Tag Archives: worm composting

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?

Plastics in the Worm Composting System

After a few months of not adding substantial amounts of material to my Worm Inn (I slow down the feeding to my worms in the warmer months), I decided to take it outside and poke around in the castings.

There was a good six inches of beautiful, crumbly castings…great stuff!

However, there was also several pieces of plastic film…huh?

Then I remembered, a few months ago I placed some waxed paper, an ice cream carton, and a chinese food container (without the metal handle)…and that’s what’s left!  I don’t recommend adding this kind of stuff to a worm composting system, but my curiosity got the better of me.

What’s sad is that a large portion of single use paper products have plastic liners embedded in them to keep the contents from leaking out all over the place.  I can’t imagine that plastic liners are a favorite of worms…so I think going forward I’m going to keep all paper products other than cardboard and (dull) shredded paper out of the system.

Recognize the item in the lower left?  Yep, that’s a tea bag.

It looks like the worms ate the contents, but the bag must be synthetic.  There’s definitely some fully compostable tea bags out there…look for those.  I guess the string isn’t appealing, either!  Good thing I took the staple out.

Worm Wonderings #1: waxed paper

For fun, I decided to add some materials that would break down eventually in a compost pile to my Worm Inn:

I decided to add a disgusting Jimmy John’s wrapper and also some little blueberry muffin cake things left over from Thanksgiving I forgot about.  Seriously messed up on that one- my mom makes killer food.  Sorry mom!  I’ll let you know if the worms like it.

On a side note, did you know that the majority of “paper” cups you see contain a plastic liner in them?  If your end castings seem to have bits of shiny plastic in them, and you put a paper cup or two in the worm composter, chances are the remnants are what’s left from the cups.  Crazy, right?  More info to come shortly…

Without a Winter Worm Worry

I live in a super old and drafty house, and in the wintertime I always wonder if my worms will survive.  The worms reside in the colder half of my basement, but apparently it’s no problem for them: I was reading my Worm Briefs email subscription and there were testimonials of people that had worms surviving in both sub zero and above 100F temperatures!  Check this out:

“I’ve had redworms survive Winnipeg winters for 2 years in a
row.  Frost gets down past 6″ as I recall (could be wrong)
and we do get rather severe winter temperatures. This year we
have a thick blanket of snow but last year the sledders were
complaining quite a bit.  Not sure of temperatures under the
snow but this evening we’re at -32 C (- 25.6 F) heading for
-34 C (-29.2 F).  On top of that they’re giving us a wind chill
of -43 C (-45.4 F).  I was very surprised to find my worms in
the lasagna bed last spring.”
~ Paul

I complain about temperatures in the teens, I have nothing to complain about!  And on the other side of things:

“Just a quick comment re: temperatures that red worms can survive
in. I live in Adelaide, Australia and have my worm farm set
up in a large wooden crate with plenty of ventilation holes
and a moist towel over the top with a wooden lid over that.

We have recently had a couple of days where the temp has reached
45 C (113 F) and the worms appear to be ok and a couple of
years ago we had a heat wave when the daytime temp did not go
below 40 C (104 F) for 2 weeks and they still survived so as
you say they are pretty resilient.”
~ Mark

Wow!  Chances are pretty good my worms will make it through the winter just fine…

Checking In with the Worm Inn

I’m a proud Worm Inn owner that doesn’t have a stand kit.  If you saw my original video for this, I hung it underneath my steps pretty easily.

Then the wintertime came, and somehow the mice found their way into the house.  I’ve spent so much time shoring up the perimeter of my house, but there’s one section underneath the backyard decking that I can’t reach very easily and they must be getting in that way somehow.

I guess they found the Worm Inn quickly, since it’s in the basement and it has plenty of food scraps in it.  One day I came downstairs and noticed some tiny rough spots in the mesh lid.  It appears I’ve gotten lucky and they haven’t ripped a hole.  Now I have to hang the thing up much higher so they can’t get to it.

So why the bucket, you ask?  Well, I like to check on the worms and play with them somewhat often… I’m not able to do that when hanging them up extra high to keep any pests from getting to it.  So once my kitchen jar gets full, I unhook the Worm Inn from the ceiling (this thing is heavy!) and put it inside a 5 gallon bucket…it fits pretty nicely.  Then I can open it up, check the progress and add new material.

My basement is super cold, and I was surprised to see that they’re still in there doing their thing…resilient little guys, aren’t they?  They’ll be getting a lot of extra attention until springtime rolls around, that’s for sure…I wasn’t able to build a pile large enough to make it through the winter, but the worms will pick up the extra slack with no problems.

Winter Composting: Should I Just Scrap It? (article)

By Ginny Figlar Colon, originally found here.

Nice … half-frozen veggie scraps molded together in a solid mass. Not exactly what I want to see in my compost bin. With at least five more months of cold weather before warmth and sunshine reappear, why do I even bother keeping the pile going?

Well, I guess I do know why. Diverting even a handful of potato skins from the trash gives me an unexplainable sense of satisfaction. (If you aren’t yet a composter, you just can’t relate to this strange obsession with vegetable scraps.)

So after filling my compost bin with a big batch of freshly raked leaves this weekend, I did a little online research to see what I could do to make it a wee bit more productive this winter.

Here’s my plan of attack:

1. Get a bigger under-the-sink kitchen compost bucket. Fewer trips through the snow will help me stay motivated to feed the outdoor bin all winter long.

2. Empty the compost bin now. Since decomposition slows considerably in the winter, the contents won’t shrink very fast and the bin can get overfilled in the process.

3. Save some leaves. I’m going to stockpile some of the leaves I’m raking now to periodically mix in with winter scraps. Some sites suggest using old tomato cages or covered garbage cans to hold the leaves.

4. Don’t turn the pile. Yep, it pays to be lazy all winter because turning a pile lets valuable heat out.

5. Break down the bits a bit more. Maybe I can get away with chucking a whole apple in the bin in the middle of the summer, but not when the thermometer is hitting negative numbers.

We’ll see if these extra steps make a difference come springtime. And, even if it doesn’t result in more compost, at least it saved some space at the landfill.

Want to learn more about composting? Check out our Gaiam Life Guide to Composting or watch sustainable living videos on GaiamTV.com!
I definitely recommend following everything on this list…and if you’d like to take it a step further, bring your work indoors to a worm composting system.  Chances are you’ll save space in your freezer, and you’ll create compost through the winter…although I don’t know what you’d do with it. 🙂

How to Screen Worm Compost (video)

How to Screen Worm Compost

Here’s a neat video on how to screen worm compost.  Cassandra keeps it simple in this video and has some nice results.  I do pretty much the same thing, except my screen is a repurposed basket with a piece of wire mesh placed in the bottom.

She makes mention of running a fan over the top of the castings when you first harvest them…it’s true- when you first remove your castings and put the worms back, the stuff is so gooey that a screen doesn’t work so well.  Drying them out just a bit will help, although I wouldn’t want to dry them too much and risk losing some of their benefit.

How-To Compost with Worms and Solve Common Problems

How-To Compost with Worms and Solve Common Problems

While this video might miss on a few good points, I absolutely love the kid answering all her mom’s questions about what to do next with the worm bin… super cool… but what’s up with the lack of air holes in the bin?

Worm Composting Feeding Tips (video)

Worm Composting Feeding Tips

I just found this web channel called Big Tex Worms, and she has some great videos to check out on the topic of vermicomposting.  You’ll see that my website gets really worm-centric in the colder months as the outdoor methods slow down to a crawl here in the northeast.

This video shows some pretty standard methods for preparing worm feed, but when it gets to Step 4, I was definitely surprised.  I’ve never seen anyone make worm food into balls first, and I wonder what the point is.  I guess they’re handy and represent a fixed amount of material for your worms to digest.

If they don’t start eating it within a few days, that means they might not like it and it’s acidic…so I guess it’s a good way to evaluate if your food source is appropriate for them.

What do you think of the tips?  It’s pretty simple- if you grind your materials up first and don’t overfeed the worms, you’ll be in good shape.

Guide to Composting in the Winter (article)

Have you ever checked out the website earth911.com?  I’ve checked it out plenty when it comes to finding recycling avenues for anything imaginable…but I never thought to see if they had any material on composting.  It turns out that they do, and I’ve been asked a lot about starting a compost pile in the winter.  While composting isn’t easy in the wintertime, it is doable.  Let’s see what earth911 has to say about it in the article below…

Just as you started to get into a solid groove with your compost pile this past summer and fall, churning over plentiful amounts of that beautiful garden gold, BAM! Winter hits.

But don’t throw in the shovel just because a white blanket of snow or a hardened sheet of ice now sits atop your compost pile. To help you get through the winter and ready to go once spring returns, learn some of the ins-and-outs of winter composting.

Listen to the experts

According to the University of Illinois Extension, “Composting [is] a biological process that decomposes organic material under aerobic ([meaning] oxygen [is] required) conditions. […] Composting speeds up the natural process of decomposition, providing optimum conditions so that organic matter can break down more quickly.”

In other words, a compost pile is an intentional strategy to speed up the decomposition process that nature, left alone, would take years to accomplish. To decompose at the rapid pace described above, the U of I Extension asserts that a main goal when composting is to promote the existence and propagation of aerobic bacteria.

Luckily for you, these compost dwellers are not picky eaters. And when they eat, they can turn up the heat – literally. According to the U of I Extension, aerobic bacteria heat up a compost pile when they eat, through the chemical process called oxidation. They especially love the carbon-rich (often called brown) materials, which give them energy. Another essential ingredient for your pile, nitrogen-rich (often called green) materials, help the bacteria grow big and strong and reproduce.

But why all the talk about the nutrient needs and chemical processes of bacteria? These factors can help us better understand why in the winter, at least if you live in a cold spot, composting is a different beast than it was in those warmer months.

The winter slow down

It happens to humans, so why can’t it happen to bacteria? The gray dreariness that often makes us want to go into hibernation mode (if only work, life, etc. would let us) also affects aerobic bacteria, in a manner of speaking.

The University of Illinois Extension says “warmer outside temperatures in late spring, summer and early fall stimulate bacteria and speed up decomposition. Low winter temperatures will slow or temporarily stop the composting process.” But fear not: “As air temperatures warm up in the spring, microbial activity will resume.”

Because ambient air temperature affects the speed of decomposition, when the temps cool down, so too does the aforementioned oxidation process. Instead of the voracious eaters they were in the summer and early fall, aerobic bacteria revert to a calmer state.

Yet even when the temperature drops, microbes responsible for the breakdown of organic matter can remain active in the compost pile, according the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. The center of the pile can be warm and actively composting because of heat generated by bacteria, but the outer layers of your pile are at the mercy of the daily highs and lows.

Furthermore, a compost pile needs the right amount of air and water (in addition to carbon and nitrogen) to be successful. So, when that winter snow and spring rain keeps on coming, your pile can get drenched. While water in the summer may be a necessary amendment, too much winter water will force air out of pore spaces in your compost pile, suffocating our dear aerobic bacteria friends.

Strategies for success, despite the cold

Here, a cinder block structure surrounds a compost heap. A block structure is one way to maintain internal pile heat longer into the winter. Photo: University of Illinois Extension

There are measures you can take to protect your pile from the elements and keep it viable further into the winter months. Here are some suggestions:

1. Build a roof. You have one over your head, why can’t your pile? Control external environmental factors by protecting your compost pile from unwanted precipitation.

2. Block it in. You may have noticed that the car in the garage or in the carport tends to be less frost-ridden in the morning than the car parked in the street. Without the protection of the house or other built structure, the car in the street is exposed to a bigger swing in nighttime temperatures.

Same principle applies to your compost pile. If you compost with heaps, build a protective barrier around your pile. If you already compost in some type of holding unit, you (and your compost pile) are covered.

3. Lay down a tarp. Putting a tarp over your compost pile not only whisks away unwanted precipitation, but it also helps contain the internal heat from the pile where you want it – in the pile.

4. Make a bigger heap. Extend the longevity of your pile by prepping early. According to the University of Illinois Extension, “During [the] fall months, making a good sized heap will help the composting process work longer into the winter season.”

Holding units are an alternative to heap piles, and can help protect the compost from winter elements that tend to slow the decomposition process. Photo: University of Illinois Extension.

Because volume is a factor in retaining compost pile heat, the U of I Extension suggests that for those in the Midwest, piles should be at least one cubic yard. The Midwest gets pretty cold, so it’s likely safe to say that this measurement suggestion can apply elsewhere in the U.S.

5. Shred it. According to the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, “Shredding the material in the pile to particles less than two inches in size will allow [the pile] to heat more uniformly and will insulate it from outside temperature extremes.”

6. Dig a hole and bury it. Another tip from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service suggests digging a trench in the garden or flowerbed and adding organic wastes like kitchen scraps (hold the meat, grease or animal fat, please!) little by little, making sure to bury the waste after each addition.

Similarly, “compost-holing,” or digging a one-foot deep hole anywhere in the yard and covering with a board or bricks until full of organic wastes, is another strategy to beat the winter cold and keep on composting.

Right method for the right place

In the end, it is always important to consider what type of system works best for you. The area available for composting, seasonal climate, along with the time commitment you are willing to give to your pile, all impact the type of composting system that would work best. Always do your research when looking to start, continue, or try a new type of composting system.