A reader asked whether any of my multiple worm bins have overwintered outdoors. The answer is yes. Well, kind of.
Let me give you an overview of the worm farming situation here. I’m not great at raising worms, although it’s supposed to be foolproof. (I refer all questions to Castaway Compost, my go-to for all things vermicompost. Check out my Farm Indiana piece on Keith O’Dell, pirate worm composter.)
1. My first experience was with my Garden Tower. I discovered too late that I stuffed the center tube too full, too fast. This tube is where the worms are supposed to eat their jolly way through my food scraps all summer long, and theoretically survive the winter. In the compacted medium, let’s just say they did not thrive one iota. (This year I’m being more more judicious with my feedings.)
2. Then I started a store-bought dealie with four layers. I am still only on the second layer almost a year later. I can’t figure out how to get my wigglers to eat and reproduce very fast. And I’m not sure when to harvest the castings. But I haven’t completely killed anyone off yet—that I know of.
Here’s a top view of my Sunleaves bin. I used coconut coir as the bedding. This was before I added the second layer, using shredded office paper as the bedding.
3. My third foray is indeed a year-round outdoor “bin”—more of a pit, really. We used a book called The Complete Compost Gardening Guide as our inspiration for this project. The idea is to have a covered hole in which to compost food and yard waste, convenient to your kitchen door. So, last fall we dug a rectangular pit about 18 inches deep. (I use the word “we” loosely on this digging bit.)
We started off by putting shredded leaves from our yard (and the neighbors’) into the pit, without adding any worms. We cover all our garden beds with the same stuff.
At the time I did not have a paper shredder that worked, so I geeked out on hand shredding things for a while. I just really like the idea of worms eating stuff like phone books and toilet paper rolls!
We added the shreds to the leaves along with some vegetable scraps for worms to munch on.
The next step was to moisten everything well. Worms do not like dry places.
The book said something about worms appreciating the channels in corrugated cardboard, so I added some wet strips of cardboard. It also said they go crazy for cornmeal or wheat flour. We had a bag of flour that a mouse had chewed through, so I sprinkled some of that on top. Then it was Wiggler Time.
After that, we just tossed our kitchen scraps on top, crushing egg shells as best we could with a hoe. We did it all winter long, except when the lid was frozen shut or buried under snow.
Then this spring, someone suggested spreading some soil on top and giving the worms a break from new food. I did that, and later added a layer of shredded paper. (Our Christmas gift to ourselves was a whiz-bang shredder. Total Geekdom.)
Now you can see, a few months later, that the stuff is well on its way to becoming a sweet soil amendment. Worms are still in there. (Whether they’re the original worms or their offspring or some random opportunists, I can’t say. But I think I can claim this as an overwintering victory.)
I recently pulled the bulk of the material to one side to begin adding another round of food scraps. The experiment continues…
There’s still a fourth bin to talk about, also outside, which is new this summer. But that might be for another day. Let me see how it works out first!
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Following a trail of breadcrumbs has led me here, to your blog. I have rather a small worm bucket in my back garden and after reading your home/about page I am interested in reading further. Much thanks for sharing 🙂
So glad to hear it. Always rewarding to find a receptive audience. All best to you!
Thanks for describing your outdoor worm bin experience (and I’m completely jealous that you actually bought a shredder; I’ve had one in my Amazon cart for a couple of years, but can never bring myself to hit ‘Buy’.)
After reading your post, I think I’ll give it another shot. Last year I started an outside bin in November, which seems really idiotic to me now. Then a vole broke in. Needless to say there wasn’t much success. Maybe if they’re established BEFORE arctic temperatures hit there’s a better chance of success.
We started our outdoor project in October! My vermicompost guru Keith O’dell claims that even if the worms don’t survive, they will leave cocoons that become new worms when the weather warms up. So take heart! (Except for that vole thing…)
I’ve read that elsewhere too, so here’s hoping. And I plan to cover the bottom with hardware cloth that will let the worms roam if they need to, but won’t allow furry creatures in.