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Winter vermicompost

 
gardener
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I started my worm bin in May, so I'm not sure what to do for my worms in the winter.  The family doesn't want them in the house, I don't know why, they don't smell.  Any way I put some cardboard between the two plastic bins.  I was thinking about attaching styrofoam to the outside of the bin.  It doesn't get super cold here, but it does freeze.  I wonder what others do for the worms in the cold weather.
 
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I'm wanting  derelict fridge or freezer to vermicompost in.
Even without any added heat, I would expect biological activity keep the worms warm in such a container.
A thermostatically controlled seedling mat heater or gutter heater could also be used.
 
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Size - of your worm bin - matters, alongside the outdoor temps. We have compost worms overwintering happily in a compost 'dalek' that's about 2 foot in diameter, with freezing temps in winter (down to - 12C on occasion). The worms hang out nearer the middle of the heap when it's cold. Here's hoping your critters thrive!
 
gardener & author
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My regions gets a seriously cold winter (eg ice skating on ponds from mid-Dec to early-Feb) so I put my worm bins embedded in raised garden beds in the seasonal greenhouse attached to my house. Temperatures in the greenhouse are below freezing (like 23F / -5C) at night for most of the winter, but leafy greens keep growing all winter. My bins are discarded crates from the vegetable market. I'm currently filling the yellow crate on the left and pulling out compost from the black crate on the right. I cover them with the scrap cardboard and rubber mats seen in the photo, and in summer when the greenhouse is opened up, I keep a couple of stones on top to protect from wind. The worms survived last winter. I think being surrounded on two sides by garden soil helps moderate the temperature and humidity.
20191031-worm-bins-in-raised-beds-in-greenhouse-garden.jpg
Worm bins in raised bed to protect against freezing
Worm bins in raised bed to protect against freezing
 
pollinator
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I, too, use a compost-dalek for my highly fungal vermicomposting.

We got ourselves a Flemish Giant rabbit two Valentine's ago, and started using raw wadded paper for her litter, which I obviously compost.

After a bit, I noticed that I had enoki mushrooms fruiting in my compost regularly, and I chalked it up to all the new paper. Then I remembered about using shredded paper as worm bedding in vermiculture, and popped down to my local farmers' market for some red wigglers.

Long story short, I accidentally started using these techniques together in a ground-connected setup that allowed the worms to escape up and down the soil column, as well as ranging any distance for whatever they lacked, which obviously didn't happen, because after their first winter, when I came out to check the compost, it was steaming and soft to the shovel while the rest of the ground was still solid and covered in two feet of snow, and it was positively writhing.

So I figure what happened was that the outer layer of paper-heavy compost insulated the above-ground portion of the compost, allowing a core of microbiology to continue, including thermophilic bacteria which actually added heat to the system. The heavy snows insulated the surrounding ground, and everything kept on ticking.

I know you want to keep them alive, but should they die, the eggs they leave in their bedding and castings should survive even a hard freeze. They did in my raised bed, which had frozen solid before the snows.

But let us know how it goes, and good luck.

-CK
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Thank you everyone for your help.  Lots good advise.  I didn't know the eggs would survive, I hope that won't be all I have left come spring, but it's good to  have plan B.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Rebecca, your green house is beautiful.
 
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Location: NE ARIZONA, Zone 5B, 7K feet, 24" rain
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I've been growing worms winter and summer under a tarp.  I hill up the compost, water it in, add some greens when I have them.  The worms love it and survive the cold temps.
 
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Jen, i read two posts of yours. One saying you don't like to do hot composting being too lazy to turn. This one doing vermicomposting but you are wondering what to do with the worms in winter.
I do vermicomposting on the ground, just a box of 1 feet high 6 feet long and 2 feet wide cemented blocks. I throw all the kitchen scraps on there, and the garden cutoffs, no weeds with seeds, them i put in a shady spot. Because it's on the ground, no bottom, the worms can move in and out of the ground in hot summer/cold winter, they hide out in there under the heap or move into the garden, it's the heap insulating. They do most of the turning themselves. They just eat there way through it, they're amazing. I do turn it a bit at times, but it's light stuff ,wet, no dust clouds of molds. I add water when i rinse the bucket coming from the kitchen. The pond is closeby. It's not even needed to add water really, normally, because it's dense enough fluffy compost. If it's too much it just flows into the ground underneath.
I had trouble getting it like that at first, because i really wanted/needed the finished compost, but now i just let a huge pile of it sit and take a bucket at times when i plant something. So there is a giant spungelike mass of compost in which worms live and lay eggs. Into which i make a hole with a fork and dump the kitchen scraps and cover it with compost.  
I add comfrey leaves on top of the heap in summer to insulate it from the sun, which later they just eat.

So all in all, i think this kind of composting might be better for you.
The downside of this kind is it keeps the seeds viable, so there is some weeding. Personally i don't mind that too much.If i would mind i would just keep all stuff in the garden from flowering or dump it at the weed seed place. And you lose nutrients into the soil, but i don't mind, most goes to the alder, which i like and also cut down and recompost and use the flowers of, and it attracts birds, which have their own kind of droppings, but i go off topic now.
BAK2.jpg
[Thumbnail for BAK2.jpg]
 
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Location: Portsmouth Virginia
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Hilary Lonsdale wrote:Size - of your worm bin - matters, alongside the outdoor temps. We have compost worms overwintering happily in a compost 'dalek' that's about 2 foot in diameter, with freezing temps in winter (down to - 12C on occasion). The worms hang out nearer the middle of the heap when it's cold. Here's hoping your critters thrive!



"Verminate....verminate....VERMINATE!"

...sorry, too tempting. Anyhow, could it be semi- buried next to a compost pile for a little extra heat?
 
pollinator
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I’m in zone 3, so it gets a bit chilly from October until April. I have two different worm habitats. The first being a pile of horse manure that gets used and replenished but is always at least a couple cubic yards of material. In winter I throw a tarp over it and add a foot or two of loose hay over that. It never has frozen and is always a great breeding pile for worms. I also have a poly tote that is about 3’ long, 2’ wide and 2’ tall. I put it on the porch outside, tight against the glass of a door that never gets opened in winter. Heat loss through the glass warms that side of the tote. The bottom, top and remaining 3 sides get a piece of 3” thick rigid board insulation. The corners get duct taped, but I can remove the top to add food scraps and shredded dry leaves (saved in a trash bag on the same porch). I start the winter with it half full of manure, for some mass, and just add the food/leaves to it. The tote stays above freezing even at -30. I doubt the worms multiply but they don’t die, either. Hope this helps!
 
pollinator
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I've got one of these

which has an open top that would let rain in if I didn't put the top half of a large plastic dog crate on it in winter. I leave more vermicompost in there overwinter because i'm lazy, it's useless in winter, and because it creates more thermal mass to insulate the lil ones. I'm sure the dog cratehalf also helps trap heat; if it got below 25 here I would put cardboard under the dogcrate.

OP, regarding styrofoam, the easiest way to conform it to your bin shape would be to stack it up and then hotglue it. Hotglue guns are $10-25 (or cheaper secondhand) and usually melt glue at about 380 deg F., whereas styrofoam melts (but does not burn!) around 340-350. The glue quickly eats into the styro about 1/4" and then sets, making a solid permanent bond. So much styro could be repurposed with a hot glue gun, and it's a hoot to boot.

Fun suggestion from the local farm & feed: since worms are hermaphroditic, give them a unisex name. A woman at the F&F calls hers "the Terries."
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Hugo thank you for the picture, it's always nice to see what people are talking about.  I do both kinds of compost.  The vermicompost is for quality, I only have a small bin, I wanted to do the hot compost for quantity.  Although I try not to put "bad" stuff in the hot compost.  The worms are way easier than the traditional compost. I just have so many weeds I wanted to get some use from them.  I think I might just try to not put the seeds in the pile next time, and then I won't need to worry about it. (I know I won't eliminate all the weed seeds, but hopefully there'll be less).  Anyway thanks for your help.

Thanks to all of your advice, maybe the worms will survive the winter.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I reread and it didn't seem like I was thanking everyone who has posted, and I appreciate all of you.
 
pollinator
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Jen, another thing you can do with weeds is drown them. Just chuck them into a barrel full of water and let them slowly rot. Some of the more persistent ones, like dock and bindweed, need 6-12 months but in the end very few terrestrial plants can survive being underwater for long. Bonus: the weed water can be used as fertiliser, expecially if you aerate it.
 
Julie Reed
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I find 3-4” of woodchip mulch kills 99% of the weeds. And holds moisture. And builds soil over time. The worms seem to like it too!
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