temperatures and worms

anschutz123September 1, 2014

after almost 30 years, I have decided to try my hand at vegetable gardening again. I am only doing square foot gardening at this point. I got to thinking about composting if I was going to continue this and started to do some research on vermicomposting. Everything appears to be straight forward, but I can not find the answer to 2 questions at this point.

1- how do you control the red wiggler population? If I am only using a set size container, how does the population stay at a proper size, without going out and fishing for hours on end.

2-I live in Nova Scotia Canada and the temperatures here in the winter range from -4 to -12 C and can get colder. If I do decide to vermicompost, I will not be able to do it inside for various reasons. Am I able to do it outside? Will the worms survive the cold like regular earthworms?

I know the answers are probably hidden here somewhere, but it will take less time to ask them again.

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1 - It is said/written that compost worms will self regulate their population once it has reach the max. for the specific bin. This far, none of my bin has been overpopulated, ever.
I had split a bin, and each increased its population. After a period of 8 mths. I took a rough census "count". Compared to another bin I did not spit, the total worms of these 2 bins was, I'd say, was almost double. I realize it's way less than what it should be in theory. I guess my bins aren't in ideal condition.

2 - What is the size of your bin(s)?
I live in BC and I install cable heaters in my outside bins around November. To avoid overheating, these heaters are connected to a thermostat.
It is not necessary to have the entire bin heated, just to give them an area to retreat and stay alive until spring. It is also important to keep the MO alive because it will take more time to "re-activate" a dormant bin.
PetSmart used to carry the ZooMed Reptile heater cables but they changed to another brand which is more expensive. Looks like better quality but I don't need that.
I got mine from amazon.com. The heater cable itself is not expensive and they have different lengths. The cost of shipping sucks. In regards to length, don't forget that they have 5 Ft.(?) cold leading length at the start from the plug in.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 12:48PM
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1. You can't really have too many worms, but don't worry about it anyway.....they self-control populations by slowing down everything if it gets too crowded. (unlike humans)

2. Because compost worms are basically surface dwellers, they won't survive those temps without some control measures.


Moderation, Patience, Diversity

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 1:03PM
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Cross the "over-population" bridge when you come to it. As chuckiebtoo said, and Otis11 alluded to, you're not likely to ever come to it.

Good luck on the over-wintering. I think Otis11's suggestion is going to be the 'basic idea'. As chuckiebtoo said, some measures will be required. There are those that believe that "composting" - in the non-worm sense - will provide enough heat for the winter. I am certain that is not the case for where I live in Alaska, but it might work for Nova Scotia.

There was some great work done on large scale worm farming IN Nova Scotia. I'll hunt down the citation and get it to you.


    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 2:21PM
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Copy the following link http://oacc.info/docs/vermiculture_farmersmanual_gm.pdf into your internet browser. It should open the pdf file for you, and you can then down-load it to your computer.


    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 2:26PM
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My experience with wintering compost worms is, apparently, completely different. I'm in Russia (probably equivalent to well north of Montreal or Northern Ontario) and every winter the outdoor compost heap - thick with worms - freezes solid, temps 20 below C and worse. Every spring they come back as soon as it thaws. Obviously there is no 'composting' happening when frozen but the frozen stuff that piles up breaks down well later. So the only major inconvenience I see is slower composting and more space needed.

Just my experience of course. I can't say what to do to make this work, but my compost piles are fairly big (standard outdoor compost bin size) and with lots of materials - leaves, edibles, cardboard, etc - for the worms to hide in, and access to ground (no idea if they go there). I also can't tell you for sure whether the worms themselves survive the freezing or just the cocoons, but when they reappear, they do so en masse.

As for the type of worms, my best suggestion is to start with compost/manure worms that you find locally - the ones 'in the wild' are most likely to know what they need to do to survive your winter.

Your kilometrage may vary of course.

This post was edited by armoured on Mon, Sep 1, 14 at 15:49

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 3:33PM
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Starting with local worms adapted to the local environment is a good idea if one wants to overwinter outside. I don't KNOW what the reality is, but one of three things is true of both "wild" worms and "cultured" ones:
1) The worms find overwintering refugia that doesn't freeze, (in my part of Alaska, the frost line is about 4' deep), or
2) The adults die but the egg cases survive the freezing temperatures, or
3) The adults can tolerate being frozen. (This is not uncommon in several arctic insect species.)

What is your latitude armoured?

If English isn't your native tongue, let me complement you on your written use of English. If English is your native tongue, what takes you to Russia?


    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 8:35PM
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that is a very long and interesting read. who knew that was done right under my nose. Sounds like I could definitely do it.


    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 9:01PM
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Edward Snowden?

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 9:03PM
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I would think so, anschutz. That publication certainly encouraged me to try my hand at it. Mendopete provided some "reality', and as a result, I am a 'satisfied' composter/wormer. (Probably now more emphasis on compost for me.)


    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 9:20PM
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@Paul: thanks. About 55 North. Agree with your points (or speculation?) about wintering worms - they're hardier than most realize. Me? Native English speaker, came to work and stayed longer than I expected. Life happens.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 10:12PM
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"Life happens" - Ain't it the troof!

Very interesting. I'm at about 62 North. I am curious about what the native worms - that look A LOT like Eisenia fetida - do for overwintering here in AK. That curiosity may at some point run high enough for me to seek an authority on the subject of subarctic worms that I can get an answer that I can believe.


    Bookmark   September 2, 2014 at 11:04AM
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@Paul - I don't know what kind of worms I have either. They look like e. fetida, but could be Euros I guess.

I read _somewhere_ ages ago that the worms have the ability to (as I recall) 'curl up' in a thin layer of their mucous/ice with trapped air. Whether this constitutes 'freezing' the worms or not, I don't know - can't see as it makes any difference for my purposes. What I do know is they come back quick every spring, whether on their own or from cocoons.

I don't see how this type of worm could get down below the frost line in earth though. In compost, they'll get well below the 'surface', but I've really never seen any below the thinnest layer of topsoil (unless there's something tasty there).

    Bookmark   September 2, 2014 at 2:46PM
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Years ago when we had the house, my ex-hubby and I made a little lean-to for the worms to be outside during the winter. In my beginnings of being a vermicomposter I over-fed in my over-zealousness, and we had a number of fruit flies throughout the house and ex-hubby was a tad less than enamoured with my hobby.

We built a large plywood box against the house, lined it with styrofoam and put my rubbermaid bin in. The gaps were filled with straw. The bin was loaded with leaves to tide them over the winder.
A sloped plywood lid and then 2 window panes on top to magnify any sun/heat.

I fed them as long as I could but eventually the snow and cold inhibited me. In the spring I unpacked the lads and they had survived, and life carried on. I live in Ontario

    Bookmark   September 2, 2014 at 3:09PM
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jasdip: how cold does it get there in winter?

    Bookmark   September 2, 2014 at 5:32PM
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Here is something I posted back in 2012. Rather than rewrite the whole thing, I just used Cut & Paste.
' I've had good results using rope light for heating. My rope light (with tiny light bulbs, not LED's)is rated at 16w/meter. I have 5-meters=80w. Wrap your hand around a lit 80w bulb and you'll see just how much heat it gives off. Here's what I did. I found a wooden pallet the size of my two bins and placed it on the solid-wooden table that my bins sit on. I then snaked the rope light underneath the pallet with the bins sitting on top. Then I sealed the open areas around the pallet with styrofoam. The only place for the heat to go is up between the slats of the pallet. So I'm not directly heating the bins but rather the air space under them. I then connected a dimmer switch to the rope light so that I have full range between 0 and 80w. Using simple oven thermometers in the bins (long stems with the dial on top), I can adjust the temperature of the bins. I used this system successfully through three consecutive winters with sub-freezing outside temperatures. '


    Bookmark   September 13, 2014 at 11:38AM
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That was one of the threads that 'tempted' (encouraged) me to to do indoor bins up here in Alaska!


    Bookmark   September 13, 2014 at 2:22PM
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