My dad buries our remote temperature sensor in the heap
Yesterday, my dad and I were able to dedicate an hour or so to our winter worm bed. Not nearly as much time as I would have liked, but a LOT better than nothing. Since writing my last winter composting post I decided that our bed needed to be reduced in size so we could make it a little more snug and reduce the number of straw bales needed to build the walls. Aside from that, the smaller bed will be much easier to access (without the need to climb right in). As you can see above, we still do not have enough bales, but I’m happy with our progress nevertheless. The heap as it is now should be able to generate warmth much more readily than it could with the materials spread out so much.
Raking materials over to one side for our smaller bed
Moving half the bed over was not an easy task, and actually remains incomplete since I ran out of time. Those of you who have followed the Compost Guy site may recall the “Jumbo Garbage Garden” that my dad and I set up in the summer – back when I was trying to deal with large quantities of restaurant food waste. We started by creating trenches in the soil, then adding lots of cardboard and food waste before filling them back in with dirt. Over top of our multiple trenches we added a considerable amount of brush (with lots of woody materials) – this would essentially act as a ‘false bottom’, helping to draw air in from below the composting mass. Over the brush we layered cardboard, food waste and straw – this was intended to be the worm zone.
Since then, we’ve added plenty more food waste, straw, aged manure and leaves on top – plenty of good stuff to get our worm bed going. What’s really interesting is that as we moved materials over from the one side we discovered that the zones with the highest concentrations of worms were actually the trenches down below the soil. I wouldn’t have thought the oxygen concentration would be high enough down there, but Red Worms never cease to surprise me!
This year, rather than making my dad take trips out to the heap with a compost thermometer, we thought we would try a different approach. Last Christmas he gave me a remote thermometer device – generally intended to monitor outdoor temps and humidity from the comfort of your home. We are hoping it might work well as a remote compost thermometer as well. We sealed it up in a plastic bag with some dry cardboard and buried it in the heap. So far the results haven’t been all that exciting, and we are now wondering if the unit is going to work for us at all.
When in doubt, it never hurts to break out the trusty long-shaft compost thermometer to take readings manually. When we did so recently we saw temps in the range of 5-10 degrees C (41-50 F) – certainly not as warm as I’d like, but really not too shabby given the fact that the materials hadn’t yet been piled up and we are well into freezing winter weather now. I suspect that once the bed is enclosed with straw bales, and more organic matter is added it should warm up quite nicely. I am hoping to add a large quantity of fresh manure to the heap to help kickstart the warming trend. I have also been stock-piling food scraps at home for the purpose of adding them to this bed at some point as well.
Yesterday, before putting the tarp over top we added a layer of alfalfa straw on top of the heap – this should help to add some insulation, while gradually becoming a valuable food source for the worms.
I am hoping to finish up our winter worm bed in the near future – although I’m not sure when we’ll be able to get a hold of 10 more bales of straw. In the meantime, I suspect that the worms will be totally fine now that their habitat has been piled up and partially insulated.
Anyway – I’ll definitely keep you posted!
Previous Winter Worm Composting Posts
Winter Composting Extravaganza 2.0