Are you wondering what to do with your worms in the winter? The answer depends on where you live and your goals for your worm farm.
Warm Climate Winters
Do you live in a part of the world where winters rarely dip below 57 degrees Fahrenheit? If so, there is not much you need to do to prepare your worms for winter. Uncle Jim’s Red Wigglers are hardy enough that they don’t begin to slow down until temperatures regularly sink below that level. If you have a stretch of cooler weather, your worms won’t eat as quickly, so you may want to make things easier for them. You can “pre-chew” their food by running it through a food processor or blender, or simply chopping it into smaller pieces. You may need to feed them less.
If winter means rain where you are, then you will need to protect your worms from flooding. If your worms are in a bin, make sure the drainage holes are not blocked and that the bin is not in an area where large amounts of water will fall into it.
Cold Climate Winters
If winter means freezing temperatures where you are, then you have some choices to make. Do you want to preserve as many worms as possible and continue composting throughout the winter? If so, then your best bet is to move your worms indoors. The Worm Factory 360 footprint is only 18″ x 18″, and the bin can very often be tucked away in a corner of a house or apartment. A basement, a closet, a heated garage, or a kitchen cabinet are some possible places where you might allow your worms to winter. Properly managed, your worm bin will not smell or attract flies, and many people keep their worms indoors year-round. However, those who are more squeamish or can’t find the space may prefer to winterize their worms for the great outdoors. The milder your winter is, the more likely this is to work for you.
Overcoats for Worms
If you want your worms to spend winter outdoors, here’s a few guidelines.
Monitor. Use a compost thermometer to take the temperature at several places in your bin. Temperature varies with the stage of decomposition, so it is normal for temperature to be different at different spots in the bin. At 57 degrees Fahrenheit your worms will feel the cold. At 85 degrees Fahrenheit your worms may overheat and die.
Insulate. You can insulate the outside of your worm bin with anything from straw bales to shredded newspaper to rigid foam board. Just be sure that your insulation does not block your bin’s ventilation or drainage.
Heat. Place a heat source, such as a light or heating pad, above the outside of the bin. This will mimic natural summertime conditions, where warmth and food are near the surface and coolness is further down. However, be sure to keep the lid on to protect your worms from light. And keep the heat source away from the surface of the bin and the insulation–you don’t want to start a fire! Also, don’t place your worm bin in direct sunlight as that can cause it to overheat in a hurry.
Winterizing worms to survive an extreme climate can be tricky. Wild worms naturally die off during the winter, but they usually lay eggs beforehand. Worm eggs easily survive the winter, and baby worms emerge in the spring. The same thing can happen in your worm bin. If your winterizing efforts don’t keep enough of your adult worms alive, you may be able to slowly rebuild the population naturally as the eggs hatch, or you can order more composting worms when the weather warms up to jump start your composting in the spring.