My First Winter Worm Composting System
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