Bedding is an essential part of your worm bin and often the key to your worms’ health and happiness. You will need to add bedding when you start a new vermicomposting bin, pile or trench. Fresh bedding can help if something has gone awry in your worm bin (see “Sick Worms”). If you need to harvest a lot of worm castings, you have the option of adding bedding to your worm bin. Bedding allows the worms a fresh environment, proper moisture, and room to breathe and move. Worms also eat bedding, so it has to be safe material. Here we’ll discuss some materials for worm bedding and how you should use them.
- Cellulose. Bedding is generally some form of cellulose, meaning it is a source of energy when broken down into carbon by worms.
- Neutral pH. Material should be neither too alkaline nor too acidic, but as close to 7 on the pH scale as possible.
- Light and fluffy. Bedding is crucial for the flow of oxygen and regular movement of the worms. Light, shredded materials allow for air exchange and reduction of odors.
- Moisture-retaining. Though material should be light, it’s also essential that it be able to hold water. Any bedding put into the bin should be lightly dampened (but not soaking and heavy) first.
- Non-abrasive. Worms have thin, sensitive skin that can be easily hurt by anything sharp or rough, so avoid abrasive material.
Types of Bedding
There is no one best type of bedding to use in your worm bin; all have their advantages and disadvantages, and some are more readily available than others. It is best to use a combination of several materials in the bin at any given time and to be aware of each one’s effect on your worms’ environment.
1. Leaves & woodchips
Decaying leaves are a simple type of bedding that you may have on hand right in your yard. Ideally use leaves already decomposing at the bottom of a leaf pile. If you can, choose maple instead of oak leaves for a faster decomposition time. Also be aware that leaves can mat together when wet, and that you may be bringing other critters or organisms in with the leaves. Adding a small amount of untreated wood chips can help create space and airflow, ideal for use with other beddings.
2. Newspaper & cardboard
A common and readily available material for bedding is newspaper. When shredded, it is easy to get a large quantity of light and fluffy bedding for the worms. Use only newsprint with black ink, no colors. Black ink is harmless to worms, but colored inks might not be. Make sure that larger strips don’t dry out and wet strips don’t clump together too much. Brown cardboard is also great for worms. Other types of paper, perhaps shredded from a paper shredder, work fine too, but bleached white office paper is not as good for your worms and also is less absorptive.
3. Coconut fiber & peat moss
Coconut fiber, or coir, and peat moss are two types of less readily available bedding. They retain moisture very well and worms love them. Coir is a more friendly substitute for peat moss. If you get peat moss, read the package to make sure it has no chemicals added. If you happen to get your hands on these materials, use small amounts with other bedding, but don’t rely on these alone. At Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm, some of our compost bins are shipped with coconut coir, and you can use it according to package directions.
Manure from horses, cows, and rabbits provides great nutrients to worms. If you can obtain it easily, make sure the animals weren’t recently treated with drugs for parasitic worms in case it kills red worms also. Be aware that other critters like mites, grubs, and centipedes are likely to be in the manure too. Also be conscious of the fact that manure heats up quickly and should be added in small quantities or given time to cool first.
Bedding is essential for starting out your worm bin or correcting problems. Your worms will soon eat the original bedding and produce plenty of worm castings to live in. Keep adding kitchen scraps and other worm food, and your population of worms will live indefinitely. Once in a while, you will want to harvest some of your worm castings to fertilize your garden. You should be able to leave enough bedding/worm castings behind to house your worms. If they need more living space, you can add bedding.
If you need more composting worms, order some red wigglers from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm.