Vermicomposting outdoors

Beaumont, TX(Zone 9a)

Can worms be maintained outside in zone 9a year round? If so which worms and what do i need to do to overwinter them?

Detroit, MI(Zone 6a)

Yes. And no. I'm not sure where Beaumont is, but if you are in a dry region of Texas, I'd be far more concerned with dessication from heat and arid conditions in summer than death from cold in winter. There are large-scale worm operations all over the south, and many are in the open air at least part of the year, though they are top-sheltered from the elements.

Outdoor worm bins can be built low to the ground to take advantage of ground moisture. Some folks have good luck with pieces of plywood cut into 2'x4' or 3'x4 panels for the top and bottom, with 2x10 boards for the sides. Cover the bin with one of the panels and keep a lot of damp top bedding inside the bin. Worms need significant moisture or they will suffer and die. Also, you MUST keep the bin in the shade at all times. Worms can't tolerate temps lower than about 40F or higher than about 90F. Not ambient temps- direct temps. If the bin is in the sun, the poor dears will cook. An insulated shed with very good ventilation would be ideal for outdoor bin farming (got a barn?). If the bin is directly on the ground, be sure the bottom of the bin is well-enclosed, or the worms will either escape or be eaten by moles.

I'd stick with classic Eisenia Fetida (red wiggler) worm for your outdoor bins. They are very adaptable to a wide range of conditions.

They might need additional winter insulation, such as straw or blankets. Keep a close watch on the temperature and ventilation your first year.

West, TX

How do I get rid of fire ants In my compost,as they make my compost unuseable and have killed all of the natural worms in my compostpiles. I,ve heard grits will do the job but it seems that they swell before the ants get them.Thanks Sam,Waco TX

Detroit, MI(Zone 6a)

I've heard that Amdro works. It's decidedly not organic, though- I would never use it. Fire ants are not a problem where I live in Michigan. You Texas gardeners have it pretty rough with the critters- maybe it's a trade-off for getting such a long growing season ;).

Fire ant questions have come up before in DG- have you tried a search in the forums?

Central Texas, TX(Zone 8b)

Your compost pile is probally to dry. Try moistening it up a bit.

Comer, GA(Zone 7b)

my father in law posted something on the georgia forum I think about how he deals with fire ants, I cant remember where it was though and it could have been 2-3 years ago, If I remember correctly he puts amdro in a can or cup and lays it on top of his pile( he uses his compost pile for his worms) you might try posting in the georgia forum and ask mqiq77 how he dealt with them.He has vast knowledge about gardening and composting, and is more than willing to share.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

You can also build your worm bin in the ground as a trench with a sturdy cover. Be sure to surround the trench with wire mesh to keep the gophers and moles out.

Helena, MT

I hate to see a good thread go I wanted to post an update on my outdoor vermiculturing. In a past composting thread I mentioned there are no earthworms in my garden. My Montana garden has not been a friendly place for earthworms. However, I was digging in an uncovered raised bed yesterday and found numerous worms near the surface. The bed was originally constructed to raise horse radish which I dug down three feet to form a four foot depth bed. I used mostly composted horse manure since there is very little dirt left after removing the rock (bed rock at two feet). After the horse radish failure I used the bed successfully for leaf lettuce and spinach which was the plan for this season. The worms I'm sure are red wigglers, from my four indoor worm compost bins, which are added to my outdoor horse manure compost bin . These worms would never survive in my garden, but its good to know they are over wintering in the raised beds.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

That's great news mraider!

Paris, TN

we use lime for ants in our bins and it works spread around the outside and in the bin but use sparingly in the bin and watch your ph with the lime

Helena, MT

fieldsems...last summer while working in the garden, a couple driving by stopped to ask some questions about what I was doing in the garden. As I was walking them back to their vehicle, the wife looked down and saw the army of ants that had taken residence in a crack between the concrete drive and the foundation of the house. She told me Boraxo was what they used to repell ants when camping. Not for certain what Boraxo is composed of, possibly a form of calcium or lime. Boraxo is typically readily available in most households, and I believe its a natural substance produced by surface mining somewhere in the west.

Detroit, MI(Zone 6a)

Aw mraider, now you've gone and make me look stuff up (which I deeply, madly love to do- shoulda been a librarian)

"Borax (from Persian burah), also known as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate, is an important boron compound, a mineral, and a [salt (chemistry)|salt]] of boric acid. It is usually a white powder consisting of soft colorless crystals that dissolve easily in water.

"Borax has a wide variety of uses. It is a component of many detergents, cosmetics, and enamel glazes. It is also used to make buffer solutions in biochemistry, as a fire retardant, as an anti-fungal compound for fiberglass, as an insecticide, as a flux in metallurgy, and as a precursor for other boron compounds.

"The term borax is used for a number of closely related minerals or chemical compounds that differ in their crystal water content, but usually refers to the decahydrate. Commercially sold borax is usually partially dehydrated."

And apparently Boraxo is just borax mixed with soap flakes. Sure sounds like stuff all ants would hate.

This message was edited Apr 17, 2008 12:13 PM

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Yep, borax is harvested near Death Valley. The "20-Mule Team" is how they freighted it out of the mining area. Many of the ant syrups are boric acid mixed with sugar syrup.

Helena, MT

ilexwhite...sorry...I know I do that, but the payback here is you make me think about things I generally take for granted. Earlier you mentioned excess food stimulated the production of baby worms. I added that extra moisture was my approach, and then I thought about it: How do I add extra moisture...more blended food! Touche! Got me back.

Detroit, MI(Zone 6a)

Mraider, I'm here to help! ;)~ I'm seriously considering trying the blended food, by the way... maybe I could hook up a blender to a bicycle and pedal it all the way to pureed?? Ok, I kid... I'll plug the blender in, even though it goes against my Luddite streak.

Helena, MT

ilexwhite...what's happening seems like vermiculture is taking a nap. Maggie posted several great articles on another thread and hardly anyone is taking notice. I thought some good discussion would come out of two of the articles. The didn't figure the second one on trickling filters would go anywhere, since any discussion relative to wastewater treatment falls into the 'out of sight...out of mind' catagory. Although I see lots of parallels to that world, any comments in the past have gone quickly dormant.

As to using the blender to emulsify fruit and veggie scraps I don't see much interest. Personally I consider it the best idea for feeding my worms that I have come across. One newby mentioned possibly trying it after I made comment. Several others thought it would put too much water into their media. So I just drop it.

I know several people put some real effort into getting this forum going...just wish we could crank it up a notch. Got an about some naked pictures of our worms. MT will probably get me for that comment.

Detroit, MI(Zone 6a)

Nekkid pics of worms LOL!!! As I have far too many pics of my worms, here's one for your edification....

I'm guilty- I haven't read every thread. I'll check out the thread that Maggie contributed to and see if I can't help whip some air into it.

I suspect that everyone is putting in their gardens/ prepping their beds, and wormtalk is on the back burner for now. They'll come back, because it IS all about worms, as you and I well know...

Thumbnail by ilexwhite
San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

OMG! Live Nude Worms!

Seriously though mraider, with the weather warming up and then doing cold snaps of freezing winds, we've been very busy in the garden. Not much time to compute!
I'll try to get photos of the Bokashi enriched earthworms this weekend.

Central Texas, TX(Zone 8b)

ilexwhite, nice looking worms! I wish mine were that heavily populated. I think I killed to many of them.

(Mary) Poway, CA(Zone 10a)

Some of us newbies to the subject are just watching and learning. Been reading a lot of the old threads. Don't have anything to add to the discussion yet, but I am interested and I have this spot listed in my home site on Dave's. Keep on going when you have time. You're all doing a good job educating me, and probably lots of other people. Just wanted to express my appreciation.

Helena, MT

Well it looks like we are still alive and well here. Actually thought about taking a four month sabatical so I would have plenty of threads to brouse next winter. Agreed on the probablility that many of the DGers are busy tending their gardens already. Tried planting some lettuce in a raised bed and it snowed again with 20 degree temps to boot.

garden_mermaid...California with freezing weather...has this been a weird year for weather!

Dean_W...Talk to us. What went wrong? Lots of good people here with good advice...just have to ask.

ilexwhite...some really nice, fat, happy worms there. Media looks good too. What is the temperature and composition of the media. Reason I ask is I didn't see any little worms and the rings didn't seem like they were carrying developed egg capsules. Your media looks damper than mine as well. I tend to go a little dryer until it warms up enough in my garage for the egg capsules to start hatching. Not sure that makes any difference but that's just the way I've always done it.

mpabbott1...don't go never know what you will see or hear around here. Just remember thought MT is watching!

Central Texas, TX(Zone 8b)

I guess I added to much finished compost to the bin and it was alittle to moist.

Detroit, MI(Zone 6a)

Mraider, that was a pic (a few months ago) of a 2-pound delivery as they came from Happy D Ranch. The medium was a coir mix. It seemed quite dry to the touch, but the worms were very healthy. Good company to do business with.

It was also the first time I received a shipment of such uniformly young worms. I was a little taken aback when I first saw them, but they have done very well; lately they have been making babies like crazy.

Helena, MT

Dean_W...Since no one has jumped on this in the last 24, I would like to take a stab at it. If you had a pic of your medium it might help to determine if it is too wet. I didn't go back through the threads to see what medium you used, but I find adding extra medium can be usefull in cutting down on excess moisture. If you bed begins to have an unpleasant odor to it, you know you have too much moisture. More imput please!

ilixwhite...My knowedlge of coir mix for a worm media is nil. I may need to check into it some day when Canadian peat moss either becomes unavailable or too expensive. The things I like about the peat moss are the ease of making it ready for the vermi-bin, and the way it works later as a germination/potting up mix. I appologise for asking, because I'm sure you have mentioned it before, but what media are you using?

Helena, MT

OK ilixwhite, skip that last question about your media. I went back and reread the earlier thread and you explained it quite well. I am giving thought to the comment about using well composted manure (horse in my case) under the surface. Sounds reasonable. On your comment on collecting worm casings for sale at a local market, how is that going? What is your method of collecting the casings if I may ask?

I ocassionally use a layer of wet newspaper on top of my bins, and when I do, the underneath side is soon covered in dampened worm casings. My presumption is that the upper layer of media, which I remove regularly and replace with new media, is loaded with these casings. This is the materail I call the "spent media", and use for seed germination. So is my method of collecting casings significantly different than yours?

Central Texas, TX(Zone 8b)

mraider, I think it was to much food aswell. The medium has dried out now so I don't know if there is a need for a picture. The medium I used was shredded paper and finished cow compost. Yes, it had an unpleasant odor to the bedding when the die off happened. I thought it was due to the dead worms.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

mraider, I tried using well composted horse manure in as bedding in my worm bin and wound up with a bumper crop of horse bot fly larvae. If your worm bin is in the ground and/or outdoors, perhaps that would not be an issue. For a Wriggly Wranch on my deck, it became quite a problem. I had to clean out all the trays, scrub down the bin, replace all the bedding and pick out as many worms as possible to get the system going again.
I still get a few bot fly larvae, but at least they are not taking over.

Helena, MT

garden_mermaid....good point...glad you posted it. In the fall when I work in fresh horse manure into the garden, I get these nasty little horse flies, about a half inch long. Nothing repells them. About all you can do is smash them when they bite...stupid things aren't like house flies that are quick to detect a swat.

The composted horse manure used for potting up mixes will also be used in the worm beds. It is aged, or over wintered in barrels, left in an unheated shed. I grate it through a quarter inch screen prior to using. Don't know if that will take care of the 'bot fly larvae' but I will keep an eye open.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

The composted horse manure that I used is from a local winery that has stables. They mix the grape pomace with the stable manure and then compost it in huge windrows that are turned regularly. It is completely broken down. Horse bot fly eggs seem to be resilient. The larvae were over an inch long and a bit more than a quarter inch in width. They move quickly too.

The crows ate well when I cleaned out the worm bin and left them on top of the bed at the edge of the parking lot.

If your beds are outside, the crows (and any chickens in the neighborhood) should take care of them.

Helena, MT

garden_mermaid...this is a different creature than I was referring too. The bot fly is more like the common house fly and at various times I have seen something that looks just like this. However, I have never seen the larvae in any of the outdoor compost bins. The flies I was reffering to were definite a horse fly and they appear to be attracted by the scent of fresh horse manure. Darn things have a nasty bite and with little children on either side of us I have to incorporate any fresh manure immediately. My outdoor compost bins are well covered which so far has prevented any fly problems that I am aware of.

Paris, TN

Just started my first outdoor compost bin for my wormies do you have to have a source of manure for the compost to cook cause I have none just old produce and grass clippings

Detroit, MI(Zone 6a)

Fieldsems, I don't think I completely understand your question- if you use unfinished manure, you could have a host of problems- heating up, critters, flies, odor. Are you saying that all you have for bedding is produce and grass clippings?

Grass clippings will heat up a great deal and could cook your worms. Old produce could heat up as well, as well as have a real odor to it and draw critters. Neither are suitable for bedding, but the grass could be a component of bedding if it is hot composted first. Old produce makes good food for worms, but new worm operations need fairly small amounts of food at at first- too much food will certainly kill the worms. It can take 6-12 months for a worm bin to reach fully operational status.

You need some sort of bedding in your bin, at least at first. Even leaf mould from a forest floor will work, or you might use ripped-up and pre-soaked newspaper.

Are you worming in an outdoor windrow? Is it an enclosed bin? Is it inside a shed, or exposed to the elements?

Paris, TN

My worms are in bins 55 gallon drums cut in half we feed them produce now but have an excess because we get the throw outs from a grocery store so we built a compost bin because i know you can't put grass clippings in with your worms cause they heat up too much so if i have no source of manure will my compost (not my worms) cook? Oh also my worms are in a shed outside. Thanks

Detroit, MI(Zone 6a)

Your worms won't cook, but they probably won't be happy in bedding made entirely of old produce. Finished manure is not critical for bedding, but you do need something else in there to counter all the "green"- you need a lot of "brown" like in any other compost pile. Adding leaf mould or shredded, soaked newspaper would help.

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