February 2009

Winter Worm Composting – 02-09-09

Winter Worm Bed
My dad surveys temperatures in the winter worm bed

Good news on the winter worm composting front!

I was able to get over to my dad’s place on Friday afternoon to see how things were coming along. It was my first visit since adding a large amount of manure (and more straw) to the system, and I was very eager to see if the bed had warmed up at all. As you may recall, the bed wasn’t doing too badly by the time I got around to adding the manure – temperatures in the middle of the pile were in the 15 C (59 F) range.

Compost Thermometer

Temperatures have certainly climbed since then! I am very happy to report that throughout much of the bed temperatures are 20 C (68 F) or higher (see picture to right).

What impressed me even more than the maximum temperatures, was the fact that the warmth was so widespread. On one side, just in from the wall, there still seems to be a really cold zone (just over the freezing mark), but the rest of the bed is averaging 15 C (59 F) or higher. Surprisingly, I found some really warm zones only a couple inches in from the back wall!

Given the optimal vermicomposting temps in much of the bed, I was naturally curious to see what the worms were up to down below. I was pleasantly surprised to find lots of them up in the manure layer, just under the straw.

Red Wiggler Worm
Healthy looking Red Worm (Eisenia fetida) from the winter worm bed

There seems to be a lot of young/small worms in the upper zone, but I did find some spots with a fair number of decent sized worms as well. This small worm dominance didn’t surprise me too much – in my experience, the larger worms often tend to concentrate themselves further down in a worm bed.

In other (good) news…

It looks like we (or more accurately, my technically-gifted brother) managed to get the weather station system – mentioned in my second winter worm compost post – working as a remote temperature probe!

Burying Temperature Probe
Remote Weather Station Sensor Gets Buried in the Pile

We buried the receiver in a zone that should provide us with a rough estimate of the average bed temp – that is to say, it’s not quite in the middle of the heap, and it isn’t buried very deep either. It started in the 14-15 C (57-59 F) range just after being buried, and according to my dad’s latest report it is now up in the 20 C (68 F) range.

We’ve clearly reached an interesting stage in our winter worm bed experiment. Believe it or not, the challenge will now involve trying to maintain ideal temps throughout much of the bed, without having any zones overheating too seriously. What’s really nice about this particular system, as compared to my previous (much smaller) winter composting bin, is that the worms should be able to move away from overheating zones quite easily.

Weather will likely play an important role on both sides of the coin (cooling/heating) from here on out. It was mild on the weekend, and this week we’re are supposed to have a couple days WELL above freezing – but I have little doubt that we still have plenty of winter weather ahead of us. It will definitely be interesting to see how significantly the temperature in the system changes over the next few weeks.

As it stands, I’d say this project has been a resounding success! Previously, this would have been right around the time that I was forced to give up on my winter worm bins, since temps were continuing to drop.
In this case, we really got off to a slow start (which in hindsight might have actually helped us), but things have been improving ever since. As it stands, it looks like there’s a very good chance I’ll be able to start harvesting worms from this bed before the end of the month!

I’ll certainly keep you posted!

Previous Winter Worm Composting Posts

Winter Composting Extravaganza 2.0
Winter Worm Composting – 12-08-08
Winter Worm Composting – 12-15-08
Winter Worm Composting – 12-30-08
Winter Worm Composting – 01-23-09

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Setting up a nightcrawler bin

This question comes from Mike:

When setting up a bin for Night Crawlers, do you do the same
as if you were setting it up for Red Worms?

Hi Mike,
The term ‘nightcrawlers’ covers a number of different species of worms, so it is important that we cover the bases here. Probably the most common use of this term is in reference to ‘Canadian Nightcrawlers’ (Lumbricus terrestris) – aka ‘Dew Worms’. These are the big soil worms typically used for fishing – the ones you may find in high numbers on your lawn during and after a warm rain shower (depending on where you live though). Unfortunately, as much as people would love to be able to cultivate these worms in captivity, it just isn’t a realistic option. They are deep soil burrowers, and prefer to lead a fairly solitary existence, so they simply won’t thrive in the crowded, warm conditions of a typical worm composting bin/bed

European Nightcrawlers‘ (Eisenia hortensis) and ‘African Nightcrawlers’ (Eudrilus eugeniae) on the other hand are indeed composting worms, and can be raised in a typical worm bed/bin. Of these two, ‘Euros’ are certainly ones more commonly used by the average vermicomposter (or worm farmer for that matter). They are closely related to Red Worms (Eisenia fetida) and can be raised in a similar manner.

You may want to give then a bin/bed with a bit more depth however – they seem to prefer spending their time down the the high moisture zones in the bottom of a vermicomposting system.

Hope this helps!

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Mushy newspaper clumps in worm bin

Here is a question from Maria:

I love your blog, but haven’t seen this topic covered. I’m
new to worm composting and I’m working on balancing my bedding/food
ratio. After about 8 weeks with my first batch of worms, I had lots
of mushy/soggy newspaper clumps, some compost and some undigested
food, even after I stopped adding food for the last 2 weeks. Any
suggestions for getting rid of these newspaper clumps? Should just
use less bedding? Or would only adding bedding that’s dry do the

Hi Maria,
To be totally honest, eight weeks is still a relatively short period of time in the life of a worm bin – especially the first eight weeks. Carbon-rich materials like newsprint also take quite a bit longer to break down than most food wastes. There is no doubt that the worms would eventually convert pretty well everything into castings if you left the bin long enough, but this could take quite some time.

Unfortunately, as useful as an enclosed ‘bin’ type of system is for indoor vermicomposting, they are not really the ideal systems for quickly producing good quality vermicompost/castings. You need a lot of air flow, which plastic bins generally don’t provide (in comparison to open systems and various ‘flow-through’ designs). As such, there tend to be lots of zones bordering on (or even completely) anaerobic – i.e. where oxygen is absent. Unless you have good drainage out the bottom, it is almost inevitable that you will have a fair amount of undigested material down in the bottom of the bin, regardless of how long you wait (unless you periodically mix the contents of the bin).

Something else to remember is Carbon-to-Nitrogen ratio. Generally it is the food waste that provides the nitrogen necessary to speed up decomposition of the C-rich materials like bedding. In other words, by completely stopping your feeding for a couple weeks (which is in fact not a bad thing to do every now and again) you may have actually slowed down the process somewhat.

I always recommend adding dry bedding to a worm bin, since one of the key advantages of adding bedding is that it helps to absorb excess moisture (thereby helping to avoid anaerobic conditions). Adding it dry also helps to avoid the clumping you are talking about. Aside from that, I would also recomend breaking up the clumps and mixing them around (just do it carefully, so you don’t disturb the worms too much). The more surface area that is available for microbial colonization and worm grazing, the more readily any material is going to break down.

One final thing to mention – the density of worms in the system will obviously play a major role as well. I have had really high densities of worms in a relatively small system and it was amazing to see how quickly they seemed to plow through everything.

Anyway – hope this helps!

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Vermicomposting – An Overview

[UPDATE: Unfortunately (or fortunately lol) this video is no longer available]

Ok – as promised, here is a video I recently made (I know it’s been awhile). It’s actually intended as a bit of shameless self-promotion for the site (haha), but I think it provides a reasonable ‘big picture’ overview of vermicomposting – especially useful for someone completely new to the field.

I uploaded this video to YouTube, but was disappointed with the distortion, so I tried Viddler – definitely with better results, but still not nearly as sharp as the original. As our regular readers will know by now, I am definitely no video-making ninja – but hey, it’s the content that counts right?

I apologize for making YET another video with super-cheesy music! It’s a long story! I’ll leave it at that for now! (will actually be writing about how I made the video in my next newsletter, for those who might be interested).

Just so you know, I also have some more normal videos planned, featuring some of the topics I’ve written about – in more detail and with me narrating (ok, keep your ‘boos’ under control please! haha). Hoping to get some of those completed in the next couple of weeks!

Stay tuned!

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“Extreme” Worm Farming!

Ok – it’s video day here at Red Worm Composting! (one of my own coming up next).
The title of this one (along with the dramatic music) made me giggle.

Great advice though – freezing is definitely a solid strategy for speeding up the vermicomposting process. It is similar to blending / aging / cooking in terms of rendering the material far more accessible to microbes and worms.

You might want to be a wee bit cautious with this approach however – especially if you have a lid and don’t have drainage! It will be important to add lots of absorbent material if you have any hope of avoiding a lake forming in the bottom of the bin!

As you can see in this case, they have a nice drainage system in place. You’ll also notice that they are promoting the use of leachate as a worm tea. You know me and my cautions and warnings (haha) – I am at least glad they mentioned diluting it – this is definitely something I’d recommend. I also suspect that if enough liquid is flowing through the bin on a regular basis there will be less chance of nasty anaerobic metabolites ending up in the end product.

Don’t mean to be a supremely “negative Nelly” here, but I should also mention that leaving large amounts of soft food waste just sitting on the surface of you system is like an open invitation for fruit fly invasion! No, they won’t come from the food itself (one of the great things about freezing), but if you end up with even a few fruit flies in your house from some other source (fruit just sitting out before consumption for example) you’ll be battling an insane infestation in no time!

All that said, let me once again point out that I really liked this video, and commend the creator for a job well done! (honest!)

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Worm Tower

Hi everyone!
Sorry for the lull in posts as of late – I’ve been pretty busy with a variety of things, and just haven’t been hit with the inspiration to write about my own worming activities (nothing too exciting to report on).

Anyway, I happened upon an interesting YouTube video today and thought it was definitely worthy of posting here – especially given the need for something new! It is really interesting how people focused on the same field of endeavour, but working completely independent of one another, can come up with similar ideas! The ‘Worm Tower’ is actually very similar to a concept I’ve had in my head for a backyard vermicomposting system (in particular, I thought it would be great as a pet waste vermicomposter). The main difference is the fact that I envisioned the use of a plastic garbage can buried in the ground, rather than the plastic tube (which is actually a really nice way to simplify (and make less expensive) the concept.

As the person in the video alludes to, this type of system is a great in situ composting system. That is to say that you don’t even need to harvest castings from it. Simply locate it in the vicinity of some plants (you could have several of these in your vegetable garden, for example) so they can directly benefit from it. I’m not sure I agree 100% about the composting worms going out into the soil to deposit castings though – I suspect that most of them would remain within the tube. That being said, just via the activity of all manner of different creatures (including actual soil worms) and plant roots etc, the benefits of the castings would certainly spread out into your soil in general.

Pretty cool! Now I really can’t wait to construct my garbage can system.
Too bad we are still in the dead of winter here (oh and the groundhog also ended up scared by his shadow – haha)!

Oh well – I guess I’ll have to settle for playing with my big winter worm bed (should have an update on that this week for sure) for the time being.

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