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- How Do Worms Survive Winter?
- The Reality of Worm Composting in Winter and What You Can Do
- Frequently Asked Questions
Composting worms aid in the breakdown of food scraps, but some of you may wonder how these helpful creatures can survive the harsh winter. Any vermicomposting bin set up in a northern state is likely to freeze. Will all the worms die? Should you attempt to save them? Will there still be worm castings for fertilizer in the spring if the worms die? Should you bring them inside?
Uncle Jim will address all of these questions and more in this blog so you may properly care for your worm farm in winter and have these wriggly creatures ready for the next season.
Worms are not as delicate as we might think. In reality, they are one of the oldest species alive today. They have a relatively short reproductive cycle, and their eggs can survive in extreme conditions for up to a year.
Worms in a worm bin are essentially domesticated, but their behavior remains instinctive. You might have 500 worms in a composting bin made from a tote, or a worm farm with millions of composting worms. Either way, you manage their surroundings and take responsibility for their well-being.
How Cold is too Cold for a Worm Bin?
The first question you should ask is “what temperatures do earthworms prefer?” Here is a breakdown of the temperature ranges your red wiggler worm population can endure:
Too warm: Above 80°F
Ideal: 55 – 80 °F
Tolerable: 32 – 54 °F
Too cold: Below 32 °F
Keep in mind that these refer to the worm bin’s interior temperature, not the air temperature. We advise using a worm composting thermometer or an urban worm soil thermometer for the most accurate information.
How much Cold Can Red Wigglers Withstand?
When it comes to red wigglers, they are surprisingly cold-hardy little creatures. While they won’t be too happy about it, they can withstand temperatures well below 50 °F, and their cocoons can even survive freezing temperatures, albeit not for long. If the temperature drops below freezing, however, your wiggly friends will perish.
How Do You Overwinter Red Wigglers?
There are a couple of ways you can overwinter red wigglers, depending on your climate and resources available. You can:
- Leave them outdoors;
- Insulate the worm bin;
- Bury the bin partially;
- Move the bin to a warmer place, or
- Compost indoors.
Below, we’ll walk you through what you need to know about each method.
Leave them as-is Outdoors
This option requires the least work, but it also means that the majority of your earthworms will not survive the freezing temperatures. What will likely happen is they will lay eggs and let the next generation repopulate the worm bin. However, this is perfectly fine if you live in a warmer climate.
The eggs are viable for up to one year. If the adult worms lay eggs in the fall, the eggs can wait until the weather warms up in the spring. If worms do not appear several weeks into the warm weather, you might have to order more red wigglers from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm.
Insulate the Outdoor Bin
Worms require heat in order to produce worm castings. The composting process itself generates heat; but when the weather cools, the process will slow down. You can help retain the internal heat by adding insulation to your outdoor composters.
Worm beds in winter provide some insulation, but you can place hay bales outside the bin or attach insulation foam boards.
Here are materials you can use to keep the worm bin warm and well-insulated:
- Hay bales
- Scrap carpet
- Bubble wrap
- Insulating foam
- Shredded paper
Be sure to leave gaps in the insulation for air holes and proper drainage of any excess moisture.
Partially Bury the Outdoor Bin
The soil acts as an excellent insulator, sheltering your worms from extreme temperatures. All you have to do is dig a one-foot-deep hole and place the entire bin inside the hole. You can even add an extra layer of insulation for good measure. When the temperature drops, the worms will migrate to the bin’s bottom.
When winter is over, you can pull the worm bin out of the hole and return it to where it belongs. The only major problem is that you will not have easy access to the worm bin. It will be more work if you need to do any bin maintenance or harvest the castings.
Move the Bin to a Warmer Place
If you do not want to completely move the bin into your house, there are other warmer options to choose from. Worms might be able to survive on your porch, in the garage, or in your garden shed. While not as warm as the inside of your home, these areas are still warmer than your yard.
If you only have a worm compost pile, we suggest moving them into a bin (like the Worm Factory 360) so they can be more easily managed.
Check to see if you have a waste heat source, such as a dryer vent or a central heating exhaust vent. If you move the bin nearby, your worms may be subjected to hot bursts on a pretty regular basis.
Creating heat using a heating mat or lamp is also an option if the space still is not warm enough. Be cautious as this could be a fire hazard; make sure to keep electrical cords away from combustibles and moisture.
If you do not produce a lot of organic waste, an indoor worm bin would be perfect for you during the winter months. Composting indoors is great because you can better control the environment in which your worms live. You can put them under the kitchen sink, in your laundry area, and even have them out on display if you have one of those tray-based bins.
Contrary to what most people expect, worm bins do not stink or give off foul odors when done right. That only happens when you do not manage it properly. Make sure to only feed the worms kitchen scraps they can consume and you should not have any problems.
And that is it! You should be properly prepared for vermicomposting in the winter. As you probably know now, it is not hard or impossible. All you need is a little bit of time to prepare and the right attitude.
If you have any more questions about what worms prefer or are looking for any worm farming supplies, do not hesitate to reach out to our team!
You May also Want to Know…
Do Worms Hibernate in the Winter?
Yes, they do. Regular worms can tunnel six feet into the ground before the soil freezes. They bundle up into a slime-coated ball, hibernate (a process known as estivation), and wait until the weather warms to wake up.
What Do You Do with Worm Casting in the Winter?
Harvesting your black gold in the winter is still possible if you keep the core temperature of your worm bins in the ideal range. Combine this with a regular feeding schedule and bin upkeep, and you should be fine.
The only thing that would be more difficult is sorting through the bin and harvesting the castings in the cold weather. To make things easier, we recommend utilizing a tray based composter.
Are there Better Types of Food to Feed Your Worms in Colder Temperatures?
During the winter, worms do not have any particular diet. It does not matter what you feed them—normal fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, or other source of food—the only distinction is how much food you give to keep the worms alive.
Worms eat less organic matter during colder seasons than they would in the summer or spring because the cooler weather makes them more sluggish and slow-moving, not expending that much energy.
What is the Lifespan of a Red Wiggler Worm?
The lifespan of a Red Wiggler worm is typically between 1 and 5 years. However, this can vary depending on various factors such as environmental conditions and the care provided. They reproduce quickly and can create a thriving population within a composting system. While individual worms may have a relatively short lifespan, and go through the stages of their life cycle quickly, the overall population can continue to thrive and reproduce, providing ongoing benefits in nutrient-rich compost production.
Summing Up: How Do You Keep Red Wigglers Warm in the Winter?
If you live in an area where the temperatures drop below 32 °F in the winter, you’ll need to insulate your worm bin, place it in a heated area, or both. If you’re not comfortable with keeping them in your home, your garage or basement will probably do. As long as they aren’t exposed to freezing temperatures, your red wigglers should be fine.
Stick to Uncle Jim’s advice and your tough little wigglers should have no problem surviving the winter.