Here is a good question from Christine:
I’ve had the city deliver a huge pile of leaves, I’ve spread
this out and am layering it with two pickup truckloads of manure
(lama). It takes up a space about 20′ by 60′, and will be several
Would adding worms help the process? I live in a part of Oregon with
wet, mild winters–presently temps are in the 40’s and 50’s; it seldom
gets below freezing here. How many pounds of worms, if any, would you
It sounds like you are creating the ultimate winter compost heap to me, so YES – adding worms to your system is a fantastic idea. Your system would work well even in our (much colder) winter conditions up here in Ontario (Canada) – in fact, I am creating a somewhat similar winter worm bed myself – more about that in my next blog post!
Worms greatly enhance the process of breaking down and stabilizing organic wastes – the microbes do all the ‘rotting’, but the worms play an important role assisting with the mechanical breakdown and aeration of the materials.
Sounds like your system is huge – I’m glad to hear that it will only be a few feet high though. When you mix large quantities of ‘green’ waste (ie N-rich stuff, like manure) with ‘browns’ (C-rich materials like leaves) you can very easily create thermophilic (hot) composting conditions. While we can certainly take advantage of this heating in order to keep our worms active all winter, we still need to be careful not to create TOO MUCH heat, which can obviously harm them.
What I would recommend you do is set up your system and get yourself a composting thermometer so you can monitor temperatures in the pile for a little while before adding worms. Once you are confident that the temps are relatively stable and they are in a safe range, you can add the worms. I would recommend only starting with a pound or two. The more worms you have, the more quickly they will process your waste materials – but in a system like that, I think you’ll be surprised by just how quickly they multiply to take advantage of the vast food/habitat resource you are providing them with!
By the way – I would normally recommend putting some sort of tarp over the top of the pile to keep precipitation off the leaves. This is almost certainly NOT an option given the scale of your heap. You may however want to add more bulky c-rich materials, such as straw, over the top to help keep things cozy down below. I’d only do this once the worms are established in the system (and you know the temps in the pile aren’t going to spike any more) however.
Anyway, good luck with your winter worm composting efforts! I think you’ll have a lot of fun with it.