The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Overwintering compost worms

Worm bin

Worms in horse manureFriday, the sun finally came out and the cold weather broke.  A perfect day to check on our invertebrates!  The honeybees were flying busily in and out of their hive and even visiting the crocuses.  But three of our four worm bins were less vibrant.

I'll start out by telling you about the one worm bin that's thriving (pictured above and to the left).  This is our first bin, located at the parking area with a lot of winter sun.  The plywood lid bowed down on one side, so water tends to pool there and seep into the bin.  Sure enough, the area under the pool is full of thriving compost worms, but the rest of the manure has dried out too much to host worm activity. 

I'm sure not sure if the problem with our other three bins is lack of moisture, cold, or both.  We built the lids on those bins at a slant so rain would run off and the wood would last longer.  I started out the winter by saturating the manure and sawdust bedding, but sometime over the cold months, all of the water drained away and left the contents quite dry.  Even after I opened the lid this week and let rain pound down on the manure, there were still lots of dry pockets when I poked around Friday, and very few worms were left.

Harvesting the worm binThe three bins in our core homestead are also in heavy shade during the winter, so the contents probably froze solid a few times.  And there are several other differences between our oldest bins and our three newer bins beyond moisture and temperature.  Looking back at old photos like the one to the right, I notice that the vibrant-worm-area is on the side of the bin where I raked all of the finished compost and worms last August, so maybe they just haven't spread beyond home base due to the cold weather?  Or maybe they don't like the horse-manure-in-sawdust as much as they liked the original horse-manure-in-straw?  Or maybe variety is the deciding factor since the worms that went into the core homestead bins were purchased from a different location than the locally-adapted worms that went into our original bin.

Still, moisture is my best guess, and I have a way to test my hypothesis.  As I empty out the core homestead bins to add manure to the garden, I should eventually hit a wetter area near the bottom of the bins.  If the damp zone is full of worms, I'll know water was the difference between the bin that thrived and the bins that didn't.

Compost worm

Mark's already talking about ways to let rainwater soak in without losing the shade effect of the lid in the summer --- perhaps drilling holes at intervals throughout the lid might work.  Other ideas for hydration that don't require running hoses during freezing weather are appreciated.

Our chicken waterer is perfect for all kinds of poultry from day 1.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Have you considered using a couple of layers of burlap, like old potato sacks, to make the worm bin roof? You might be able to build a simple frame out of chicken wire and lay the burlap or landscape fabric right on top. I find the material indespinsable as it can be used to make harvest bags, provide shade for summer lettuce, store grains for animal feed, store roots for the cellar, etc.. The list goes on and on! You can usually get old potato sacks from feed &seed stores after they have sold spring seed tubers. Hope you figure it out soon, as we too are preparing to build a few worm bins and could use the info!

All the Best, Robert

Comment by Robert Sat Mar 9 10:36:10 2013
Maybe leave the lids off in the winter, so snow can keep them watered?
Comment by Emily Sat Mar 9 14:03:44 2013
Robert --- Excellent idea! That's definitely worth trying, especially if we can hunt down some burlap easily. (Our animal feed tends to come in the plastic equivalent of burlap.)
Comment by anna Sat Mar 9 14:22:19 2013
How about including some newspaper layers? I use newpaper under a layer of mulch or rabbit manure to kill weeds in my raised beds. I'm trenching to planting a new asparagus bed today and I have worms galore right under the newspaper layer. There are so many I'm fighting the robins away. I feel like I'm in an Alfred Hitchcock movie in my backyard. Newspapers under manure do retain lots of moisture.
Comment by Tee Sat Mar 9 14:51:13 2013
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