January 2008

Winter Worm Composting Update

Winter Worm Composting Bin
Believe it or not, the temperature inside the bin was a balmy 20 C (68 F)!


Back at the end of September (wow, time sure does fly by!) I talked about getting my outdoor worm composting bin ready for winter (see Preparation for Winter Worm Composting). As mentioned, this year I am once again attempting to keep an outdoor bin active all winter long. Last year I had to call it quits in February once I realized I was fighting a losing battle against ‘Old Man Winter’. To ensure that my entire bin did not freeze solid, I simply heaped a huge amount of snow over top, effectively burying it until early spring.

By now, some of you have likely watched the winter composting video, accessible from our vermicomposting video page. It provides a pretty good overview of my winter composting efforts, and shows how I constructed my (greatly) improved insulation system this year.

Last year I wrote about the ‘Winter Composting Extravaganza’ (my silly name for the project) on the EcoSherpa blog, but as mentioned not too long ago, the series has been moved to CompostGuy.com in an effort to get the ball rolling over there.

So far this season the results have been nothing short of amazing. The winter weather in November and December this year was far more severe than last year (we didn’t really get a winter until January), but the new insulation system seems to have risen to the challenge! The picture above was taken on New Years morning (yes, I am indeed a composting lunatic). As it says in the caption, temperature readings inside the bin were in the 20 C range, despite the fact that we were in the middle of a serious winter storm. The next couple of days saw outdoor air temperatures plummet to -20 C (-4 F) or so, yet conditions in the bin remained unaffected for the most part (slight drop in temperature, but certainly nothing significant).

The Red Wiggler (Eisenia fetida) population seems to be thriving inside the bin. I found lots of juvenile worms along with numerous cocoons when I dug around inside recently.

We are now into an unusual warm spell (temperatures above freezing) so the snow is melting away, but I have little doubt that there will be plenty more cold weather before too long.

For links to all the winter composting blog posts and information about the topic in general, be sure to check out the Winter Composting page (at CompostGuy.com).

I’ll likely provide at least one more update here to keep everyone up to speed, but you are more than welcome to follow-along over at Compost Guy as well.

[tags]winter composting, worm composting, vermicomposting, compost, composting, worm bin, composter, red worms, red wigglers[/tags]

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European Nightcrawlers’ New Home

Out with the Old, in with the New!

One of my European Nightcrawler (Eisenia hortensis) bins got an upgrade this mornning (the one with the most worms in it). I’ve read that these worms prefer a little more space than their red wiggly cousins (ie. Eisenia fetida) and have been feeling a little guilty that I forced them to live in pretty well the smallest Rubbermaid tub on the earth! (although, they’ve done very well considering). As you can see in the picture above, the worms got a decent upgrade.
8)


Worm Bin Preparation - False Bottom

All of this actually started when I was out doing some shopping on the weekend prior to New Years. I came across a sale on Rubbermaid tubs at a department store and couldn’t resist picking one up. The bin is pretty well the ultimate tub for worm composting (better than any Rubbermaid I’ve encountered before). It has a nice large surface area, yet is not very deep.

Once I got the bin home I started prepping it for its future tenants. I first lined the bottom with shredded corrugated cardboard – this provides a ‘false bottom’ and helps to soak up excess moisture.


Fruit Salad, Anyone?

I then added lots of the mulched leaves/grass mix I made in the fall (by attaching a bag to my mulching lawn mower then running over some leaves) and a huge quantity of holiday food scraps (fruit/veg/coffee). I covered it up with one final layer of the mulch, added some water then closed it up and let it sit for about a week. Last night I opened it up and sprayed it down thoroughly, making sure there weren’t any dry spots left (it can be a little challenging to evenly moisten dried leaves/grass).


European Nightcrawler

When I dumped out the contents of the smaller bin I was very happy to see many fat (seemingly healthy) Euros living throughout the mass of material inside – always a good sign.

Some of them were as big as small dew worms (Canadian Nightcrawlers – Lumbricus terrestris), so I can certainly see how they would make a great fishing worm.

I was greeted with only a slight whiff of anaerobic digestion as I dumped out the small bin, and was pretty impressed that there seemed to be no water pooling in the bottom. My other small Euro bin (the double-decker ‘deluxe’ model) hasn’t leaked a single drop of liquid down into the reservoir either, so it certainly isn’t too wet in that bin either. In fact, it’s probably not a bad idea to start adding more water to that one since E. hortensis is thought to appreciate high moisture conditions a little more than Red Worms (who love it wet!) – I can’t really go wrong with the drainage holes in the bottom, so I might as well crank up the moisture levels.


European Nightcrawler Cocoons

I was also very happy to spot a lot more Euro cocoons as I broke up the material from the old bin. They are all very light in colour so it may be a little while before we see young worms (worm cocoons become quite dark just before the babies hatch out), but I’ll certainly be keeping close tabs on that development.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the new digs will inspire the worms to go a little ‘hog-wild’ in the reproduction department, since there is now plenty of room to spread out, and plenty of food available.


Monty Inspects the Euros' New Home

With one final inspection from Monty (our cat), the bin was ready to be closed up and left alone. One thing I forgot to mention (not indicated in any of the pictures above) is that I also drilled a bunch of holes in the lid and along the sides (near the top) to encourage air flow inside the bin. I haven’t bothered to do so with some of my previous small indoor worm bins, but since drilling them in my demo bins (used in the videos) I’ve become a convert. You are far less likely to stress out your worms if there is a decent air flow in and out of the bin – just make sure it’s not so well aerated that everything dries out!

Ok, that’s all for now. I’ll certainly provide more European Nightcrawler updates before too long.

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Friendly Worm Guy – Jeff Sonnenburg

Jeff Sonnenburg | The Friendly Worm Guy

A little while back I mentioned that I had been helping a worm farming friend put together a website for his worm biz. As a show of his gratitude he sent me the batch of European Nightcrawlers I have been writing about.

Well, I was finally able to free up some time to work on the site today and it is looking a little more presentable. I figured now was as good a time as any to ‘let the cat out of the bag’. It is still a work in progress, but I definitely want Jeff to be able to get the ball rolling with his online venture. Letting my loyal RWC readers know about it is probably a good place to start.

[UPDATE 2018 – Jeff’s website is no longer online]

Jeff ‘The Friendly Worm Guy’ Sonnenburg is a worm farmer located up in Massey, northern Ontario (Canada), who specializes in raising European Nightcrawlers (Eisenia hortensis). For anyone familiar with the province, Massey is located between Sudbury and Sault Ste Marie. It can be a wee bit chilly up in those parts during the winter, but it is one of my favorite areas of Ontario (absolutely gorgeous).

Eisenia hortensis

Jeff has been worm farming for a few years now, and (based on my interactions with him) really seems to have a passion for it! He also works as a cleaner at one of the local schools and raises Gelbvieh cattle (which undoubtedly provide him with some of his ‘worm food’).
🙂

Thus far, Jeff’s main market has been the local fishing community (where he got his ‘Friendly Worm Guy’ nickname), but he has been expanding into the home/school vermicomposting market (has made some presentations at local schools) and aside from worms, also sells high quality castings.

If you are in the market for European Nightcrawlers or castings, and are looking for a helpful, honest supplier, I highly recommend you get in touch with Jeff. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him and learning more about his business.


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4 Worm Update – First Cocoon!

Happy New Year everyone! It looks as though I’m making some progress with my 4-worm experiment. I was digging around in the bin and happened upon a small worm cocoon!

I didn’t spend much time looking for others (I don’t want to disturb the system TOO much), but there may be some.

Obviously this is pretty exciting given the fact that the whole point of the experiment is to observe the reproductive abililities of Red Worms!

Anyway, just wanted to let everyone know. Will be sure to provide more updates soon!

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