Mark’s Kansas Winter Worm Report

It’s cold in Kansas. How is your outdoor bin doing?

Well some of you maybe wondering “How in the global warming world did that trash weight go up so much”?
It’s like this… you see, I have a warming cable in my bin. Now when this cable heats up, it forms this hard cement like stuff that insulates the rest of the moist bin contents from the heat. The only way to get the cable to warm up again is to free the cable from the crust and that involves digging around the bin for about 2 hours. Now (as the picture illustrates) it is COLD out there! The temps of the bin dropped to mid 50s F. I didn’t want to freeze my jingle bells off and Letty yelled something in Spanish about putting on the hat she got me for Christmas so, I went back to basics. Add fuel and insulation. I should caution that over feeding is very very risky.
Here is an example of ten days in December:
12/17/2009 – 13 lb – pumpkin/manure
12/18/2009 – 1 lb – leaves
12/19/2009 – 18 lb – pumpkin/manure/banana peels
12/21/2009 – 16 lb – manure/ coffee grounds
12/26/2009 – 13 lb – manure/banana
12/27/2009 – 13 lb – melon/leaves

The temps did go up and there is a 2 inch layer that is warmer than the rest. The indication is the abundance of worms and their reaction to light. I can’t get an accurate reading in this layer.


‘Mark from Kansas’ is an avid vermicomposter from…well…Kansas, and contributing author here at Red Worm Composting. When he is not tending to his OSCR worm bin, Mark also enjoys spending time with his wife Letty (who also doubles as his trusty vermicomposting assistant) and picking petunias (ok, Bentley just made that last bit up).

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  1. Hi Mark
    Can’t remember if I commented along these lines before- but have you tried with the heating cable at the top of the bin? If you stitched it to a blanket or something, you could lay it on top of the bin with foil/ plastic between it and the material to avoid crusting. It would stop the bin overheating because heat won’t tend to travel too fast down through bin (whereas bottom heat will rise fast). It would encourage the worms to live and breed in the top where you want them.
    I dont’ have anything electrical but I do use microwaveable heat pads to add a little warmth to my bins. I’ve tried top and bottom, and top wins out every time.

    I have a reptile heat pad on order which I intend to use on top of a worm bin with seed trays over the top so I get double value- worm heater and propagator!!

  2. Hi Catherine,
    I would try to move that cable but, it is very secured to the sides.
    I like that idea of harvesting heat.

  3. Hey Mark, Happy New Year (you too Bentley!)…

    Apparently the bitter Arctic cold front didn’t get my note that I moved away from the KS/OK border for a reason and will arrive in Dallas sometime in the next 12 hours…and stick around till Monday. Drats!

    So, today I went into emergency mode for my outdoor trenches. I went first to the horse stables and picked up as much horse stall waste as I could haul. Bingo–there were some red wigglers there, around the edges of the oldest stuff, so I am scoring warmth and worms.

    I took this to my trenches and mixed with warm water I had brought and liquid molasses, and I added a little rotting vegetables that were in my regular compost. I put these in a section of the trenches, but not throughout…in case worms need to get away from it. I layed a couple of layers of black plastic over this to help retain heat.

    At my winter vegetable garden worm trench, I added the manure/molasses/warm water/rotten veggie mix into one end of the trench. I rigged a quick faux greenhouse of clear plastic over 2/3 of the trench and as much broccoli, salad greens and cilantro as I could cover with the plastic I had. My hope is that some composting heat from my manure mix will generate some heat and keep everything OK. Who knows how that will work?

    I also covered all trenches with a ton of leaves. I still had about 5 gallons of horse stall waste left, so brought that home and added some to my bins in my garage. Surrounded the bins with styrofoam and cardboard. Hopefully, all will be well.

    So far, the outdoor temps keep getting down at night to the hi to mid 20s-F. Colder than I have ever seen it consistently around here. Looking through my outdoor trenches, I cannot believe how awesome they are doing. Haven’t taken a temp reading, but from the fatso worms, masses of juvies, and cocoons–I am pleased. Crossing toes and fingers that all worms and at least some of my garden veggies will survive this front.

    Stay Warm–or is that Stay Wormy?

  4. Hi Heather,
    I been hearing about the weather for 3 days now. I loaded up my bin and top insulated it. The only thing I have covering the OSCR is a plastic tarp. Right now my bin is about 80 degrees F and the bed is about 14 inches deep. I called my manure supplier yesterday and he told me his heap is frozen solid and I am out of manure.
    Plan B: Reduce the heat to slow down the feeding rate till I get some more manure.

    • Kuan
    • January 7, 2010

    Happy New Year, Mark!!

    The dreaded arctic cold front is here!! It is -18F wind chill outside right now as I type. My FT bin is staying warm in the unheated garage with the help of my reptile heat emitter in the harvest chamber. Due to the heat, there is a layer of “cement” on the bottom of the bin but it seems to keep the bin at a nice range of temp from 55F to 72F. Some worms are crawling up the side due to condensation but other than that, they look healthy and chomping away. 🙂

    Nice to see an update from you.

    Stay warm. It will be much colder tomorrow.


  5. KUAN,
    Happy New Year to you and your family!
    I have the same thing happening to my bin. I don’t know if you want to try this. Remember the fan on my bin? I was going to use it to cool off the bin in the summer and then I left it on while it was cold out.
    Well, I found out that the air in the harvest chamber was a little warmer than the air over the bin. What I decided to do was dig a hole in the middle of the bed. I used some 2×4 and built a “chimney”. Now the warm air settles on the top of the bed.
    That cement stuff (which is dry) forces the worms up and the warm air keeps them there.
    This has been working for me so far. Stay in touch we are in this cold blast together.
    Best always

    • Jean Kruse
    • January 8, 2010

    Mark – have been eagerly awaiting your next update because I want to try this next year. That is an awesome hat – hope you and your worms stay warm.

    • Bentley
    • January 8, 2010

    I have to agree, Mark – that is a truly awesome hat!

  6. Jean,
    Get out there and try something on a small scale …(whispering) that’s what I did.
    And thanks about my hat. I think it is cooler than worm slippers!

  7. With this weather, I think you are at the forefront of a haute couture fashion trend. You better beware of hat-nabbing. I think you should vent some of that OSCR heat and get off the grid! Heck, if you have a pier and beam house or basement, just place enough OSCRs down there to heat the house (much like the Northern Europeans did in the Middle Ages–barns below, living quarters above).

    • John
    • January 9, 2010

    Here is a link to a Reno wormery. High desert. Great pics of what it looked like a month ago covered with snow. No auxilary heat. Other tabs on his site show some of his bin methodology.

    Thanks Bently, Mark and all the commentors who add so much knowledge and fun to this enterprise… John In Huntington Beach, CA

  8. Hi John,
    (whispering)… I have lines marked off in my garage for the same thing. I live in a suburb with a 2 car garage, I am tight on space.

    • Brian
    • March 5, 2010

    Thanks Mark for postibng everything you do. I am waiting on worms to come for my bin. Your info is greatly appreciated and helps me explain vermicomposting to my friends and co-workers. Keep up the good work

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