Red Wigglers in Outdoor Compost Bin?

KendraSchmidtSeptember 30, 2012

Hi Everyone,

I have several indoor wormbins that I use for all of my vegetable scrap (except onions, etc).

I have an outdoor compost bin that's pretty big, and I put leaves and other vegetable/fruit scraps in that outdoor compost bin. I want to be able to break down those outdoor scraps quicker so that I can use them more regularly. I would like to know how to add worms to the outdoor wormbin.

I've heard that it's impossible to even use european red wigglers in an outdoor compost bin in the winter in a zone 8a environment (though how that makes sense, I have no idea if they're european; I would think they'd be used to the cold??).

In my area, the lows can be as much as 14 degreen fahrenheit. My outdoor compost bin is right up against the wall of my building (not sure if that will contribute some heat to my compost bin outdoors. I'd like to know what I can do to make worms survive in the wormbin outdoors. Can red wigglers survive there? If not, is there an alternative? (I can't bring it indoors.)

Please help! :o(

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lonmower(zone8 Western Oregon)

you can definitely overwinter red wigglers in your outdoor compost. Functioning properly, your compost will be generating heat...which in most conditions will cause the worms to move to the edges of the pile to escape the high temps. I am in the rainy PNW. (please inset zone and location in your profile so that we might give quality advice based on location) In the winter I cover my pile with a tarp to keep excessive water out. This also helps retain heat when the ambient temp drops. An active pile must be keep moist as you would do with your vermiculite bins. If your compost is not heating up add more greens. I hope this helps and answers your questions.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 9:45PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Vermicomposting requires bins that can keep the material wetter then would be normal for an outdoor compost pile which is why worms are not significant workers in a normal compost pile, the environment is too dry for them. The minimum temperatures in zone 8 are 10 top 20 degrees F which could allow an outdoor compost pile that is wet enough to freeze if the temperatures stay in that range long enough, and if the internal temperatures of that pile drop much below the upper 40's the worms will try to go deeper into the earth to keep warm as well as going dormant.
If the internal temperature of your compost pile exceeds about 80 degrees the worms will also leave because it is getting too hot for them.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2012 at 6:40AM
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KendraSchmidt

Thanks everyone,but what I am asking is how to protect the bin from the elements so that my worms survive. I've heard all of the stories about the worms dying or leaving in the cold temps (which I STILL don't understand, Europe is cold as heck in most areas, how are these worms european, yet can't survive cold temps??).

But what I really need to know is how to protect the bin so that I CAN keep the compost bin outside and insert worms into it. I have a standard plastic (pretty thick) compost bin that allows me to open a door at the bottom of it and shovel out some of the compost.

What can I do to protect the bin from the elements so that the worms survive? Please help. Thanks.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2012 at 9:25AM
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lonmower(zone8 Western Oregon)

Kendra...
All Zone 8's are not created equal. My winter weather here in Western Oregon is not the same as (say) a Zone 8 in Georgia. Just as all winter climates in Europe are similarly not the same. Where is your Zone 8?

(I hope that these "European" worms had the proper paperwork when they entered this country)

Some (other) pertinent facts are now eking out. I am changing my opinion now that I know you have a plastic bin. Kimmsr's advice about the heat killing the worms is spot on. The plastic bin would not only hold the heat, but also the moisture. The moisture factor would cause the bin to be either too wet for the compost to heat up or too dry for the European immigrants.

In my case I have a very large open compost bin in which the worms can move freely to escape the heat (or cold). I turn it often and I can control where the water goes...more around the edges where the worms are working.

(I would like to note that my worms are all real American...born in the USA)

My experience is that the worms compact the compost, and by turning the edges in, I am able to mix their castings with working compost while supplying a fresh and constant food source for my small wigglers.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2012 at 11:08AM
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KendraSchmidt

My weather reaches lows of 10 to 14 degrees fahrenheit. It does not get very hot here at all (I wish to goodness that it did, but alas it does not). Summers here are extremely mild. Heat during the summer is not what I'm worried about, it's the cold temps during winter and how to protect the bin during the winter, when the temperatures can reach as low as 10 to 14 degrees fahrenheit.

Re the moisture, wetness, I'm not worried about the moisture killing the worms, because this appears to be impossible, even in the hottest summer temps here (low 80s). My bin has never had a drop of moisture on its interior, though I wish it did because my compost would likely deteriorate a lot quicker. Even when I dump in water, the bin does not seem to hold in moisture. This is likely due to the many slit openings on the bin itself. There seems to be a lot of room for circulation

In regard to the European origin of the worms, I'm speaking of the claim that these worms "originated" throughout Europe. This doesn't make sense to me if they can't survive the very cold winters of most of Europe.

Can someone please tell me if you've protected your bin from cold during the WINTER and if so, how so? I'd like to be able to get a few ideas to compare what would work for me. Please, any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks everyone.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2012 at 11:58AM
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jolj(7b/8a)

I have a friend who has had a outside bin for over 20 years.
He has never lost his earthworms to cold, heat or being too wet in zone 8.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2012 at 8:59PM
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gardengal48

They are not necessarily native to Europe specifically - Red wigglers, Eisenia foetida, are not found widely in nature at all simply because they have such refined temperature limitations. They are typically found anywhere in temperate climates where there is lots of manure or composting vegetation, both of which give off a sufficient amount of heat to keep them happy.

They do NOT tolerate cold temperatures well - they are surface dwelling (epigeic) worms unlike the deeper burrowing and more common earth worms like Lumbricus rubellus. They prefer temps not to drop below around 40F (certainly not below freezing) and become stressed if the temps rise above 85F and can die if exposed to temps above 90F. They are most active and consume the most garbage at temperatures between 60-70F.......a lot like many humans :-) If you can assure these temperatures without any wide fluctuations, they can survive outside. Based on the description of your conditions, I highly doubt this will be possible.

Red wigglers are not the only worms used in vermicomposting but they are some of the most productive. But they are also the most persnickety about their living conditions as well.

FWIW, most vermicompost bins are constructed so that they can be used indoors or at least brought inside during the winter months. If you wanted worms in a regular outdoor compost bin, I'd look for some species other than the red wigglers that are not going to be so sensitive to temperature extremes.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 6:45PM
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coach_grumpy(6a ID)

Last year I kept my RWs in both indoors and outdoors. The outdoor piles were contained within 4x4 pallet compost piles. The indoor worms were in a worm factory and a 32 gallon flow-through bin I made. They all survived...

You said you don't get much sun, so why not cover your outdoor pile with a plastic tarp to retain heat?

Check out a couple of other sites for more info. I would recommend Sierra Worm Solutions (they have instructions for their beds outside Reno, Nevada) and Red Worm Composting (Bentley has outdoor bins that thrive in Canada).

If the worms sense they will not survive due to environmental changes, they will start laying eggs like crazy to guarantee survival of the species. When the new worms hatch they will be born more accustomed to their environment

Good luck with your winter adventures

    Bookmark   October 3, 2012 at 8:56AM
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halleone(6)

I am in Eastern Washington, Zone 6a.

My worm bin is now what was my old compost bin, made out of wood pallets; it sets behind my garden shed and is quite protected. There are two chambers; one is for the nearly finished vermipost, and that one gets no new, addded material at all. The other one gets all the organic garden material and the kitchen trimmings for a year; the worms migrate on their own when the food supply runs out in the one bed.

In late Fall, I pile the active bed high with dried grass clippings and leaves, and let it be. I don't worry about the worms freezing out, as there are so many of them that losing some of them really doesn't bother me. There are always worm casings to hatch in the Spring if I should lose a lot of them (which it doesn't seem I do). These are Red Wigglers, which I collected myself years back from under the huge pile of grass clippings from mowing our acre of lawn.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2012 at 9:25AM
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KendraSchmidt

Great, I'm happy to see advice on keeping the red wigglers outdoors. Thank you for these last two comments, especially. They were very very helpful. I'll try incorporating these ideas into my winter outdoor red wiggler bin. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   October 4, 2012 at 11:50AM
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harry57

Hi Kendra,
Don't know if you still follow this post, but I thought I would comment just in case. I too am planning to put some redworms in my large compost bin(now that it has cooled down to about 70F.) Did you ever try putting some worms in yours and if so I'd be curious to know what happened? With my compost I am wondering if I will have to keep adding fresh food sources for the worms or will they be happy just with the partially composted mix of leaves, chicken manure, and UCG's.

Hope to hear from you,
Harry

    Bookmark   November 22, 2014 at 1:46AM
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harry57

Hi Kendra,
Don't know if you still follow this post, but I thought I would comment just in case. I too am planning to put some redworms in my large compost bin(now that it has cooled down to about 70F.) Did you ever try putting some worms in yours and if so I'd be curious to know what happened? With my compost I am wondering if I will have to keep adding fresh food sources for the worms or will they be happy just with the partially composted mix of leaves, chicken manure, and UCG's.

Hope to hear from you,
Harry

    Bookmark   November 22, 2014 at 1:49AM
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armoured

Worms will do fine in big outdoor bins, including temperatures greatly below freezing - they just won't be very active when it's very cold. I've had piles freeze solid and they come back in spring.

Your mileage may vary, fo course - and another key thing is that these are local (Europe, northern) worms. I think they're red wrigglers but haven't run a DNA test or anything.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2014 at 12:57PM
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