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I'm going to be moving into my first house soon in Westchester County, NY. I've done a lot of container and patio/balcony gardening and am looking forward to having a real backyard garden. I want to start composting with worms but am not sure if they are self-sustainable.

I'm ok with having to buy worms every season (I see that the red wiggler is the worm to get) but am curious about the experience of other vermicomposters in NY and the Northeast. I've read that an active compost pile can have a temp of 125 degrees Fahrenheit. I assume that worms will move out of my compost material when it gets that hot but what happens in the winter when it gets near zero?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

I've been composting with worms awhile now and believe I have some good advice for you:

1) if you are using the active compost method, you can't use worms. Red wiggler Worms survive from 40-95°Fahrenheit (4-35°Celsius), but the optimum temp is from 60-77°F (16-25°C). If you will be having a lot of waste and want to use worms to compost with, you have a couple options:

A) use bokashi composting first (you can compost everything, including meat, dairy, and oils with this method. It is an anaerobic method, meaning you can use an airtight container. After the bokashi compost bucket is full, either bury the pickled waste in your garden or feed a little at a time to your worms. Over feeding the worms is bad and can overheat the bin. There are many sites on bokashi composting if you google it.

B) the second method if you really want to have an active pile is to wait until the hot composting process is complete. I have a compost pile that has yard waste and horse manure (worms delicacy) right now that is 154°F (68°C). That's almost twice what the worms can survive in. Let the "hot" process complete, then add the ingredients to your worm bin. Hot composting is great to do prior to worm composting because it kills any diseases, pathogens, and weed seeds. Horses only digest about 1/4 of what they eat so many weed seeds escape.

* if you'd rather only use worms, you will need to build a compost pit (which you can insulate with straw in the winter) or you will need to put together a bin for them (wood ones are better than plastic because the aeration provided). You don't want to use garbage cans if you can help it because they will be too deep for the worms. If you have any questions, let me know and I'll be happy to help out any way I can.

Adam H (Phoenix, AZ)

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I would NOT use large garbage cans for worm's, especially if you want to stack them. Imagine each is full of worms/food/castings. Do you really think the air holes will help aerate the compacted material? Answer is no. This WILL BE an anaerobic condition just like in the bottoms of a plastic tote. It's usually very stinky and soggy if it is too deep because the weight of the materials packs everything down. Stacking systems don't just sit on the material underneath. They usually have legs to rest on the outside edge of the bin. – Adam Jun 5 '12 at 18:51
ow do you keep a compost pit aerated? And is it simply a shallow hole in the ground with the straw and such? – Clay Nichols Jan 17 '14 at 21:53

This might be an off topic answer since it doesn't involve wintering directly in your heap, but you can keep worms in a large rubbermade container in your (new) garage, feed them some of the stuff you'd put in your compost pile (cantaloupes perhaps).

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I was thinking something like that may work. Is there any reason I can't just build a worm composting tower with three rubbermaid trash bins and move this tower of worms indoors in the winter to keep my vermicomposting going? – somas1 Jun 8 '11 at 20:45
You'll be doing anaerobic composting then, I don't know that it's possible with worms. I wouldn't add more than what the worms can eat (which is substantial) – Peter Turner Jun 9 '11 at 14:55
Peter turner, it is not anaerobic, as you drill many holes for air exchange, and possible but unwanted drainage. – Grady Player May 21 '12 at 4:31

I would just comment, but i feel the need to ramble.

I have had red worms for about 4 years, I have over wintered them 4 ways, they were always in a bin every year but one. In my basement one year, they were fine. In two different garages, they were fine. Last winter I decided to try to overwinter outside.

I dug a hole 24 inches deep, maybe 3 foot square. Filled with peat and a little sand and the contents of the bin...

This spring... Not a whole lot of worms, don't know if the froze or dried out.. Or just left.

Not very scientific, but I am buying new worms... I know a guy, ;)

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Revisiting this I actually didn't have to buy new worms, I think that many of the adults died, but there must have been some eggs left, because the bin rebounded when I restarted it with the contents that I dug from the ground. – Grady Player Aug 8 '14 at 16:29

I've accidentally overwintered worms a couple of times. In the fall, I gather materials so that I can be ready for planting in late winter when the ground is still frozen. One of the required materials is composted horse manure, so I fill up a couple of 5 gallon buckets with the oldest stuff (sifted) from the manure pile and keep the buckets in a warm part of the garage (stays at least 50-60F).

When it comes time to start mixing potting soil in late winter, the compost buckets always have tons of worms.

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