things to be damp but not wet. Like a wrung-out dish cloth)
– you put the lid with the holes drilled in it on top
– you put the non-drilled lid underneath the bin (perhaps propped up on little chunks of brick or wood, so the bottom of the bin is clear of the muck in the tray below, I recommend this)
– you put the whole contraption somewhere mellow and dark, for example under the kitchen sink or in a dim mudroom or in an unused closet)
– you wait a long time, I forget how long, read those websites, but basically you wait until the newspaper is all integrated/half eaten/digested and you’re starting to see more of a uniform mud vibe in there
– then you start giving them little bits of garbage, and you work up from there–as the worms multiply (which they do very quickly) they’ll be able to take more and more garbage.

Cautionary details:
– If you introduce too much garbage all at once, they won’t be able to get to it fast enough and things will start rotting/seeping and you’ll have disgusting moisture/smell issues. This is why you start slow and slowly build up your own sense of comfort/awareness of what’s going on in there. AFter awhile I promise you will be able to tell what’s happening and how much garbage they can get through in a week or whatever
– if things get too wet, the worms drown and/or all escape in mass numbers to escape drowning: terrible, dead worms all over your kitchen floor, no!
– if things get too dry, they die
– you have to BURY the garbage in the compost/mud vibe, because if you just leave the garbage sitting on top it will rot and you will get FRUIT FLIES. So each time you feed your worms, you basically go in and dig a little hole with your hand, and dump the garbage in, and cover it up.

My schedule:
Okay, once my worm bin was performing at max capacity: I kept a big yogurt container in the freezer (to minimize fruit flies) and put my compost in it throughout the day/week. When it was full, I’d go open up the bin and dig all around in there, turning the mud and worms and moving things around/aerating. This is really fun and fascinating because you see what kinds of things take longer to compost than others. That avocado pit you put in there 8 months ago is STILL there! But the banana from this morning is gone. Etc. Then you dig a big hole, dump the garbage in, and cover it back up.

It sounds confusing but after awhile you will figure it out. Read those sites/that book and then just get started! If I can do it anyone can do it. And by the time I had transferred my worms to the bigger bin and they had expanded in it they really were taking most of our garbage, it was so awesome.

I miss my worms. When we moved back across the country I gave them to my friend Bri, I wonder how they’re doing?

Some basics:
– ultimately once your worms are going good, what it looks like in there is basically just a tub of really dark, wet mud.
– if you do it right, it DOES NOT SMELL. It smells like mud, only. Does not smell like poop or garbage or anything! If it smells bad something’s wrong, probably it’s too wet
– if it gets too wet, stop feeding them, and mix more newspaper or potting soil in there to soak stuff up
– if it gets too dry, sprinkle with water
– throw some pee in there periodically (nitrogen is good for them)
– you can’t put citrus peels in there, for some reason
– you can’t put meat or dairy
– you shouldn’t generally put much cooked stuff–oily/salty cooked stuff they don’t like so much

Um, that’s about it. Read and get your bin ready and find a worm supplier and go for it! The cool thing is that it’s not much of a financial risk. It’s like $25 max, and you borrow someone’s drill. So you might as well just give it a shot! Nothing ventured nothing gained.

Okay next up!


Yeah! I have so enjoyed my growing relationship with my cards. I had a deck for years and just kind of half-assed it, barely ever using them and never memorizing the cards and never really getting that good at it. Then last year for some reason I decided to approach it super seriously and all at once, as a major undertaking. I spent two or three FULL DAYS–I mean, morning to evening, seriously–and by the end of it I had the basics down. Since then it’s just been about deepening and refining my understanding and my abilities.

There are people who believe the cards are actually magical or mystical–that they access some sort of cosmic energy, that they really do predict the future or whatever. This is fine, and I have learned a lot about the cards from reading things these people write. But other people, myself included, think of them more as a personal, psychological exercise, a kind of means of gaining insight into your own unconscious/subconscious, more like meditating or intense journaling than actual magic. I’ve seen it happen a million times–you do a reading for someone who is a total skeptic, they think it’s silly and hilarious, but then the minute you start talking them through their spread, they get so into it and start having realizations. “Oh my god, that card is ABOUT MY MOTHER!!!” etc. This just means they are looking at their feelings on a given situation in a new light, in a new way, as instigated by the cards, and this can help a person have revelations or see things differently or more clearly. We all know we can be mysteries to ourselves, and I think the cards can just sort of help you focus and analyze and look within a little bit. Like, if you ask the cards “should I have a baby,” and then you interpret your spread as saying “no,” that probably means you just don’t want to have a baby. And that is helpful information!

So that’s how I personally feel about it. I use them kind of like meditation. All alone, I make a nice quiet space for myself, and I kind of work through a problem via doing a spread about it and writing down the spread and kind of pondering it all.

So, the actual nuts-and-bolts of learning to do it! This sounds like a lot of work, because it is. You should only do it if it sounds fun to you. For me it was like this rad, quiet project, so wholly unrelated to the dissertation I’d just finished writing. It felt really healing and good to just go deep on this mystical shit:

First get a deck you like. Decks more or less based on the old traditional (dating from basically the renaissance, as I understand it) decks, even if they have different illustrations or even different names of cards (e.g. “The Pope” instead of “The Hierophant,” or “discs” instead of “pentacles”) will be basically the same, in terms of the meanings of the cards. The five of discs has the same meaning as the five of pentacles, etc. But there are tons of other decks, based on different spiritual systems, made by all kinds of different weirdos. Like there’s the Book of Thoth, which I think Alistair Crowley invented or something? There are dragon-based decks and decks with round cards signifying feminine energy or whatever. There are probably Harry Potter decks.

Basically the point is, for whatever deck you get, make sure you are looking up the meanings of each card in some sort of corresponding book or website. If you have the Rider-Waite deck, looking up meanings in the Book of Thoth is going to fuck you up.

(for what it’s worth, I have the Rider-Waite deck. It’s the most popular deck in the world, I think because it looks so cool and is such a weird mish-mash of what appear to be really ancient drawing styles and symbols. It was designed in the 1950s though I think. Anyway this means if you just google “tarot spreads” you’re going to get stuff based on the Rider-Waite deck, more than likely. Rider-Waite is sort of the industry standard, I guess)

Okay. So once you have your deck (and a book about tarot, preferably not just the little pamphlet that came with your deck but like an actual book), get a beautiful new notebook that you enjoy writing in, and a fancy pen. Get your book about the tarot (that you have already read or at least skimmed around in), and also get your laptop with a couple of the more reputable (whatever that means) tarot sites (for your specific deck) loaded up. In my experience the more times the words “aura” and “crystal” and “energy” are mentioned, and the better the spelling, the better the site’s gonna be (sort of joking, sort of not). Also some of these sites have forums, which is just really a delightful thing to peruse of an evening. Discussion forums, about interpretations and meanings and every once in awhile someone being like “I just started Ankh of the Goddess and then a wind blew out my candle but ALL MY WINDOWS ARE CLOSED” and then elder stateswomen of the forum chiming in with comforting words about conjuring up a guiding spirit. These people are SO KIND. Also please do not conjure up a demon (joke: not possible)

Here is how I memorized the cards and started delving into how to use/read them:

don’t shuffle the deck–when you buy it, it should be un-shuffled, with all the cards in order. You should learn them all in order, because there are cycles and narratives within the deck itself. Like from the Ace to the King of each suit kind of tells a little sub-narrative. And the major arcana cards (there are 22 of them I think?) comprise two ten-card cycles. I think it’s good to learn them in order, that way later when you’re actually doing spreads, you have the sort of foundational knowledge of where each card fits WITHIN THE DECK to help inform you.

So, take the first card (in the traditional deck, this will be the Fool, major arcana card zero). Put it in front of you and just look at it for awhile. What do you see? What do you think that card is about? Think about it and kind of note what your first impressions of the card are, in terms of what messages/symbols you think it’s about. Then in just a sentence or two (or even just a string of keywords), write down these initial thoughts and impressions in your nice notebook, underneath where you’ve written “0, THE FOOL.”

Then, look up the Fool in your tarot book and see what it says there. See what aspects of your gut reaction are actually in line with traditional understandings of that card (you’ll probably be surprised how often you are “right”). Then look The Fool up on one of your cool crystal hippie websites, and see what it says there. By this time you’ll have kind of a well-rounded cultural profile of the Fool, and you’ll feel like, okay, I think I get what this card is all about.

Now, underneath where you wrote down your first impressions, write down keywords and sentences gleaned from your book/website–as well as the other stuff, like the numerology (twos are about duality; fives are about roadblocks; fours are about stillness; etc. And also all the astrological stuff, like swords go with the air signs, which are all about thoughts and logic, while wands go with fire, and are about energy and creativity; etc. etc. )

Finally, compose what feels like your ideal definition of the Fool–take the meanings you like best and feel like most correspond with both tradition and your gut reaction.

Do this for every card in the deck. This will take a full day, basically.

(NOTE: Some people do “reversed meanings” for the card. This means that if the card comes up upside-down in a spread, it has a different meaning than it does when it’s right-side up. I find this too confusing and I just don’t do it, which is also a viable option. If you want to deal with reversed meanings, that’s fine, but if you don’t, then just ignore it whenever you see it on the websites or in your book)

When you’re done, you will have many many pages of notes. Now, in a much smaller, more portable notebook (one that, perhaps, you will carry with your cards in whatever decorative pouch or box you choose to keep them in), write all the definitions of the cards in very small precise handwriting. This will be your own personalized tarot dictionary. You made your own! Instead of carrying around the one you bought or the weird one that came with your deck when you bought it. This helps get it all ingrained, because you’ve approached your deck with a personal intuitive vibe instead of just trying to memorize what other people say about the cards.

Now you can start practicing doing very mellow readings. All tarot reading is is crafting a narrative out of whatever cards come up–you interweave the symbols, stories, and messages of the cards in an effort to create a coherent take on a given question or situation. So start practicing by just shuffling the deck, picking out three random cards, laying them in a row, and then making a story out of them, just a very simple story or message. Do this again and again and again, you’ll feel it becoming more fluid.

This not only helps you practice actually interpreting/crafting meaning, it also is the next step in memorizing the cards. At first you’ll be looking up cards constantly in your little personalized card dictionary, but after awhile, the meanings will become instinctive and you won’t have to look them up anymore.

Also, many times every day, just sit down and go through the deck, card by card (shuffled or in order, doesn’t matter) and just quiz yourself.

Once you really feel like you get what it’s all about, you can start trying to do established “spreads,” like the Celtic Cross or my personal favorite, DRAGON ORACLE. You can also invent your own spreads! Go back to your tarot book/websites and look up spreads and follow their instructions. You’ll get better and better and more and more confident. Try doing a spread for yourself, then for a friend. You’ll get better and better!

Memorize spreads so you don’t have to keep looking up the card positions. The more independent you become from your little book of meanings and spreads, the happier and more empowered you’ll feel.

Some spreads will be like WHOA, that thing just read itself! Others will be weird and fragmented and you won’t be able to make them hang together. That’s cool, just keep on truckin’!

One thing people recommend, that I really enjoy when I actually do it, is that you should draw a card first thing every morning, and write it down in your journal. This card is basically just “something to think about” for that day. It could be about a challenge you might face, or it could be something general to just keep in mind. like if you draw the miser card, you kind of keep it in the back of your mind all day, and you’ll notice stuff come up that makes you think of that card. Like maybe you’re kind of tired but a friend calls and invites you to something really fun, and your knee-jerk reaction is just to say no, because you always say no. But then you remember the miser card and you’re like “I should try not to cling so tightly; I should loosen up,” and so instead you say yes, and you go out and have a delightful time. Generally this practice I find just helps me stay mindful throughout the course of a day.

some of the more woo-woo devotees say that when they do this every single day they start noticing patterns. “throughout the month of February 9 out of 10 cards I drew were swords, and February was when I was trying to finish my dissertation!” that kind of thing (swords are about words and intellect and logic and writing). To that I say: ME NO KNOW

this has inspired me to try to start drawing a card every day again.

Get a special new journal and incorporate tarot spreads/daily draws into your regular journaling! Or, if you don’t journal, just get a cool notebook to write your spreads down in. Because suddenly oops, that notebook is full, and oh my god look what you’ve done, you’ve almost without thinking about it kept an ongoing log of all your mental processes and problems and thoughts for like a year! YOU TRICKED YOURSELF INTO JOURNALING

good luck! report back! follow up questions welcome!

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3 Responses to Worm Composting and Tarot Cards

  1. ericka says:

    Back when I was into Tarot, I got A Feminist Tarot by Sally Gearhart from a used bookstore, and it became my main go-to guide. Her interpretation of the cards really resonated with me much more than any other books I ever owned or looked through. (This was a million years ago and the Internet was a different place back then; it never even occurred to me to look for the kind of sites and forums you mention.)

    I also got into the habit of writing down every spread I did and even though it’s been many years, it’s still interesting and illuminating to look back on them. Whereas I had to literally shred every journal I kept during that time because I feel embarrassed for my younger self.

  2. Leander says:

    What is the Dragon Oracle spread? I briefly googled it and didn’t really see it right away…

  3. dalas v says:

    I’m an I Ching dude. Would trade 1 for 1.

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