red wigglers in the snow

It started with finding a stack of good-as-new, free low-E windows by the roadside late last winter. I turned one of them into a cold frame and sunk it into the soil at the end of my vegetable garden.

No, it started before that. When I bought a pound of red wiggler worms and set up an indoor worm bin.

Confused yet? Me too. High fives.

I’ve been raising worms in a bin indoors for a couple of years. They’re awesome. They eat my garbage. They give me good stuff. And they don’t smell or make noises, unlike grandkids.

The prize is worm castings; even cooler than compost. Every week last summer I put a handful of worm castings and 2 tablespoons of molasses into a 3 gallon bucket, aerated with an old aquarium pump, and let it brew overnight (Google ‘worm tea’). That 3 gallons of worm juice was enough to spray all the plants in my 55′ x 28′ garden. And it was the healthiest, most productive garden I’ve ever had. EVER.

So I love worms.

Now back to that cold frame. A couple of weeks ago I decided that since I already had two other nice, portable cold frames, I’d try an experiment. I turned the sunken cold frame into an outdoor worm bin with leaf mold, rotted horse manure, ground-up kitchen scraps and lots of shredded leaves for insulation. At one end I sunk a 3 gallon covered bucket filled with water.

sunken winter worm bin?

sunken winter worm bin?

Now, I live in Michigan. It’s cold. Red wigglers die when they freeze. They like temperatures like we like.

The water bucket, I figger, would make a good heat sink. Especially if it had a 25-watt aquarium heater inside. The cost to run 25 watts continuously for a month is somewhere around $3. I can handle that in the spirit of science.

Into the cold frame went a couple of dozen worms, in went cardboard, covered with a thick layer of leaves, down went the lid, and on top went four bags of leaves.

leaf bags on worm bin

The lows here have been in the teens for more than a week. And here’s what the soil temperature read yesterday…

74 degrees

We’ll see what happens as the ground freezes around the cold frame.

11 thoughts on “red wigglers in the snow

  1. I love the practical approach you’re taking! Hope your little friends make it through the whole winter. So are the worms in a bin or tub, buried to level with the surface, and the bucket beside it? Or are the worms just in a cavity in the earth?


  2. Thanks for the comment Deby! The worms are in a wooden, bottomless cold frame, sides about 2″ thick, and the level of the bedding in the cold frame is almost the same as that of the earth surrounding it. No tub. The water bucket is inside the cold frame.

    My theory is that it’ll be easier for them to flee the cold above if they have a bottomless structure. But I didn’t really research it, so I’m just throwing something against the wall to see if it sticks. If I lose a few worms, I’ll be wiser for it.


  3. Pingback: wormy thanksgiving | vegetablurb

  4. A great post since I also love my worms, and appear to share the same inquiring mind as you. Thanks for the worm tea recipe, I hadn’t come across that one yet. Myself , I would usually place a covered barrel of water in a sunny location in my back yard (before I had to move into an apartment), and in the water I would float a medium-sized burlap bag of worm casts from my 18-square-foot indoor bin. After three or four weeks, I figured it had steeped enough, and even when I diluted the resulting “tea”, the results were incredible. Thanks for a great article, I’ll read you later.


    • Thanks for the comment. I was reluctant to put too many worms into the bin because It’s unknown territory for me. I suspect that the temperature farther away from the heated water will be substantially lower and it may not be high enough to sustain a decent worm population. After a few weeks the temperature next to the water is still in the mid-70s, but I’m hesitant to poke around too much for fear of disturbing the worms with the cooler air.but if you don’t try you won’t learn!


  5. Just popped in to see your garden and just realized you are a fellow Michiganian! I found your worm article interesting, thanks. I’ve thought of growing worms here in the homestead but I have discovered that they come to my flower beds with bark chips on them and my compost bins. I never added them there but they have appeared! In fact, I have been shoveling up the sunflower seeds in my bird feeding bed that is filled with worms to feed to the chickens. They are both filled with tiny red worms!

    Thanks for following my blog!

    Donna at the Small House Homestead


    • Hi Donna. It’s a small world after all! And you should definitely give raising worms in a container a try, if only so you can make vermicompost tea. I think it made a huge difference in my garden last year. Congrats on selling that great picture!


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