Red Worms and Backyard Composters

Whellbarrow of Compost
A load of material from my backyard compost bin, ready to be added to my winter worm beds

Yesterday was hands-down one of the nicest (if not THE nicest) days so far this fall. Looks like we are going to see the exact same conditions today as well (how often does that happen in the fall?) – sunny, calm, and temps up close to 20 C / 68 F! Keep in mind that normals for this time of year are probably more like 7 or 8 C (~44-46 F), and conditions last week were a lot worse than that.

Like a lot of people in my neighborhood, I decided it was time for my final grass cutting (and yard clean-up) for the season – what’s funny is that it was probably only my second grass cutting this fall in general! As I mentioned in another recent post, I was excited about having the opportunity for one last cut since it meant I would end up with a nice mix of grass clippings and mulched fall leaves (I still hadn’t raked up any of the fallen leaves on my front lawn).

With everything coming together so nicely yesterday (and since I was already out in the yard), I decided it was also a great opportunity to empty my two ‘backyard composters’. One has been used in a typical manner (receiving food waste, yard waste etc), while the other one has been my compostable cat litter bin (I’ll write more about this one in another post).

I’ve been surprised in the past with my worms’ ability to survive in one of these backyard bins over a winter, but I figured there was no point taking a chance. Aside from that, this provided me with more material (and worms) to add to my trench beds – which are currently being bulked up in preparation for winter.

While I didn’t ever purposely add Red Worms to the ‘regular’ composter, it certainly comes as no surprise that they managed to become established in it nevertheless (just as they did in the cat litter composter).

Red Worms from Backyard Composter

The upper layers of material weren’t all that rich in worms, but once I started getting into the really wet stuff at the bottom I started seeing LOADS of them!

It was a valuable reminder of the fact that Red Wigglers can do extremely well in a backyard compost bin – assuming they are provided with adequate living conditions. Likely the most important consideration is moisture. These enclosed, plastic bins (this one is called an “Earth Machine” as is given away by the regional waste department) can work quite well if you are regularly adding lots of fruit/veggie waste, since these wastes tend to be very water-rich. They also happen superior food materials for worms, in comparison to yard waste, grass clippings etc (although these materials can also be good if prepared properly). Even when you are adding these water-rich wastes regularly, it’s probably not a bad idea to add water to the system periodically as well. Something I like to do is to take the lid off of my bins during rain showers since this provides a bit more of a ‘natural’ moistening process.

I know I am biased here, but I truly believe that everyone who uses one of these ‘regular’ composters should also be using compost worms. These systems rarely ‘hot compost’ the waste materials added – they are not large enough, plus the wastes tend to be added slowly over time, so it only makes sense then to help the process along with worms.

I hadn’t added anything new to this bin in a little while, but earlier in the fall I had completely filled it with yard waste (zucchini plants etc). It was amazing to see how low the level of material in the bin was when I emptied it yesterday (it was probably about 1/3 full).

I guess the one downside of using worms is that you’ll end up with lots of the worms in the compost (unless you feel like taking the time to separate them). Of course, this is not an issue if you are using some sort of vermicomposting trench or ‘vermi-mulch’ garden – but obviously there aren’t too many people out there actually using these methods.

Given how quickly a population of composting worms can regenerate itself, I guess this is not really a major concern. Your average backyard compost-warrior will likely only remove compost from one of these bins once or twice a year, thus giving the worms plenty of time to bounce back.

As mentioned above, I will be writing a bit more about my cat litter composting bin in another post this week. You can also expect to learn more about my winter bed preparations in general at some point as well.

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