2 Min. Tip: How We Keep Compost & Red Wigglers Warm All Winter


In today’s 2 minute tip, I’ll talk about how we keep red wigglers alive outside all winter long here in zone 5. The first thing we do is build a large hot compost pile in the fall, which will provide the worms with food, moisture, and warmth. We’ve had the most success with piles that are at least a cubic yard. The large size provides insulation from the cold and is optimal for hot composting. This compost was made with autumn leaves as the brown ingredient and comfrey, yard and garden waste, and used coffee grounds as the green ingredients. Ordinarily, hot compost piles are far too hot for red wigglers, but during the winter they provide a refuge from the cold. The worms can find locations in and around the pile that are comfortable and migrate closer to the center of the pile as temperatures cool. It’s also important to build the pile in a location that will receive as much sun as possible during the winter. This shaded pile is still frozen, while piles in sunny locations never froze during the winter, despite temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Another key is to keep the pile hot as long as possible. We do this by continuing to add more and more fuel, in the form of greens, browns, and moisture, as the pile cooks down. Covering the pile with plastic also helps. We continued to top this pile off with leaves and used coffee grounds well into January. As a result, the pile remained around 140 F all through December and was 120 F when this picture was taken in early January. The coldest temperature recorded was 45 F in mid-February. To show that this works, let’s take a look in one of the piles. After removing some of the material on top and digging into the compost, I find that it is absolutely loaded with red wigglers. Believe it or not, we did not intentionally stock this pile with worms. They simply migrated from nearby in the garden for the food and warmth. Well, that’s all for now. Thank you very much for watching this 2 minute tip.

48 thoughts on “2 Min. Tip: How We Keep Compost & Red Wigglers Warm All Winter

  1. Your tree collards are looking good, and it seems you were successful in propagating them.  Hopefully you get a some tasty leaves before the summer heat sets in.

  2. If you build it they will come. Great tip Patrick. 
    Here in Washington zone 8b we had a few frosty mornings but no extend cold period. The ground is saturated but never froze. I have a feeling it maybe a bad bug / insect year. 

  3. Great 2 minute tip Patrick. What great assets to the garden having all those worms!

  4. Awesome video. I love gardening, I even just started recording and documenting about it and sharing on youtube. I enjoy your channel keep it up!

  5. cool stuff, looks like those worms had enough time to reproduce a few times.   I will have to try this in the fall. thx for the share as always.

  6. That's amazing that you didn't stock that pile with any worms. You are definitely doing something right.

  7. That is fantastic ! My pile froze solid however my local worms will be coming out soon enough !

  8. Holy crap I've NEVER seen a frozen pile of compost before now that's cold! Not a tip I need but I found it very interesting nonetheless, cheers Patrick 🙂

  9. Amazing Patrick how all those worms migrated to the compost pile, I wouldn't know whether to put that stuff on my garden or go fishin with it…. maybe both @OneYardRevolution | Frugal & Sustainable Organic Gardening

    Rick

  10. I purchased a worm farm and red wigglers from Uncle Jim early last year.  I kept the worms in my basement which never goes below 50 degrees during the Winter.  They have done pretty well.  During the other three seasons, I keep them in my garage out of the sun and rain.  I'll be harvesting some compost from the bottom bin in the farm once it warms up a bit.  At this point, there are not enough worms to over winter outside.  Maybe in a few years…  How long has it been since you purchased your first batch of Red Wigglers?  Do you have any other thoughts on the proper care and feeding of them?  Thanks again for your videos.  They're easy to understand for the first time gardener. 

  11. Thanks for the look at your wintertime compost bin.  It's quite impressive you can keep it cooking all winter long.  Good luck for the upcoming season!!

  12. lol that looks like my compost pile a few days ago, i took a much of composted and half composted material out of it for bottom layering on a bed and literally North American night-crawlers were everywhere! most of that compost was castings at that point!

  13. After seeing your video about how you re-prime your heap by poking holes and filling with coffee grounds, I did that over the winter and the bin was a live with red wrigglers just like yours. I have plastic daleks and there were so many that a lot were around the lid I think they had ventured out for air ;0)  Keep the videos coming, they are really informative.

  14. Wow! That is amazing Patrick…you defiantly have red wiggler farming down to a science! Thanks for sharing my friend! 

  15. When making compost which means more? Air or warmth? Just wondering if covering the compost with a tarp would help get started faster.

  16. Direct sun in winter is clearly a big thing and something I hadn't considered, Our allotment systems generally (but not always) provide a long thin patch of land.  If that is facing into the sun then obviously sheds and greenhouses should not impede the direct sunlight from compost, and given how low the sun gets that probably means placing sheds at the back then greenhouse, and then compost.  I am trying to figure out how to rearrange mine so that the compost will actually provide heat to the greenhouse in order to give me winter growing conditions.  Videos like this help me.  Thanks Patrick.  As you probably know by now, I am always thinking and planning as I learn more.  Great video, and all the best.

  17. I clearly see it works, and that's great. But 140 is too hot for them too, so they hung out where in the pile? They must have found the cooler spots. They start dying at 85 degrees or so I thought?

  18. I will be starting off my first compost pile this year (Chicago as well), where do you get your worms and where do you place them once you have them?  do you just put them on the top and they work their way down or do you put them on the bottom and cover them up?

  19. Would love to try that next winter Patrick. Here in Maine, I don't know if I could keep the pile warm enough. This paticular year, we remained near 0 and below from December till just a couple weeks ago. Your thoughts? Blessings.

  20. That's perfect. Now for the Spring you can inoculate the soil with compost and worms with a single application.  Good work!  

  21. Hello Patrick, is it a good idea to put the worms directly in the raised bed with tons of fall leaves during winter ? does the compost bin stink at all ?

  22. Hi, My compost had never been 140 degree ever. Do y put horse manure, coffee ground, and leaves, or a combination of that during the coldest of winter? or december. I now have some wigglers, and i have been feeding them w kitchen scraps, like soy okara and juicing pulp, old potatoes puree. now that i have wigglers, i have to start juicing, or not, may be they can be full on just okara alone and coffee ground, leaves. I bought some Mushrooms Compost, and layed on top, may be i should have mix it in, but along w tons of coffee g, and brewer's waste, and wood chips. I'm afraid, that it may get to acid or too hot. I also put in insect frass and rock dust. Should i build a pile to make it hot, bec i used the middle of the pile, and recently piles new materials around, and placed the wigglers in one location that is less hot. thanks.

  23. Here's the 'warm winter worm box' I built to over winter my worms outdoors.
    I didn't want them in the ground as they may get into local forests & consume 'leaf litter.'
    http://www.mtopcomputer.com/Worms/WormsWinterBox.html

  24. Patrick, I know that you strive to be accurate and base what you say on science as well as your own experience, and that you appreciate feedback along the same lines. I am just getting started vermicomposting and decided to set up my bin outside. I am in central Florida, and last winter we had temperatures in the 20s, so I watched your video for an idea of what to do to protect the worms. After that, I watched another video on another channel, "How to build a Vermiculture/Vermicomposting/Worm bin at The Farm at South Mountain," (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1fHLJ_xC1g) that was also helpful. At or about 10:13 on the counter, Sena Kassim, who seems to know a lot about worms, talks about something I did not know: red wigglers produce their own antifreeze. For my set up here in Zone 9B, I think my worms will be fine. I have the bin in direct contact with the earth so that the worms can escape if necessary, so they are not trapped, and all things considered I think that will be enough. I know you are in Zone 5, and others who watch your channel are in even colder zones. It might be interesting to do an experiment, as you like to do, to see just how well the worms' natural antifreeze works. 🙂 Thank you for your great channel. It is one of my favorites. I am happy to hear of your transitioning your garden to a forest garden. I have been developing my own forest garden as well (since about 2011 or so) and am encouraging others in Florida to do likewise (floridaforestgardens.com). So many people come here to retire; children and grandchildren come to visit and sometimes move here or already here too, so I am promoting forest gardens as a heritage to build and leave. Little by little.

  25. We don't have enough cold weather here in Jackson, Mississippi to worry about worms as all they have to do is dig down about 6 inches into the soil and they won't freeze. But I did enjoy the video and am glad you have a way to keep your worms alive and actively working for you.

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