The secret of worm casting lies in having good worm bedding - a moist, carbon, and nitrogen-rich bedding. Statistically, 50% of the worm bedding material makes up the worm diet. So, you must have control over what goes into your worm bin.
In this post, I’ll guide you through a simple, step-by-step process on having a productive worm bin and keeping your compost worms healthy. This guide guarantees you maximum productivity.
Table of Contents
What Is the Best Bedding for Worms?
The worm bedding material you’re looking for should have the following characteristics:
- High moisture retention. The worm material should be about 80% moist. It should be damp but not dripping with water.
- It should not cause abrasions. Worms have sensitive skin that can be easily injured.
- Chemical free. Rule of thumb; everything that goes to your worm bin should be 100% organic. Avoid synthetic materials that contain toxic chemicals. For example, magazine papers that contain toxic inks.
- Worm-digestible. Worms have a limited diet. Do not add any dairy product material to your worm farm. Why? Worms can’t digest fat.
- High carbon content. Carbon is the primary food source for worms. Such materials are also an excellent bulking agent that improves aeration in the bin and, once composted, improves soil structure in the garden.
- Neutral pH. Although worms can tolerate slight acidity, you should aim for neutral worm bedding. Avoid adding wood ash; it has a high pH (alkaline) that’s harmful to worms.
- The material should permit good air circulation. Poor aeration makes the worms less productive since they can’t reach all the parts of the compost, especially the lower layers.
Guess what? Such a worm bedding material doesn’t exist, and there’s no naturally occurring worm material that’s infused with all these properties.
However, don’t fret. I have a solution; I call it the “worm mix.” Take materials with the individual properties above. Mix them in the right proportion (we’ll get to that in a moment), and voilà!
Your customized worm bedding.
Examples of Bedding Materials
1. Shredded newspaper and brown cardboard
They’re rich in carbon content. Aerate the pile by adding air pockets to the organic matter.
They’ve also high moisture retention capacity.
2. Coco coir
Good moisture absorbent.
3. Aged compost or manure
Rich in active microorganisms and nutrients, which helps to speed up the composting process.
4. Peat moss
Good soil conditioner; also high moisture retaining capacity.
5. Straw, husks, dry grass clippings, sawdust
Rich in carbon content. Good bulking agent. Improves aeration.
6. Kitchen Waste (fruit peels, coffee grounds, veggies)
Rich in nitrogen and has a high moisture content.
Warning: I had warned against adding dairy products to your worm bin or using glossy magazines. But that’s not the only thing you should be on the lookout for.
Be careful when adding compost to the bin; it must be aged compost (very important).
Unfinished compost is still decomposing and can raise the temperatures to levels unfavorable to worms.
Wondering whether your compost is mature? Click here.
Also, be careful with manure, especially if you’re buying it from local farmers.
Animal waste may contain anthelmintic drugs, which are used for deworming. Such manure is catastrophic to the composting worms.
My recommendation, avoid animal manure.
What Materials to Avoid?
I’ve already discussed them above, so here I’ll just give a summary.
- Dairy products (cheese, milk, meat bones, etc.). Compost worms can’t digest them and will cause your compost to stink.
- Papers with heavy metals (glossy magazines, office papers). The chemicals used to make these papers are toxic to microbes and soil.
- Unfinished compost. The heat may suppress the worms’ productivity.
- Manure. Animal poop may contain anthelmintic (deworming) drugs, which can kill the common species of compost earthworms.
How Do You Make Worm Bedding?
- Sort out the materials (listed above). Have them ready.
- Have the glossy magazines, cardboard stickers, and paper staples removed. Then, shred the papers into small pieces.
- Soak them in water.
- Also, reduce food scraps, hay, and straw into small pieces. A shredder will make the work easier.
Place the soaked shredded papers into the worm compost bin. Shake them to remove excess water. They should be like a damp sponge, not dripping water.
Place the food wastes on top of the papers. Then a layer of the carbon materials (coco coir, hay, sawdust, etc.)
Add a layer of aged compost and garden soil.
- Mix the organic materials thoroughly.
- Remember to add water if the bedding is dry. It should be about 80% moist.
- The last step is to introduce the worms. Unearth sections of the bedding and place the worms. Bury them with a thin layer of bedding. They’ll work there through the compost.
Common composting worms include red worms and European nightcrawlers.
How Deep Should A Worm Bedding Be?
About 12 inches deep.
If the worm bedding is too deep, the materials will encourage hot decomposition, which may kill the worms.
However, if you choose to have deep bedding, consider drilling more holes on the sides of the bin to improve aeration.
How Often Should You Change Worm Bedding?
After 6 months; this will depend on the organic matter that makes your worm bedding.
So the best test whether to remove the bedding is to turn it to see if it’s wholly decomposed or not.
How Do You Harvest the Bedding?
The easiest method is to side the bedding on one side and introduce fresh bedding on the other side.
The worms will desert the finished bedding and migrate to the new bedding.
Give the worms time to migrate, about 3-4 weeks, then remove the bedding.
Where Do You Put Worm Bedding?
Any place away from direct sunlight with temperatures between 55-80° F.
During summer, if the worm bin is outside, have it under a shade to regulate the temperature.
Useful tips on maintaining a worm bed
- Always keep the bin moist, and it shouldn’t be dry or flooding with water. As I’d said earlier, it should be like a damp sponge.
- At least once two weeks, fluff the materials to increase airflow and reduce the smell.
- Always harvest the compost tea that collects at the base of the bin to drain excess water. The liquid is nutritious and profitable for soil amendment.
What’s compost tea? Click here for more info.