This year’s winter worm composting windrow
Those who have followed this blog at one time or another, or at least toured around the site, will likely know that I get a kick out of setting up winter composting systems every year to see if I can keep them fully active throughout the winter. I’ve jokingly referred to this annual challenge as my “Winter Composting Extravaganza”.
I wrote about my Extravaganza here for one of the four winters I’ve been doing this (and of course, set up my Winter Composting page at that time as well). The following year I moved things over to Red Worm Composting, and that’s where it’s remained.
Last year, I set up a huge straw-bale worm bed over at my dad’s place (with his assistance). It worked very well, and we ended up having no real problem keeping it active all winter. The main issue however, was the fact that it was at HIS house, not mine. This made the project into a rather time-consuming endeavor, and as a result I didn’t do as much with it as I would have liked.
This year I decided that it only made sense to host the Extravaganza in my backyard once again – this time testing out a different strategy from any of the previous years. I set up a big windrow bed, using lots of straw for insulation (along with a black tarp over top). I was guardedly optimistic about my chances of success. After all, the system didn’t hold near the volume of my straw-bale bed, and it was located in a totally unprotected location (i.e. not directly behind the house, or in a sheltered backyard, as my other two systems have been).
Over the holidays, my worries seemed to transform themselves into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I watched as the temperature in the bed dipped down very close to the freezing mark (in fact, there were plenty of zones that were totally frozen. In my defense, this DID happen to be a busy time for me, so I definitely didn’t give the system the attention it deserved!
I decided enough was enough in the new year, and worked hard to get the bed back in good shape. I added lots of new food material (food waste, hay, leaves, manure. coffee grounds) and some additional insulation (straw + a blanket). I even ran a string of rope lights through the middle to see if a little artificial warmth would help to get things going.
Well, as you might guess, everything turned out just fine, and as it stands, I would have to say that this has been my most successful system to date! Temperatures in the core of the pile have been above 20 C (68 F) for the better part of a month now. I have been monitoring the temps from inside my house using a remote weather station device (with the weather probe sealed in a ziplock bag and buried in the pile).
We just had a big snow storm yesterday, and as you can see, the snow is melting off the top of the bed.
I’m happy to report that the Red Worm population is also doing very well. I dug around in the pile a few days ago and found nice masses of worms munching away on the wastes down below. I am actually planning to start harvesting worms for customers fairly soon.
Anyway, if you are interested in reading more about this year’s Extravaganza, be sure to check out the posts over at Red Worm Composting. Here they are (in chronological order):
Winter Worm Composting Windrow
Winter Worm Windrow – 12-03-09
Winter Worm Windrow – 12-09-09
Winter Worm Windrow – 01-12-10
Winter Worm Windrow – 01-13-10
Winter Worm Windrow – 01-16-10
Winter Worm Windrow – 01-20-10
Winter Worm Windrow – 01-27-10
Winter Worm Windrow – 02-12-10
Winter Worm Windrow–02-22-10
[tags]composting, vermicomposting, worm composting, winter composting, windrow, red worms, compost worms, vermiculture[/tags]
Written by Compost Guy on February 23rd, 2010 with 2 comments.
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By Dave Pawson
I’m UK based (Cambridgeshire) and new to vermiculture. Last summer I purchased 2lbs Dendrobaeana worms (European Nightcrawlers – Dendrobaena veneta / Eisenia hortensis) from Kathy at Witneyveg.blogspot.com. I’d already built two containers for my garden compost from four by one timber, treated and jointed using simple halving joints (allows me to reduce the height to enable turning the compost).
Initially I split the worms between the two compost heaps and hoped for the best. I cover the top with some old carpet (not foam backed!) which helps keep moisture in and the birds out. I just left them to it initially, let them acclimatise. Since I fill the bins alternately throughout the summer (grass cuttings, weeds, dead flowers, shredded hedge clippings etc) I’m afraid it wasn’t nicely rotted food they were getting. I set up a kitchen waste container, a plastic ‘bucket’ that holds a couple of pounds of waste, and we fill it with leftover (raw) foodstuff, mainly vegetables. This is fed to the worms, probably once per fortnight? I alternate between the bins, or split it between them.
In using the compost I tend to fill one and leave the other till it’s mature. Once I’ve used the mature one on the garden (I leave about six inches in the bottom for the worms) I swap over and start to fill the near empty one, leaving the fuller one to mature. I should turn the bins over every few weeks… but like others, I’m a bit lazy. I guess I do it about twice or three times a year. OK, I’m a lot lazy, but I do get my compost! My worms are there though I’ve no idea on quantity. I’ve tried shredded paper and cardboard, which they seem to love, coming up to the surface to munch on it! Other than that they have the place to themselves and seem to manage.
Winter bothered me at first, but it’s now February and I can still find worms fairly easily, even in the (what was) near empty bin with barely six inches of ‘food’ for the worms. So I guess the temperature didn’t drop to low values for too long, although this winter has been harsh by UK standards.
More recently, my wife bought six chickens (don’t ask) which we duly set up in the garden. We tend to let them loose in the garden after noon, but so far the carpet has kept them out of the compost bins! One of the benefits of the chickens this winter is that they scratch up the leaves from our boundary fence (Hawthorne hedge) which keeps them moist and over time has created a great layer of mixed grass and leaves, which I’m frantically trying to rake up and feed to the compost heap… worms (not sure which benefits the most!). Either way I’m grateful to the chicks for the service! Now if only they would rake up my lawn, get the dead grass out of it? Ah well. Another problem they posed was what to do with their droppings collected in the hen house each week. A mix of straw(for the laying boxes) and chicken muck. I have read it’s a bit acid (alkaline?) to go directly on the garden and I was tentative about putting it in the compost heap, so I’ve split it between a new part of the garden I’m digging over… the chickens are better at turning over loose soil than I, and the compost heap. No damage so far, the worms seem not to have reacted negatively.
In summary, my compost quality has improved, the chickens have increased the volume and the worms are still there as we approach spring!
Dave Pawson is a software engineer, nearly retired, with gardening pretentions
but little skills! He maintains a couple of web based standards FAQs. His homepage is: http://www.dpawson.co.uk
Written by Compost Guy on February 3rd, 2010 with 1 comment.
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By Cassandra Truax
Three Ways Raised Bed Gardening Makes Life Easier
Why garden with a raised bed?
Let me answer that question with another question. Why not? I started my first raised bed garden out of desperation. I live on the Mogollon rim in Northeaster Arizona. Translate: Mogollon rim to rock cliff. When I first moved here, I painstakingly sifted a tiny bit of dirt from rock and planted in containers. The pine forest soil is so poor, that even with ample fertilizer, my plants were stunted. I had heard of square foot gardening, and decided to give it a try. After the first rasied bed season, I asked myself, “Why didn’t I do this before?”.
1) Lessen or Eliminate Bending and Kneeling
Creating a raised bed garden gives you, the gardener, ultimate control. You control the height of the bed. So, if you have trouble bending over or working on your knees, make the bed a comfortable height for yourself. However, it’s my personal belief that a raised bed doesn’t “need” to be any taller than 18 inches.
2) Weeds Be Gone
Your backyard soil has probably decades of weed seeds just waiting for the right conditions to sprout. This is especially true if you live in the arid southwest as I do. Add water, and you’ve got weeds up the whazoo.
By filling a raised bed with everything but your native soil (or maybe just a little), weeds are a thing of the past. This was an unexpected but very pleasant surprise with my first raised bed garden. No weeds.
Any weeds that do happen to sprout are easily plucked from the soft, airy soil. The soil mix I use is basically coir (peat substitute), compost, and vermiculite. Then I add other stuff I have around that’s handy, maybe some sifted soil, pine bark mulch, horse manure, or charcoal.
3) High Density Planting Uses Less Space
Thanks to the wonderful soil mix used in raised beds, you can get more yield from a smaller space. This benefit is two fold. One, the plants can be closer in physical proximity because of the readily available moisture and nutrients. Two, the plants will produce more because of readily available soil and nutrients.
There’s so much more to be said about the benefits of raised bed gardens, but I’ll save it for future posts. For more information on creating a soil mix, see my article: “Soil Mix for Raised Bed Gardens”
What’s your favorite part of raised bed gardening?
Cassandra Truax is a naturalist who lives in the White Mountains of Arizona. She writes about organic raised bed gardening at http://www.organic-raised-bed-gardening.com .
Written by Compost Guy on February 3rd, 2010 with 1 comment.
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