In a vermicomposting bin, bedding is the material that composting worms live in. When you set up a worm bin, you will need to add bedding before putting the worms on top. What is the purpose of bedding? Which types of bedding are best? How do you prepare the bedding, and when should you add more bedding? Read Uncle Jim’s Vermicomposting Bedding Guide and find out!
Why Composting Worms Need Bedding
Bedding is meant to simulate the worm’s natural environment. The best type of composting worm is the Red Worm. These hearty, medium-sized worms have a ravenous appetite for kitchen scraps.
Red Worms love the dark. Light repels them. Sunlight can dehydrate a worm in just 3 minutes. Red worms burrow into their bedding to stay in the dark.
Bedding needs to be sufficiently moist. This moisture allows the worms to breathe. Red worms breathe through their skin. If they dry out, they suffocate. The bedding needs to be efficient at holding in the moisture. Therefore, Uncle Jim recommends certain types of bedding that do the best job.
Air is important for both the worms and the composting process. Having air flow discourages the growth of anaerobic bacteria. The vermicomposting bin should have air holes built in. Additionally, choosing the right bedding lets air move through. Shredding the right types of paper, for example, introduces air into the bedding.
Bedding should have a neutral pH (7). Worms get sick in an acidic environment.
The bedding you choose should be gentle on the skin. Avoid abrasive or sharp bedding.
Food scraps can be placed on the bedding. Ideally, though, they should be placed in a little hole in the bedding and buried. Food buried in the bedding is easy for the worms to find. Red worms also eat the bedding. They convert these materials into “humus” – a dark, organic fertilizer that is prized by gardeners.
Types of Vermicomposting Bedding
We recommend certain types of bedding because they are non-toxic, they won’t irritate worm skin, the worms can easily eat it, they are airy, and they hold moisture well.
We have heard of all kinds of crazy stuff used as worm bedding. Junk mail, fresh bovine manure, and office paper, for example, cause problems. Junk mail has toxic colored ink; the plastic windows prevent worm movement. Bovine manure should be seasoned before putting it in a worm composter. White office paper is bleached and has toxic inks.
Red Worms do not have teeth. Anything you expect them to eat through should be soft, or should break down to softer material. Smaller pieces also help the worms eat faster.
Best Worm Bedding
The best bedding for vermicomposting are:
Shredded brown cardboard: Run corrugated cardboard through your power-shredder, or tear it into small pieces. If you do not have your own supply, any big box store or grocery store will have plain brown corrugated cardboard for the taking.
Coconut coir: Made from coconut husks, it expands 5 to 7 times in water. Purchase coconut coir from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm or from a garden center.
Shredded paper: If you have unbleached paper around, run it through a shredder. Do not use bleached white office paper or computer printer paper.
Shredded newspaper: Find sections of the newspaper that are black ink only. Do not use newspaper with colored ink. Run through the shredder.
Peat Moss: Purchase pure peat moss at the garden center. Read the package carefully. Peat moss should be the only ingredient. If you see chemicals on the package or in the peat moss, don’t use it for worm bedding.
Aged compost: If you have an existing supply of aged compost, you can use this as bedding.
Yard waste, such as autumn leaves: Best to compost autumn leaves for the winter before using them as bedding. Pile them up and let them sit outside.
Aged bovine or equine manure: Allow the manure to “season” by leaving it out in the elements for several months to a year.
Hay and Straw: Easy to find. You can add some straw or hay to bedding.
Wood chips: Use untreated wood chips only. A small amount can be added to bedding if desired.
How to Set up Bedding
A worm bin that you purchase might come with starter bedding. Go ahead and use that material, following the package directions.
Coconut coir should be soaked in water for at least one hour before using. The water will make the coconut coir easy to break up. Coir holds plenty of water, which means it has excellent air space and drainage. It is also a renewable resource.
Your best bet is a mixture of several types of bedding. For example, coconut coir, peat moss and shredded newspaper. Or, mix composted autumn leaves and shredded brown corrugated cardboard.
Add water and stir until the mixture has the consistency of a wrung-out sponge.
In the future, you may need to add more bedding. For example, after harvesting compost, the bedding may be too depleted to support the number of worms. Extra bedding gives worms a place to retreat in cool or warm conditions. And sometimes, your worm bin has a meltdown and you just need to start over. Get more bedding, moisten, and add it to the bin. You may wish to dig a hole to add bedding. Dumping too much moist bedding on top cuts off some of the worm’s air tunnels.
Take care when setting up your worm’s bedding. They are living creatures. While hearty, composting worms can be harmed by the wrong environment.
Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm is the #1 supplier of composting worms and supplies in the United States. Check out our Red Worms for vermicomposting, Super Reds for composting or releasing into the garden and grass, and composters. We also offer mealworms for fishing, bird food and science experiments.