Tag Archives: vermicompost

Helping Your Worms Beat the Heat! Keeping Worm Bins Cool

Helping Your Worms Beat the Heat! Keeping Worm Bins Cool

Smart idea for the summer time!  If you store your food scraps in the fridge before you compost them, then this is a default no-brainer concept.

My basement stays cool or freezing cold all year long it seems, so I’ve never really thought about this so much.

Over at redwormcomposting.com, there’s several accounts of people’s worms surviving at extremely hot and cold temperatures, well above and below the suggested temps for their survival.  Worms are resilient little critters, aren’t they?

Composting with red worms outside during the winter (video)

Composting with red worms outside during the winter

Oh, Utah winter… can’t imagine!  People in Philadelphia complain over an inch.  Admittedly I’m getting tired of snow already.

A pit in the ground works through the winter…pretty cool!  Black plastic on top, plenty of cardboard underneath can work wonders for keeping the worms going through the cold months.

Think Cool: Winter Worm Composting (article)

[Originally found here: http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/winter-worm-composting.aspx]

Even in the heat of summer, it’s not to early to consider ways to keep our garden friends, our composting worms, fully employed over the winter Vermicompost harvestmonths. For now, use that vermicompost for some worm “compost teas” to help your gardens with the stress of this summer’s heat. When cold weather comes, gather your materials and try overwintering your worms outside.

Cold weather (remember that?) will definitely slow the activity of a worm colony. Although my experience is that worms can be incredibly hardy, there’s no reason to miss a beat over the winter. The two key factors are shelter and heat.

Last winter I chose had to replace my compost bins cause they were rotten. They were oak pallets and they had lasted about seven years. I took the old pallets out, but wanted to level the site, so I started digging. What I found was a very rich layer of vermicompost between and under the pallets. Remember, I’ve been filling my bins with worms and managing for their happiness for the whole seven years.

I ended up with a level site and nine wheelbarrows full of vermicompost! As I shoveled the black gold aside, I tried to put the material with the most worms farthest from the compost bin pad. I spread the vermicompost on my garden and mulched it for the winter.

What was left over was perhaps three wheelbarrows of finished vermicompost and most of my worms. I covered the pile with some clear plastic greenhouse glazing. I never stopped putting my household food scraps on the south side of the pile. I simply came outside, lifted the plastic and a layer of straw and threw the scraps into the pile. What happened was that I started an active composting pile. There was enough food coming in, getting mixed in and covered to get hot and keep the whole area well above freezing. The winter sun helped warm the pile through the clear plastic. On cold nights there was condensed moisture on the inside of the plastic but the pile was plenty warm enough to keep going. Compost windrow

The worms were hanging out at the edges of the pile, staying warm and well fed. Although last winter was mild, this strategy will work well as far north as Minnesota, as I found out on a tour of compost education programs to St. Cloud in 1993. I visited Compost Guru, Jim McNelly (founding board member of the U.S. Composting Council) as he brought me in to educate in the schools there. He had a busy worm colony in a small black plastic compost unit outside his house in a tough winter.

Top photo: On the left is the windrow full of vermicompost that I harvested from the dark flat area on the right. Notice the clear plastic covering the pile, the pallets that will become the next bin and the stored bags of leaves.

Lower photo: The worms are hard at work under the clear plastic and the straw layer. The 2 x 4’s are not a part of the system, just left overs from the compost bin being built in the background.

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This is a great example of how simple you can make a vermicomposting system.  With a nice sized hole and enough straw plus a tarp, you can keep your worms alive and well through the winter.  I don’t know how they do it, but they do it.

I spotted a mouse sitting on top of my Worm Inn a while ago, and although he didn’t get in the system, it bummed me out.  It was my fault though, I didn’t have a nice layer of bedding covering the food scraps.  That’s the key with vermicomposting, whether it’s indoor or outdoor, is to always cover your deposits with plenty of bedding material.

Although it’s probably too late for me this winter, I’d like to try the outdoor method soon.  It’s hard to see the point though, with my main compost bin still cooking and handling all my scraps with ease…

Plastic Worm Bin-07-12-12 (article)

I’m a regular reader of Bentley Christie’s redwormcomposting.com and he just posted recently about his new worm bin aging experiment…check it out:

http://www.redwormcomposting.com/worm-composting/plastic-worm-bin-07-12-12/

As he demonstrates, it’s really important to add your materials long before you get your worms so the insides are nice and damp (but no pooling on the bottom) and the contents are mixed up evenly.

I had my bin for a few months, but the upkeep on it got to be a little much for me, and that’s when I switched to the Worm Inn…no more moisture issues with that thing.  Although I recently skipped town for a little over a week, and when I came back I thought my worms were all dead from a dried out system…luckily I still had time in this 100F+ weather to dump some water in there and add some fresh materials.  Close call!

If I had a worm bin for that situation, I’d have no problem at all…it’s really hard to dry them out since plastic doesn’t breathe.  One of the few benefits of these systems other than cost!

To clarify, I’m not hating on worm bins (any compost effort is commendable!), they’re just not the best option if you want to be worm composting for the long haul…a Worm Factory will get the job done better, and the Worm Inn will do it best.

The Clash of the Composts! vol. 2

The Clash of the Composts! vol. 2

It’s time for Clash of the Composts round 2, and this time I’m growing chives.  The 4 soil types are: worm castings, tumbler compost, commercial compost and trench compost/dirt.

This time around was pretty much the same…my homemade worm castings and tumbler compost outperformed the commercial compost and the regular dirt by a bit.

One cool thing I noticed this time was how the commercial compost was free of weeds…this is due to the thermal kill levels of mass piles of compost, and it showed.  Perhaps that is also why it didn’t do as well as my stuff.

The obvious conclusion here, like last time, is that compost definitely helps your stuff grow…so use it!

Hit the Like button and let me know if you’ve tried comparing compost types before…it’s actually a lot of fun!  If you haven’t signed up for my free composting course, you should do that on the right hand side of the page.

My Basil is Still Growing…yes!

A few weeks ago, I decided to harvest all of my basil plants from the Clash of the Composts! experiment. They were all looking so good for so long…those big bright and shiny green leaves. At a certain point, they outgrew their pots it seemed, and started to look worse.

I moved two out of each of the pots in the experiment to free up space, and put them all together in another container. It definitely improved the growth of the experiment pots, but only for a short time. The ones in the new slender container were looking even better.

Anyway, I chopped everything off to make a pesto and didn’t expect anything to happen in the pots after that. It’s been a few weeks, let’s see how they look:

Control and Commercial Compost basil

Tea Leaf and Tumbler Compost basil

Worm Castings and new container

It looks to me like it’s repeating my old experiment from the start! The tea leaf compost and my compost out of my tumbler are looking the best, worm castings and commercial compost are neck and neck, and the control pot has the least activity.

It’s funny how small they all look in comparison to the uncrowded pot of basil…wow! When I try a new growing experiment in the spring, you can bet I’m going to give every plant a lot more space. Lesson learned for sure.

The Clash of the Composts! (youtube)

The Clash of the Composts!

Here’s the results after three weeks of anxiously watching basil grow.  In order from awesome to least awesome: Tea leaf compost, tumbler compost, commercial compost, worm castings, no compost.

The obvious conclusion is that compost is better than no compost.  Not only is it a fertilizer and soil conditioner, but it allows soil to maintain its nutrients and while supporting essential bacteria.

Are you surprised by the results?  I thought that the worm castings would come out on top.  I think I could have waited longer on my worm castings, though…same with my tumbler material.

I’m going to try the experiment again in a few weeks with all fresh batches of material, and maybe I’ll add some other soil types while I’m at it (know anyone with grub compost?).

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the video as much as I did…this was my first time growing anything and I had a blast.  Any suggestions for round 2?

Clash of the Composts – week 2 results

As week 2 comes to a close, it’s safe to say that the tea leaf compost is still looking the best with all of its seeds sprouted and looking tall.  It also appears to me that using compost is a no-brainer for growing stuff!

Week 2 - Control

Week 2 - commercial compost
Week 2 - Tea Leaf Compost
Week 2 - Tumbler Compost
Week 2 - Vermicompost

Is that it?  I think I’m going to keep updating as it goes along…I didn’t think I was going to have this much fun with growing basil.  One creepy thing I noticed is that my basil is popping up in places that I SWEAR I didn’t put the seeds…namely the commercial compost pot.  I definitely put the seeds around the outsides, too…how are they all clumped in the center?  There was a torrential downpour in the initial stages of the experiment, could that have shuffled them around?