Texas Vermicomposting

Here is a question from Wayne:

I would like to start a worm composting bin. I want it
outside. I have a lot of scrap lumber laying around. My qestion is how
big? Also I live in Central Texas so is the heat going to be to much
for them. I would love to do it indoors but my wife is having none of
it including the garage. Any advice on size would greatly help. Thanks

Hi Wayne,
I’ve heard that the heat of summer can get pretty crazy in Texas (and other southern states), so site location will certainly be a very important consideration. For starters, I’d strongly suggest constructing the bin in a full-shade location – preferably as spot that still gets a decent breeze.

A wooden system is definitely a great idea since it will ‘breathe’ much better than something made out of plastic (I would never, ever recommend putting a plastic worm bin outside in Texas summer heat). As long as you keep the material nice and moist, the evaporative cooling should really help to lower the temps inside.

I would also make the system partially in-ground if possible – even if this simply meant digging a pit below. The subsurface soil should be a fair bit cooler than the ambient air temps. Perhaps partially embedding the bin into a north-facing hill (if you happen to have one of your property) would be another option.

Size of the system is an important consideration. I’d recommend a fairly large bin (perhaps a cubic yard or bigger) since this will help to prevent rapid temperature and moisture fluctuations. Of course, with larger size you will need to be a lot more cautious about what, and how much you add to the bin – particularly when you first set it up. You should definitely start with a really high carbon-to-nitrogen ratio habitat – lots of shredded cardboard, newsprint, peat most etc. Mix in some food materials as well, but definitely don’t fill the entire thing with manure for example, or you’ll end up with even more heating concerns. Bulky materials like the shredded cardboard will also help to increase airflow (and evaporative cooling) in the bin.

When all else fails, you might also try various artificial cooling techniques. One of the easiest methods is to simply rotate a bunch of frozen water bottles in the bin. If on the other hand you are looking for something a little more high-tech, perhaps Nathan’s ‘Counter Current Soil Cooler‘ on the Vermicomposters Forum would be up your alley.
8)

Hope this helps, Wayne!

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Comments

  1. Wayne,
    I would suggest that you start small. The Rubbermaid tote and 1000 worms is an inexpensive start. I started my first bin in the garage in the middle of winter (I didn’t want to upset my wife). Well, after tons of research, I moved it inside. I was able to prove that my bin does not smell like anything. Letty agreed that I could move it inside as long as it wasn’t in her way.
    I eventualy moved everything outside due to the population explosion of worms. Today the heat index is 105 degrees, my bins are 80 degrees.
    My wife now brags about me at work and now people walk past our house and admire her gardens (could it be because of the fertilizer she uses?)
    I recently started a new bin with the feeedstock from my composter, it smelled really, really bad and had a lot of bugs in it. In 24 hours the smell was gone and the bugs were to, the outside microwave took care of the bugs and a balanced system never smells. Odors are a sign of something is wrong.
    I recently sent off a sample of vermicompost to K State for nutrient values, if the values are as high as I want, I can start selling the vermicompost for about 10.00 a pound. What was once our garbage may be worth 10.00 a pound. Something to think about.
    Good luck!

    • Christy Olson
    • June 20, 2009

    Wayne,

    Having worms outdoors in Texas is not too big of a problem. I have set up several large systems at my parents ranch to compost manure and yard waste. They live by Abilene. The best advice I can give you is to bury about half of your bin or more. The deeper you can get it the better. Our worms are doing great and were cool during last years 107 degree days. Be sure to keep them moist and in the shade.

    Good luck on your new bin. I hope it goes smoothly.

    Christy

    Also remember to cover your bin with something to keep the flies out. They are our biggest problem. I have found that window screen is the best solution and it is pretty cheap.

    • Bentley
    • June 25, 2009

    MARK & CHRISTY – thanks for sharing your experiences. Great info!
    8)

    • Heather
    • July 8, 2009

    I am planning on setting up a couple of large (20’x5′) outdoor vermicompost areas in the Sept./Oct. time frame.
    Questions:
    1.How many lbs of worms could I start with in an area that size? Is there some magic formula for optimal number of worms per square foot?
    2.The area is shaded by a couple of evergreens–should I be worried about tannins or other residue?
    3. Would it be better to dig a trench (how deep are you other Texans digging?), or to set up a straw bale bin and place compost within there?

    4.I am planning on using mostly-composted horse stall waste (manure, wood shavings) and adding fruit and veggie waste–possibly from a restaurant. Any issues with that, as long as it is no longer “hot compost”?

    I am in the hot Dallas area.

    5. One last question…my thought is to add the worms to one end and then place new food scraps ahead of them each time, allowing them to leave vermicompost “behind” them for easier harvesting. Is that feasible or not a workable idea?

    Thanks!

    • Bentley
    • July 9, 2009

    Hi Heather,
    If you REALLY want to hit the ground running, I’d suggest starting with at least 1/2 lb per sq ft. I’ve read about highly optimized professional systems that have contained more than 1 lb per sq ft, but in my opinion it is definitely better to let your worms to grow into a system rather than forcing them to live in extremely high densities right off the bat (will save you a LOT of money as well).

    Your tannins question is a good one – I’m not really sure, but I would be a little nervous about the potent oils in the needles creating issues. Guess it depends on how much of this stuff is falling on the beds.

    Your other two ideas sound fine – but not sure how these would stop the needles from falling in. Perhaps you could build a screen lid that would catch them. A system set in the ground somewhat should help to keep the worms cool, but of course it will make harvesting vermicompost a lot more difficult.

    Your food ideas sound on target

    The moving food line is also a great idea – there is a system (called the “Wedge”) that is based on this exact concept. Essentially you create a pile then extend it into a windrow, gradually leaving behind finished vermicompost and few worms.

    • Heather
    • July 9, 2009

    Thanks, Bentley…that helps a lot. The area is in a long established composting area, and may already have some “wild” reds? We’ll see. I plan to put a window screen mesh on top to keep out Robins, possums, the resident chickens and any other worm thief. That should help screen out the needles also.

    • Georgina
    • July 24, 2009

    I’ve had a worm bin for a few months now and my worms were thriving. I live in Southern California and the last few weeks have been especially hot, in the 100’s. I went away for a few days and when I came home all my worms were gone. I’ve kept my bin in a shady spot always. I have no idea what i did wrong. Please someone orient me.

  2. Georgina,

    That is a shame. Possibly they either escaped or an animal got into the bin. I too am trying to establish an inground bin in Central Texas. I have it all ready with a few redworms in there to try it out before ordering Wigglers.

    Please let us know if you discover what happened.

    Candin

    • Dena
    • April 28, 2013

    Hi, I am in the investigative process and have found all of your comments extremely helpful!! We have just moved to Waxahachie, Tx and for the first time in 30 years I have TONS of shade!! I’m thinking seriously about ordering the ‘Cedar Outdoor Worm Bin’ from Peaceful Valley Farm and garden supply- groworganic.com is their website. It works on the “dinner line” process which I find fascinating! I have a great SHADY spot behind the garage I’m thinking would make a great home for red worms. Please, any suggestions????

    • Heather
    • May 3, 2013

    After 5 years of vermicomposting in Texas, I have learned they can handle October -May in a trench system in the shade, but not the insanely hot heat of 100+ degrees days on end, even in the shade.

    • Heather
    • May 3, 2013

    Oh, and beware of fire ants invading your systems too.

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