Question: What have you noticed when getting new (composting) columns started (with red wigglers)? Is there any anaerobic odor? Any worms escaping? (Homefire; Indiana)
Answer: Thank you for the questions and comments. Interestingly, we have not had a single tower exhibit any sign of anaerobia even under long spells of high soil moisture. I am surprised by this because we have several different types of soil mixtures out there, and I too thought air entry through the surrounding soil column and into the compost tube would be quite limited. As Michael Simmons (Bloomington organics educator) will attest, the worms are extremely happy in the environment, and I don't know of an easier way to maintain them. Michael actually harvested worms from his towers because the rate of reproduction was so favorable. In fact, every garden tower in Indiana had red wigglers that made it through our very light winter with no added protection.
The central compost tube doesn't flood; though it may take on some water it is quickly drawn down deeper into the column away from the red wigglers and exits back to the soil before anaerobes populate. When added to the compost tube, the red wigglers disappear very quickly and hang out at a depth of perhaps 2-8" depending on the level of food decay (and quantity of food at their preferred level of decay).
To increase the ability for the worms to work at greater depths in the event that the rate of compostables added to the tower is very high, we have increased the perforations in the compost tube by 60 percent in the garden towers produced in the past two weeks. Assuming results are positive over the next few weeks, that change will apply to the next generation garden tower as well.
We also add nightcrawlers to our garden towers, which absolutely love the lower half of the compost tube. Moreover, we have observed movement of nightcrawlers between the compost tube and the soil column as depicted in our marketing materials.
Also, I want to point out the garden tower is great at making soil/worm tea. We don't have the bloomingfoods tower set up for collecting leachate, but the tower at roots on the square downtown is. I also encourage you to visit out towers at Hilltop Gardens (east IU).
Question: What does one do with the worms in the winter? (Marcia; Bloomington, Indiana)
Answer: To answer your question, it depends on a few things. If you live in an area in the Midwest with a climate like ours here in Indiana, the Garden Towers absorb enough heat during the day to carry them through some nights in the low 20's without the worm habitat dropping to dangerous temperatures. Last winter, not a single tower lost its worm population in our town. However, we generally tell people that in a cold winter the center compost should be removed (with worms) (very easy process) and placed in a 1-foot deep hole in the ground outside of your dwelling (if accessible). Fresh kitchen scraps can be added and a 8" layer of straw will ensure the worms don't freeze. If you live in an apartment, you could bury the worms elsewhere or overwinter them inside in a small bin (tons of literature on this on the web, just google vermicomposting). Although, all of this is likely unnecessary because if the Garden Tower is near a building (on a patio, porch, near a wall), it is unlikely to actually freeze because of the substantial thermal mass of soil present.
If this sounds daunting, just remember that raising composting worms is becoming quite popular and you just might know somebody with healthy worms in their home/basement/garage, so getting a few ounces of worms in march to get things going is not much of a challenge if things did die back in a hard winter. Also, red wigglers and night crawlers are available at sporting stores, bait shops, even big box stores for very little money.
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