Keeping Worms Outside in Cold Weather

Question from Kate W:

I have a 2 gal. bucket of worms in my kitchen which is working great
but I would like to step up production. I live in Santa Fe, NM. I was
wondering if the worms would survive outside during the winter
especially. I don’t have a garage or anyplace to put a larger bin.
Thank you very much for your reply.

Hi Kate,

Looks as though you have a bit of a Catch-22 situation there! You require more space to “step up production”, and your only option is setting up outdoors. But setting up outdoors will expose your worms to dropping temperatures, which will definitely impede production!

It’s relatively easy to keep Red Worms (and European Nightcrawlers) alive outdoors during cold weather – it’s another matter altogether to maintain an optimized vermicomposting process (and a growing worm population).

Whatever your aim, my recommendation would definitely be to use some form of low-lying, preferably in-ground, system. Something like a vermicomposting trench, or a buried bin – something along the lines of my “vermi-fertilization system“. The surrounding earth will provide a lot of insulation, and it will also be much easier to heap additional insulation materials (straw/hay, fall leaves etc) over top.

With a large enough trench/windrow it certainly IS possible to maintain fairly warm temps for much of the winter – so it should be an upgrade over your indoor bucket no matter what – but during the coldest spells (especially if you get snow) it can definitely get challenging.

If you want to learn more about the topic of winter vermicomposting, I recommend you check out the “Winter Worm Composting” section on the Hot Topics page, as well as the Cold Weather Vermicomposting (Q&A) podcast.

Hope this helps!

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    • GA
    • October 10, 2014

    There are two different aspects to this:

    1) Worms surviving winter: my own experience in weather much colder than Santa Fe is that in a fairly big pile, they will survive freezing solid and bounce back in spring.

    2) “Producing more” – they won’t produce when frozen solid, of course. So you can try Bentley’s suggestions.

    But my suggestion would be to try both – keep a bin inside, and a pile outside (using Ben’s ideas). They’ll ‘chow down’ in spring and reproduce quickly then. In the meantime you’ve got your inside bin keeping things ticking along.

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