Keeping Red Worms Outside

I recently received some questions related to keeping Red Worms outdoors

The first one comes from April:

Can the red composting worms live outside? What are the
temperature ranges that they can tolerate?
Thank you.

Hi April,
The short answer is YES, absolutely. Be sure to check out my winter worm composting series to learn more about my outdoor (cold weather) system. Red Worms (Eisenia fetida) are a very cold-hardy worm. When I was transferring material (and worms) from my previous winter composting bin to the new one this year, I literally found worms encased in frozen compost – still wiggling away (a little more slowly, mind you).

Basically you are probably ok with temperatures between 0 and 35 C (32-95 F), and maybe even warmer depending on the situation (I have a friend who has kept them alive at temps of 100 F). Remember, we are talking about temperatures in the worm’s habitat – NOT necessarily ambient temps. Even it’s 100 F outside, you should be able to keep the inside of a vermicomposting system a fair bit cooler using various strategies.

Next, we have a question from Gayle:

I have worms in an inside bin. i seem to have way more
waste than my 1 # of worms can handle. I want to convert my inside
worms to outside, and make an outside compost. i had hesitated to do
this originally, because I didn’t have much garden waste except
deadheaded flowers etc. I now have winter garden leaves etc to make
compost. so, bottom line, if I put my worms outside will i kill them?
the spot I am considering to start is an old unused sand box that has
a layer of garden dirt. i live in Texas. we are for the most part
done w/ winter. lows maybe rarely in the 30’s. thanks

Hi Gayle,
You can indeed move composting worms outdoors – especially given your climate (ie no extra protection will be needed – assuming we are talking about Red Worms here). Garden waste actually isn’t the best worm food for the most part, so don’t worry about not having too much of that. Fall leaves are great though – they fall (no pun intended) somewhere between food and ‘bedding’, and the worms love them. I’d recommend adding ALL your fruit/veg food waste as well (you mentioned producing way more than the worms could eat inside).

Regarding the type of system to set up – there are lots of options. Your sandbox idea is a really good one – I’m a little biased though, since I did the exact same thing last summer. haha

I actually created a ‘vermicomposting trench’ – something I would highly recommend in your case since it’s going to get REALLY hot there in the summer. This will help the worms to stay cool. I’d recommend you check out my ‘Vermicomposting Trench Wrap-Up‘ post – you’ll find links to all my related articles about this topic there.

Hope this helps!

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    • Lisa
    • August 22, 2009

    I live in Minneapolis where it gets below zero for several weeks each winter, sometimes an entire month. Will red worms die in these conditions if they are in a compost bin? Currently my compost bin is outside near my garden and is full of plant and food waste; I’m hoping to get worms to speed up the composition. Would you recommend it?

    • Bentley
    • August 23, 2009

    Hi Lisa,
    I previously thought that Red Worms in an uninsulated composter would indeed perish once winter hits (I think our winter is quite a bit more severe than yours, based on your description though). I don’t think that is necessarily the case however. I had Red Worms in one of my backyard composters one winter, and found loads of them still there in the spring. I think as long as it doesn’t come too quickly, or get too severe, the worms can go down to where it never freezes solid.
    Don’t expect your bin to necessarily stay active all winter though. You might think about putting some straw bales or a heap of leaves around it once the cold weather hits if you would like to extend your composting season.

  1. I have ordered 2000 red worms, how big a box can I use?

    • Laura
    • April 10, 2013

    Hi there,
    I live in Minneapolis and have recently started composting with red worms, I noticed we were starting to grow mites and read this meant our bin was too moist and that we should add paper and set our bin in the sun to dry. I set it out on the front porch yesterday afternoon and forgot about it overnight. i woke up to find temperatures had dropped to below freezing and we had snow! Normally I can hear the worms chomping away but now I hear nothing. How do I know if they have died? If they have died, what should I do? I saw many of your worms have survived harsher temperatures, my concern is that We only have about 3 inches of waste in our compost bin, we just started this last month. Thank you!

    • teresa
    • April 16, 2013

    I love composting with worms ( I like to refer to as vermiculite)! I had mine pretty well established and then put it out for the summer and left it out all winter. I am so excited to bring it on and start adding to it, and hopefully maybe taking a little out if here is any good dirt in it yet. I’m sure they are alive in there still. I just covered the bucket in a black sheet in order to attract as much heat as possible during the cold. Will repost when I check on them.

    • Chels
    • March 18, 2014

    A friend and I just started a compost. We have a 4×4′ old well house that we dug out and are using because it has concrete walls that took hardly any preparation. We were provided a pound of worms and are working with them with a bit of peat moss and organic soil we got at a nursery. The soil here in Lubbock Texas is red, hard and sandy/clay. We have been adding healthy amounts of organic waste to the pile, though I am not sure how much more soil we should add vs the bedding and the way we should layer it and maintain it. Any advise?

    • Lauran Drown
    • November 22, 2015

    Hello, I am starting an outdoor vermicompost bin in San Antonio, Tx. Avg winter temps do not drop below freezing, although there are below freezing days, however based on reading above responses, I understand this should not affect the worms. To prep for the worms, I am layering kitchen scraps with paper bedding. Any thoughts on how deep, or old, this material should be before I introduce the worms? Many thanks, L.

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