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):
Well, it has been almost a month and a half since my last winter composting update, and I’m sure some of you must be wondering what on earth happened. Unfortunately this year’s extravaganza was once again derailed in February – although it certainly wasn’t as decisive a victory for Old Man Winter this year. The timing wasn’t great – I ended up getting really busy with other things, and then was away for two weeks. It’s hard to say for sure if I would have succeeded (temps were continuing to decrease the last time I checked), but I guess we’ll never know.
We had a serious blizzard (~ 40 cm of snow) a couple weeks ago and still have not had anything resembling real spring weather as of yet, although the sun is certainly a lot more powerful these days which helps. As you can see both of my outdoor composters are still deep in snow. Once the weather starts warming up some more I’ll likely dig out what’s left of the snow around the insulated bin and open it up for a look.
All in all, I’m pretty happy with the progress I have made and know for sure that next year will be the one!! haha
Of course, I would have loved to have a fully active bin all year round, but hey I can’t complain – still being able to compost outside in early February is pretty cool!
That being said, I am DEFINITELY looking forward to getting back to some normal outdoor composting and of course gardening as well!
Once again, for a full run down of winter composting posts (this year and last year) and general information, be sure to check out my Winter Composting page.
Like last year, February seems like it is really going to be the ‘make it or break it’ month for me (as you may recall, last year I was broken). During this past week we’ve seen some brutally cold weather and a lot of snow fall. I made sure to pile the snow high on the bin when I heard about the cold weather coming through, and another big dump of snow last night has left my bin almost entirely buried.
I decided to shoot a short video (see below) this morning just to give you a quick 180 degree tour of the bin. Pictures certainly help, but still shots will never hold a candle to video in terms of providing viewers with the complete picture.
I’m still trying to figure out how to make videos that don’t end up pixelated (the originals look great), so please bear with me here.
I will definitely make some more featuring the winter bin – specifically, some showing the inside of the bin once I open it up again.
Speaking of which, as mentioned in the video, it has been a number of days since I last looked inside. When I last took temperature readings it looked as though the warmest regions were somewhat lower than 10 deg C (50 F), so I may be in a bit of trouble! Hopefully not, but we shall see.
Anyway, I will definitely provide another update once I clear all the snow off and have a look inside.
Old Man Winter can’t seem to make up his mind this year! Yesterday it was above freezing and we lost quite a lot of snow thanks to some heavy rainfall last night. Early this morning however, we were awakened from our slumber by the loud sound of gale force winds battering the house. When I took the garbage out a short time later I quickly realized the winds were fiercely cold, and all that had been thawed yesterday was once again frozen solid!
In my last winter composting update I mentioned my concern regarding the dropping temperatures in the bin. The next day I decided to take matters into my own hands and see if I could artificially increase the warmth of the composting mass. I filled a large (4 L) bottle with hot water and buried it in the heart of the bin (as shown below).
I was hoping this would help to stimulate some more microbial heating (since there is plenty of ‘fuel’ in the form of decomposing food waste).
Given the extreme conditions today (it is apparently -23C / -9.4F with the wind chill), and the loss of much of the protective snow layer, I decided I had better check up on things and refill the bottle with some more hot water. In fact, I decided to even add a second hot water bottle. I was happy to see that temperatures didn’t seem to be dropping any further, and the worms and springtails still appear to be quite active.
I was hoping I wouldn’t have to cheat like this but when it comes down to it, even with some cheating last year, I couldn’t keep the bin active! So if I’m able to continue composting all winter with a little outside (or should I say ‘inside’ – haha) assistance, I think I can live with that! Still a major improvement in my books!
Anyway, we’ll see how it holds up. I’m hopeful that with enough attention and effort I’ll be able to get the natural heating back on track again.
As per usual, I’ll be sure to keep you posted on my progress!
[tags]winter composting, composting, compost, compost bin, composter, worm composting, vermicomposting, worm bin, hot water bottle[/tags]
Looks as thought I might be in for a serious winter composting challenge after all! I’ve been feeling mighty confident about my chances of success this winter, given how easily the bin has weathered the snowy (and cold) conditions thus far, but today I finally got a bit of a reality check when I opened it up! Temperatures have dropped considerably and there is frost creeping in from all sides. The image below shows one section of the lid that is thoroughly frosted.
The warmest temperature reading I could find was in the 10 C (50 F) range, and that was right in the heart of the system. When I dug down I could see lots of worms congregated in this central zone – not too surprising!
I really need to try and swing the momentum back in my favour. Given the heat (or cold in this case) holding capacity of water, you can find yourself sliding down a slippery slope towards a frozen bin well before much of the bin actually starts to freeze. Once you get past a certain point it can be very difficult to recover.
To help stimulate microbial activity today I added a LOT of kitchen waste, along with a thick layers of leaves/straw which had been sitting inside. Something else I’m testing out is the addition of microbially-rich liquid solutions to the bin. It all started kinda accidentally, really. I had some mulched leaves/grass sitting in a bucket and decided to add some water (wanted to use the liquid for another experiment). I ended up forgetting about it for awhile so it went a little anaerobic on me. In an effort to liven it up a little I decide to pump some air into it with a small aquarium pump and airstone. While I was doing this it suddenly occured to me that this rich microbial liquid might help to stimulate more activity in the bin.
In an effort to increase microbial activity even more I added some molasses (a rich source of readily-assimilated sugar and other good stuff). Not 100% sure this will make a difference, but even just adding warm (compared to the bin) liquid should help! In a sense I’ve created a form of compost tea – although I doubt it would be as beneficial for plant growth (since I didn’t start with quality, finished compost)
I’m also thinking seriously about filling a large (4L) juice bottle with hot water and placing it in the center of the bin. It should help add some temporary warmth and help to stimulate more microbial activity as well.
I’m actually kind of excited now that things are getting more challenging! Definitely makes it a lot more interesting! That being said, hopefully this years Extravaganza won’t end up like last years.
Regardless, I’ll be sure to keep you posted!
[tags]winter composting, worm composting, vermicomposting, compost bin, composting bin, composter, red worms, red wigglers, kitchen waste, mulch, microorganisms[/tags]
Yes, ‘wintry’ is indeed a word – I just looked it up!
Hi everyone – good to finally be back in action here on the blog. As mentioned in my last post, I’m long overdue for a winter composting update. We’ve seen some major fluctuations in weather since the last update (as suggested by the title of this post).
As you can see in the picture above, we had pretty significant warm spell – nearly all the snow melted away, and it certainly wasn’t too challenging to keep the compost bin contents nice and cozy during this period of time. Keeping the tarp on the bin however, was not quite so easy. We had a day of extremely high winds – I could literally see pieces of cardboard flying through the sky (it just so happened to be ‘garbage day’ in my neighbourhood)!
Winter does seem to be making a come back these days. We had a significant snowfall recently, and temperatures have fallen quite a bit (but still not normal January lows by any means).
The last time I visited the bin temperature readings were somewhat lower than previously. Still well above freezing, but the average was probably in the 10-15 C (50-59 F) range, rather than the 15-20 C (59-68 F) range encountered previously. I’m not worried at all, but I DO need to be careful about letting the temps get too low. As I discovered last year, once it gets cold in there it is very difficult (if possible at all) to stimulate heating again. What’s interesting is that I’ve been adding a LOT of food waste so I’ve actually been expecting to see a spike in temperatures at some point (not that I really want that). Hopefully all this ‘fuel’ will provide a ‘slow burn’ source of heat for the next few weeks. I still have lots of leaves and will be getting a bale of straw soon as well, so there is no shortage of insulation and waste materials this year (one of the problems I encountered last year).
The red worms inside seem quite active. They are quite small, but there are a lot of them, along with numerous cocoons as well!
Anyway, thats all for now – not exactly the most exciting winter composting update! I guess that’s one of the downsides of having such a reliable bin this year!
You may recall from the recent update me voicing hope that some colder weather would hit so I could really put the winter composting bin to the test. Well, as luck would have it temperatures plummeted the very next day, and have continued very cold today. I decided to make a trip out to the bin when I saw on the Weather Network that it was -18 C (-0.4 F) in my area this morning (and certainly even colder last night). This is definitely the coldest it has been so far this winter! I actually found myself feeling a teeny bit worried that bin temperatures would have dropped substantially as a result.
I decided to take out a bucket FULL of foodscraps (mixed with mulched leaves/grass) accumulated during our recent New Years event so as to provide some warm, microbially active ‘fuel’ for the system – just in case. When I opened up the lid however, I realized my worries were unfounded. Steam billowed out and I could see countless springtails crawling around on the inner lid surface (which was wet – not frozen at all). I quickly took some temperature readings and was very happy to see temps in the 20 C (68 F) range throughout much of the bin!
I didn’t want to push my luck (given the minus 18 air temp), so I quickly added the bucket of material and closed up the bin once again.
Aside from the substantially improved insulation wall added this year, I’ve added a few additional tweaks to my methodology – small improvements that I suspect have helped to maintain the cozy conditions in the bin. Last year whenever I wanted to add more leaves for insulation, I simply opened up one of the bags sitting out on my deck and added whatever amount I desired to the bin. This year I’ve decided to bring each bag inside for 1 or 2 days prior to adding the contents to the bin. This extra step ensures that the contents of the bag have warmed up to my house temperatures and therefore won’t end up lowering temperatures in the composting mass when I add them. This probably seems pretty common sense – and it certainly IS – but for whatever reason it just didn’t occur to me to do this last year.
I am also making an effort to add buckets of waste, rather than simply taking out (and dumping) my milk carton kitchen scrap holder whenever it gets full. I plan to do the same with my bokashi buckets as well, once that project is up and running. Water has great heat holding capacity, so adding more water-rich food wastes (which are already decomposing) at once should help to boost overall warmth in the bin.
I have little doubt that we’ll see even colder temperatures before too long (although strangely enough, they are calling for temperatures well above freezing by early next week!), and cold spells that will last much longer, but nevertheless my optimism remains very high for the success of this years experiment!
[tags]winter composting, composting, compost, compost bin, worm composting, vermicomposting, composter, worm bin, red worms, red wigglers[/tags]
You are out playing with your winter compost bin at 7:30 in the morning on New Years Day, after 4 hours of sleep and too much bubbly the night before!
Laughs aside, this morning actually provided me with a prime opportunity to check up on the bin and sneak in a winter composting update on the blog while I’m at it. We have family over for Christmas/New Years celebrations but everyone is still sleeping.
As you may be able to tell from the picture, we are being hit with another decent snow storm. When I don’t have to go anywhere I really love these heavy snow falls. I’m not sure if it takes me back to childhood or if I’m excited about the additional insulation for my outdoor compost bin (maybe both?), but either way it never fails to make me smile!
Ok, on to the update…
It hasn’t been very cold here over the holidays but most days have been below zero and most of our snow has stayed. I must say I’m very impressed with how well the compost bin is performing – chugging along like a well-oiled biological machine! This morning I found many zones in the 20 C (68 F) range and the coldest reading (taken from an area next to one of the walls) was 10 C (50 F)!
It feels a little funny saying this, but I really hope we get some severe winter cold eventually so I can really put this bin to the test. Thus far I’ve had no real difficulty maintaining cosy temperatures. I know it would have been a lot more challenging if I was using the same insulation system I set up last winter – thank goodness I decided to get serious this time around. I don’t want to sound too cocky, but in all honesty I will be very surprised if I’m not able to keep the bin active all winter long.
Anyway, that’s all for now!
HAPPY NEW YEARS!
[tags]composting, compost, winter composting, compost bin, worm composting, vermicomposting, composter, red worms, red wigglers, worm bin[/tags]
Yet bin temps are so delightful!
The worms have no place to go!
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
Time for a winter composting update! We were hit with a mega snow storm this weekend (starting on Saturday night) and have a LOT of new snow on the ground. I’m happy to report that conditions in the bin have actually been improving, in spite of all this winter weather! I guess my ‘slow release heating’ strategy is starting to pay-off (if you watched the video you may recall that I chose not to add any water when I filled my bin with organic matter this fall – I wanted the materials to gradually moisten and warm up rather than causing thermophilic conditions in the bin right away).
As I mentioned in my last winter composting post, bin temps have been a wee bit on the low side @ 10-12C (~50-54F) in the warmest parts of the bin. Today the middle of the bin is close to 20C (68F) – almost TOO warm for my liking! While I certainly want the bin to be cozy for the worms, and some decomposition to occur, I would rather keep the temperatures closer to 15C (59F) if at all possible. Hopefully the current warm temps will serve to warm up the rest of the bin somewhat – I noticed that other regions are still quite cool (only a few degrees above freezing around the outer edges).
I added a nice thick layer of aged straw (collected from my tomato garden in November) today as well, which should definitely help insulate the composting mass from above where it needs it the most (I didn’t put any insulation on my lid). As I was adding it I saw a mouse scurry out – it moved too quickly for me to determine its final destination, but I’m pretty sure it is still in the bin. I had at least one in the bin last year as well, but I tried not to get too worked up over it. Worse case scenario, they eat some of the food waste and add some of their own fertilizer to the bin. Some people seem to think they will eat worms, but I find this somewhat doubtful. Guess we’ll see how the worm population looks in a couple months!
The image above shows the view from behind the composter. As you can see I have a wee bit of snow piled up (on the other side of the fence). There is actually a stack of unused pieces of insulation underneath the snow as well! Overkill? Perhaps.
All in all, given the performance of the unit thus far (and we’ve definitely had a decent amount of real winter weather), I’d say things are looking good all winter long! Sure, the coldest days are still ahead, but I’m still very optimistic!
Stay tuned! Many more updates to come!
[tags]winter composting, worm composting, vermicomposting, worm bin, composter, compost bin, thermohpilic composting, red worms, red wigglers[/tags]
I’ve talked previously (here) about Fall Composting, but I haven’t really talked at great length about my winter composting efforts. Given that winter has most certainly arrived here in Ontario (as I type I am watching as snow falls heavily outside my window) and that I have lots of information to share about this year’s winter composting efforts – there is no time like the present!
You can find full coverage of my efforts last year on the EcoSherpa blog, or more easily on the EcoSherpa Squidoo lens (about half way down the page you’ll see my winter composting photos and links to my blog posts below). This year I plan to provide full coverage here and @ Red Worm Composting.
In a nutshell, I’m basically just trying to keep my large outdoor worm bin active all winter long (is that too much to ask?! haha). I gave it the ‘ol college try’ last winter but had to cut my losses in February (not January, as mentioned elsewhere) due to the contents of the bin starting to freeze solid. All in all, I was pretty impressed that I made it as far as I did, and vowed that I would come back swinging this year!
One of my weaknesses last year was an relatively feeble insulation system. I basically stapled garbage bags to the outside walls, then stuffed them full of old grocery bags and other plastic waste I had stockpiled. The one plus of this system was the solar absorption properties of the black plastic – on sunny winter days the plastic panels helped to warm up the bin somewhat, but once the serious winter arrived (and there was relatively few sunny days) this didn’t do me much good. Another issue encountered was the strange winter weather. For a couple months it was actually looking like we wouldn’t get a winter at all. During this time I still stockpiled materials in the bin and ended up burning through most of my winter food stock, not to mention having to deal with excess heat generation a few times! If I had taken a more moderate approach I likely would have been able to stretch things out at least a little longer.
Well, I certainly learned from my mistakes and feel relatively confident that I’ll be able to make it all the way through the winter this time around – even with Environment Canada predicting this will be the coldest winter in 15 years! I’ve ‘souped up’ my insulation system, have secured more bin materials for the cold months ahead, and have been taking a much more moderate approach in an effort to conserve materials and prevent unnecessary overheating from occurring.
I put together a YouTube video outlining my efforts.
You can also watch the FULL (higher quality) version on my Worm Composting Videos page (RedWormComposting.com). Aside from being much higher definition, it also has a little more information.
Thus far, the bin has been performing fairly well. Unlike last year, we’re already into a ‘real’ winter (and have been for a number of weeks now), and I already have a huge heap of snow piled around the bin for extra insulation. Temperatures in the middle of the composting mass have been a little lower than expected – in the 10-12C (~50-54F) range, but if I can actually keep the bin in that range all winter long it will be a major triumph!
I will definitely be posting updates on a fairly regular basis (now that I’m getting back into the swing of things here on the blog). Stay tuned – much more to come!
[tags]winter composting, composting, compost bin, composter, worm bin, worm composting, vermicomposting, extravaganza[/tags]