Is My Region Too Hot For Vermicomposting?

Good questions from Mike:

I was going start worm composting but have one question. I live in
Mississippi and it gets hot here in the summer, how hot is too hot for
these bins? I have a nice place in my yard that is always in the shade
but it could still get hot. Is it okay to take the lid off during the
day or would that invite more problems than it is worth?
Thanks for any info you can provide.

Hi Mike,

Outdoor vermicomposting can be a challenge in hot locations for various reasons. The heat alone – especially in high humidity regions (my hunch is that this would include Mississippi) – may be enough to kill off your worms. Generally, most common composting species are going to start dying if temps get up towards (and beyond) the 90 F mark. Interestingly enough, it actually seems to be the cold-tolerant worms such as Red Worms and Euros that are more heat-tolerant than some of the tropical species (eg Africans). My worm farmer friend, George Mingin, reports having had a lot more trouble with Africans once temps crept up past 86 F than with either of the other worms.

Open, or at least very well-ventilated systems can help – especially in windy, drier locations where the evaporative-cooling effect can really come into play. Creating some form of in-ground system may be another option. As an added perk, the in-ground systems can also be great when temps swing to the other extreme (helpful, if you happen to be one of those lucky people who lives in a region that gets extremely hot in the summer and extremely cold in the winter).

Apart from heat, though, warm regions can have other challenges – such as pests, predators etc. For example, Black Soldier Flies are very common in warmer regions, and their larvae – while certainly excellent waste processors in their own right – can basically overtake an outdoor worm composting system, leading to habitat deterioration etc. While it can be possible for the worms to co-exist with the larvae – especially in regions that don’t get quite so hot – and they can even work together in some cases, it’s likely NOT going to end up being the sort of “optimized” worm composting system you are after.

Other threats, such as worm predators (eg predatory flatworms and migratory birds) and extreme weather events can also throw a wrench into the works for even the most enthusiastic warm-region vermicomposter. So it’s important to go into this with eyes open, if you plan to get serious about outdoor worm composting (and really, that applies to any region).

Bottom-line, my advice would be to try out one or two outdoor systems – but also to set up something indoors. What I love about the Worm Inn (which, in all honesty are NOT the best outdoor systems in my humble opinion) is that it can eliminate a lot of the indoor-vermicomposting concerns/headaches that people worry about or actually deal with. No one wants smelly bins, dead worms on the ground, or fruit flies swarming all over the house – and it’s these sorts of things that can really turn people off from the idea of keeping systems inside. But when you have a system that avoids most of this, and just generally makes vermicomposting “easy”, it can be a lot more fun – and a lot more effective!

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    • Bentley
    • August 6, 2014

    NOTE: It is important to mention also that moisture content can have a major impact on the dangers of high temps. Worms in a bin with high moisture and poor air flow, for example, will likely start dying much more quickly at higher temps than those in a system with lower moisture content and excellent air flow. So it’s important to focus on more than just the ambient temps.

    • Matthew
    • August 6, 2014

    I live in central Florida, where it is consistently in the 90’s in summer with humidity levels that render evaporative cooling fairly ineffectual. Nonetheless, as you mention, Bentley, the heat is the least of my concerns. In fact, with three relatively large outdoor bins, two of wood and one of canvas, and all in the shade (actually, one’s on the back porch), I appear to be the creature most troubled by the weather. The real nuisances are the planarians, fire ants, and a particular type of snail that may or may not have a taste for worms and their cocoons.

    • Jacob Boswell
    • August 7, 2014

    I am Georgia and agree with Matthew so far heat hasn’t been a problem but man ants drive me crazy I did do some reading where ants do not like cinnamon, who knew, well I took some cinnamon and sprinkled it along the edge of the infested bed and around the bed and i have never seen aunts retreat so fast. I mean they absolutely bailed flat out and in a hurry. My beds are in the shade i do tend to keep them moist due to the heat but not too moist. I do have covers for my beds but generally the only time i keep them covered is when it rains.

    • Alison
    • September 14, 2014

    I live in the North West of Australia. Summer temperatures get above 40 degrees celsius (104 fahrenheit) regularly. The only way I can keep things cold enough in an outside bin is to not feed food scrap during the height of summer and I put bottled of frozen water in the top every morning and tip the water out through the farms in the evening.

    Have to do this from around September to March/April

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