In my winter windrow post, I mentioned a “new food scrap storage approach” – the one I’ve adopted specifically for this winter composting experiment.
As many of you know, I am a big proponent of storing food scraps in some sort of container/bag for a period of time prior to adding them to a worm composting system. Aside from allowing the materials to pile up a bit, it also gives everything the chance to start rotting a little (i.e. gives the microbial community some time to become established). In the case of winter composting I am obviously NOT going to want to head out to my winter bed EVERY time one of my small food scrap bags is full! Not only will it mean trudging out into the cold a lot more often, but it will also be really counter-productive.
We are trying to conserve warmth as much as possible, so it obviously doesn’t make all that much sense to be opening up our tarp and digging around in the windrow all the time – valuable warmth will be lost everything we do this. By adding a lot more material at once, we not only greatly reduce the number of trips, but we also add a large quantity of (indoor-temperature-warm) ‘fuel’ material all at once, thus helping to generate warm zones in the bed.
As you can see in the picture, the vessel (for lack of a better word) I have chosen for my ‘jumbo food scrap holder’ is a large horse feed bag. I tried to find the volume of the bag written somewhere on it, but had no luck – I’m sure most farm folks will have a pretty good idea of size I am talking about here. Sitting flat on the floor, the top of the bag comes pretty close to my hip.
Like any ‘food scrap’ holder, this one started with a good ‘false bottom’. I had two cardboard pizza boxes sitting around so I decided to shred them up for this purpose.
Two pizza boxes shredded into small pieces
‘False bottom’ of shredded cardboard – helps to absorb moisture and improve air flow
I also had a big bowl of food scraps ready to go, along with another small bag full (I keep a biodegradable bag in a special scrap holder under my sink). Interestingly enough, the material from under my sink had a pretty decent fruit fly population, which actually surprised me since they hadn’t really made their presence known. As I’ve written elsewhere, I have been battling a pretty bad infestation in my basement, which I am happy to report is finally starting to dwindle – but the fly numbers upstairs has been pretty minimal, or so I thought.
Big bowl o’ food scraps ready for the new scrap bag – a typical daily amount
We are still doing a lot of juicing these days so that has really helped as far as producing lots of ‘worm food’ goes. We basically fill the big plastic bowl (pictured above) every day, so it won’t take all that long to fill my big scrap holder, despite its ‘jumbo’ size!
One thing to mention, given the fruit fly presence in the house still, I decided to put the big bag out on my deck while it is getting filled. Once it is ready to be added to the windrow, I will bring it back inside and let it warm up for a day or two (making sure to prevent any fruit flies from invading it). I will still be harvesting worms from my outdoor bed for local customers so the last thing I want to do is start them off with a fruit fly invasion as well!
When we set up the big winter bed we used most of the materials I had on-hand, but I made sure to hold on to some of it so I would still have some extra stuff to add along with my food waste. One particularly nice leftover – and an accidental one at that – was a garbage can full of beautifully mulched grass clippings and leaves. Had I realized it was there, I almost certainly would have added it along with everything else. In hindsight, I am definitely glad it went unnoticed!
Mulched leaves and grass clippings – perfect winter worm food
This material will work really well as a bulking agent to mix with my food wastes in the jumbo sack, along with more shredded cardboard etc. Again, these sorts of materials will help to improve air flow (important for heat-generating microbial activity) and up the C:N ratio – we certainly don’t want to end up with ammonia gas being released (a common occurrence with low C:N) inside the windrow. With the grass clippings mixed in there, this stuff will also be a great winter food as well (likely a fair bit slower to break down than the food scraps).
Food scraps covered with a layer of mulched grass and leaves
I have at least a few of these horse feed bags so I may even fill them ALL before adding them to the windrow, again helping me to compound my bed-warming efforts. Speaking of ‘bed warming’ – things seem to be moving along very well in that department. The last time I checked, the tarp over the bed was actually somewhat warm to the touch. I was a little worried by that, but when I opened it up the bed itself didn’t seem overly warm by any means. I will need to keep an eye on this during the early stages of winter, since we definitely want to save most of that heating potential for later in the season when we REALLY need it!
I have a question to ask even if it’s not related to the topic here. I am sure you will be reading the comments, so I will ask it here. Feel free to delete or move it to a better location of your great site.
I bought a “one worm bed quantity” (enough for 2 square meters) of worms three days ago, even if the winter is knocking at the door. I live in the submediterranean climate here, the winters are not very cruel, so I decided to start my worms “enterprise” now. I’ve been measuring the temperature today, and the bedding was at 14 degrees C (the max air temp was 12 today at 1 pm).
I have a worm farm script which tells me not to disturb and feed the worms in the 1st two weeks after putting them in the new habitat. Also, I disobeyed it with bedding preparation – it said “prepare the bedding at least 10 days before adding the worms there”. I was rather inpatient with my new hobby, and wanted to start as soon as possible (1st mistake probably). The bedding was prepared 3 or 4 days before.
Well … the question …
I am affraid the temperatures could get lower in the next days, and specially during the night, so is it a good idea to disobey the script again and give my bed a 2 – 3 inch layer of horse manure to try to heat things up. I also collected a nice pile of fallen leaves I can add as insulation.
and sorry for being offtopic. Don’t be mad at me please
I see that you’ve added egg shells that aren’t very crushed up, like I saw in Mark’s OSCR video. Are there advantages to either method of adding/prepping eggshells? I’m fairly lazy, so always seem to have large egg shell pieces in the vermicompost.
Mike, I pulverize my egg shells to make it easier to spread. I have 12 – 16 square feet to cover and besides, the first time I used Letty’s mini chopper I ruined it to the point she won’t use it in the kitchen, so I have to use the mini chopper to pulverize the egg shells to keep from getting yelled at.
i use a big coffee can to put egg shells in. they can dry in the can. to crush them i simply use a much smaller empty vegetable can and push down on the dry egg shells untill they are as crushed as i want them. i usually wait till the coffee can is 1/4 to 1/2 full. if i wait till its full its harder to crush the shells on the bottom, you can find a couple rocks that barly fit into the vegetable can the weight helps with the crushing.
have fun! happy thanksgiving everyone!
I got a big bag of egg shells for the cafeteria at work. WHen I opened the bag, I noticed that there was alot of ‘wet eggs’ inside the shells. So I laid them out in the sun (during this past summer) and let them dry out real well. After they were dried, I took a rolling pin to them. Pulverized them real well. When ever I feed my worms, i will mix a small handfull of these shells in the food to provides the grit the worms need to grind up their food. Serves well for keeping the ph where it needs to be. During the rest of the time, when I have egg shells, I put them in an old egg carton to dry out normally, in the cupboard, or in the garage. then I remove them to a coffee can to store them til I can pulverize them, and then tear up the egg carton they were in and put into my bins. Works for me.
That is definitely a great approach Jim – similar to my own (when I’m not lazy – haha). Ground up egg shells can be a great buffer for a worm composting system, and the calcium is valuable for the worms.