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!