Vermicomposting, worm bin, composting with worms community and forums
I'm glad for the ideas about winterizing a compost for the winter weather -
I have a summer home in Maine and I was toying with the idea of also starting to vermi-compost up their this summer but I'm hesitate to spend the time and money because I really do fear no matter how great a compost pile I create NOTHING will stop a cold Maine winter from freezing the whole pile solid for months!
Maybe I'll try it and hope for the best..I'd hate to kill all those worms..
I'm a tad bit more north than your summer home. We are located at "Land's End" Quebec, or otherwise known as the Gaspesie. Winters here CAN be brutal, but not always. This last winter was relatively mild in temperature and snow fall.
My outdoor compost pile (uncontained in any way, just a pile on the ground) is approximately 8 feet long, 5 feet wide and about 2 feet deep right now. Last fall, we piled on as much leaves and grass cuttings we could get off our giant lawn. With all the leaves and grass added at the end of the year the pile was almost 4 feet deep. I have no idea what it did during the winter, and just kept piling on kitchen scraps on top of the snow. Why not to the worms you say... well, at that time (and still now) we don't have enough worm population indoors to eat all our kitchen scraps. Plus we use a lot of onions, garlic, and leeks in our cooking so those don't even go to worms anyway. Just chucked onto the pile outside and turned occasionally.
Anyway, this spring once the majority of the snow melted, I started tinkering with the pile. What I found was the uppermost layer was frozen solid. But underneath was still pliable. And for the first time since the pile was started on that spot 3 summers ago, I have now found native red wigglers in the pile. Not many, but it's a start. These are mature worms, with clitellum. And they survived the winter in the pile. Keep in mind this was not the intended goal of the outdoor compost heap. I just wanted a place to chuck all my kitchen waste, grass cuttings and fallen leaves. It was created before I even thought about worms.
So, I would like to think as long as the outdoor worm area is big enough and thick enough, they should survive the winter. If not, tons of eggs will hatch the following spring. Just mulch like crazy, as much as you can get your hands on. Leaves, cut grass, manure, etc.
Kara, I've very new to vermicomposting and I'd like to convert my compost piles into 'vermicompost piles' but there is no way for me to develop a pile that size. I think I may just have to stick to regular composting for now and do my vermicomposting in bins which I have control over.
Janis, is there any chance you can collect old leaves & hay in the autumn? Maybe spread the word to friends and neighbors to save bags of material for you? Below is advice from Bentley. If you don't have a composting bin, you can use a large plastic garbage bin and drill lots of holes. Read his full post for more details.
The first thing I would recommend for any type of backyard composter bin (assuming it is open-bottomed – which, by the way, is fairly important for a winter bin) is to dig a decent pit down below it, assuming you don’t have one already – this might be 1-2 ft in depth. Of course, the diameter of the hole should be smaller than the diameter of the bin so that it sits nicely over top. In the bottom of this hole I would add a bunch of bedding material and “food”. Because you are looking for more of a “time release” food value, you definitely don’t need to age (or finely chop etc) the wastes before you add them – unless of course we’re talking about yard wastes like old weeds etc (which should be chopped up a bit). If you can get some nice aged manure, this would be a great addition as well. Over top of your pit zone, I would simply add the material that was already in the composter.
If you live in a region with lots of fall leaves, I highly recommend you use these for insulation (also great to add to the bin). Straw and hay can also work really well. All you need to do is heap them up around the outside of your bins. Ideally – assuming you have enough leaves etc – I would pile them all the way to the top of the bins, and then would even take things a step further by securing a tarp over top. If you live in a region that receives lots of snow, heaping a lot of it over top of the tarp can serve as a great extra layer of insulation as well.
Andrew, that sound like somewhat of a plan. Basically just pile all the organic debris I can collect from my neighbors and hope it creates enough Geo thermal heat during the winter that the worms can survive.
I would just hate to go through the whole process only to see the whole compost heap still turn into one solid brick of ice! I'd feel pretty bad doing that to worms..Reading Kara's post has made me realize this might be a several year process...
In ideal conditions and frequent turnings you can produce good compost in as little as six weeks in summer, without any help from purchased worms at all. But you would need the right amount of nitrogen vs carbon in the pile to heat up sufficiently.
I only stated the time it took to attract wild wigglers into the pile. Please don't feel discouraged before getting started. There are literally hundreds (if not more) of composting videos online that never mention worms at all, other than just another critter that happens to show up and help in the process.
So if you start now with leaves and mix with grass cuttings, kitchen scraps, keep an eye on moisture levels and carbon ratios, you will have compost fast. The carbon is necessary to help keep everything aerated to promote aerobic bacteria instead of anaerobic bacteria. Anaerobic piles smell awful. Adding too much grass clippings at one time creates a foul, indescribable odor.
My plan in making garden compost outdoors is for good soil mulch and aid in water retention only. Our soil here is mainly sand, hardly any loam or clay. I need all the mulch I can get. What worms produce will just go to the aerated tea instead and top dress houseplants and add to seeding mixes.
So what you end up doing should be the best for your soil's needs and time available for turning. Not everyone will compost in the same way. Don't feel obligated to do it one way or another just because you read it online. It should be fun and rewarding for you and definitely not a chore. Just remember ultimately stuff will rot even if you don't turn it or add worms to it. Sure it will take longer but it will still happen.
Kara there is a method of making finished compost in 14 days. it was developed university of california berkeley campus. i have never got mine to finish that fast but it has been finished in 21 days. proper mix, proper moisture, and frequent turning over. no worms are used in this method.