Winter Vermicomposting-1-30-12

I finally managed to get out for a daytime check-up on my winter vermicomposting bed late last week (all my coffee grounds pick-ups are made during the evening, so I don’t really have a good opportunity to SEE what’s going on when I deposit new material). In all honesty, this winter has been pretty disappointing as far as really getting the chance to test out this system goes. Temperatures have been much warmer than normal, and we’ve gone through countless thaw/freeze cycles during the last couple of months.

Obviously it’s better than having my system freeze solid on me (lol), but I was really hoping to see how well this new bed would perform in really cold weather. Call me a pessimist, but somehow I just don’t see things changing all that much over the course of the next month or so – but ya never know! (As an interesting side note – this weekend ended up being really wintry, and we now have a fair amount of snow! lol)

Unfortunately, I forgot to take my thermometer out with me – so no “official” temperature readings – but it was pretty clear to me that the bed is still quite warm. When I pulled back the tarp, the underside was wet (not frosty), and there were loads of springtails crawling around on it.

Digging around with my garden fork released plenty of steam from below – so I’d say that was a pretty good indicator as well. I was really hoping to find some solid pockets of worms this time around – but it seems as though the upper zones of the bed are not particularly worm-friendly at the moment.

As I’ve written before, one of the challenges of using coffee grounds – aside from the heat it can generate (which can actually be “good” or “bad” depending on the time of year) – is the tendency of this material to totally dry out on you. Hot, dry conditions are not exactly ideal for the worms!

My hope was that all the food waste added would help to keep the grounds moist, but I’m finding plenty of zones that have that almost “burned” look about them (something I’ve written about in some of my older coffee grounds vermicomposting posts), as shown in the images below. This is most likely the result of fungal growth (some variety of thermophilic fungi, no doubt) – not actual combustion, of course – but regardless, these zones are still way too hot and dry for the worms to live in.

I did find higher concentrations of worms around the outer edges of the main composting zone – so that’s promising. I really just need to put more effort into keeping the grounds nice and moist.

Anyway – that’s all for now. I’ll aim to provide another update in a week or two.

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  1. Your ‘ashes’ remind me of my compost heap cum worm pound? In summer when I pile on green grass, I often come back to that grey ‘ash’. I think it may be the heat from the green stuff? Just my view?

    • Bentley
    • February 2, 2012

    Hi Dave!
    It’s certainly puzzling! I don’t know that temps would ever be getting hot enough to literally turn these materials into ash, although my dad seemed to think the same thing.

    • Steve L.
    • February 3, 2012

    I’ve literally composted hundreds of pounds (well, well over a thousand) of coffee grounds in traditional thermophilic compost piles, and quite often I find “burned out” areas inside WHEN… I didn’t turn it before it got to that phase, which is temps are high, microbes and bacteria are exploding, and moisture and oxygen are completely consumed. The pile typically sinks a bit too.

    My approach to building or adding to a pile to get it that hot is the “layer cake” method of 4-6 inches of browns, then greens, moisture to either if needed via a misting nozzle on the hose, repeat, repeat, repeat until the pile is 3-4 feet high max. 5 days after initial build is great for a first turning, and adjusting the moisture. 3-5 days later and another turning; then the temps should really start rising. If I don’t get to the pile for a couple of weeks (sometimes less) after the temps get hot, I usually see these burned out areas that will give off “dust” when taken out of the pile with a manure fork. I think this is really mold spores, or something like it, because it will choke me (I have a mold allergy) if I’m down wind.

    My understanding could be wrong, but to me it makes sense that these burn outs are the result of the thermophilic process consuming most, if not all of its resources and producing what we see… which is a question for maybe the soil biologist types that could tell us what we’re really looking at; Mold spores, dead and dying bacteria, anaerobic microbes, actual ash?

    Hey Bentley… do you know of any soil biologists or researchers in general that may take an analytical shot at a sample of one of your burn outs? I’m not afraid to say I think that would be really cool to learn about.

    Thanks a bunch Bentley… you’ve got a really great blog and a fun approach as well.

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