Are you just starting out, or still worm composting by trial-and-error? Either way, you may still have some lingering questions. Like, for one, what’s up with worm bedding? And two, what do I have to do with it?
Great questions like these, from readers like you, shaped the focus for this month’s article. Well worth your time to ask and understand, here we’ll explain it all. Hang tight, and in just a few minutes you’ll be a confident connoisseur of worm compost substrate!
Better Bedding on the Cheap
When my worm composting adventures began, I was split on how to create the ideal living conditions for my herd. I was ready to go full-tilt with high-tech warmers, insulation, a designated food processor, pre-purchased food and bedding materials, and of course, only the best worm habitats
But then I didn’t.
The more reasonable part of me decided to enjoy the natural simplicity of it and keep it rustic rather than chic. I had to remember that compost worms could still live large on bedding that doesn’t cost a thing.
Recycling waste to create natural fertilizer is pretty much the name of the game in worm composting. And using trash to make worm bedding is so crazy easy, it’s a total win-win. Anyone can feed their worms and give them a healthy habitat no matter how much space or money you have.
As long as you have a paper shredder, a hot compost pile, and a reverse osmosis water filter, you’ll be fine. I’m kidding! You just need trash, garbage, junk, leftovers, and scraps to make the very best all-purpose bedding.
That’s right, DIY, all-purpose worm bedding, for free!
What is Worm Bedding?
To put it simply, worm bedding is the bulky mixture of mostly brown materials we add to the worm bin.
A mixed variety of carbon-based materials makes the most ideal bedding for your worms. The best materials work because of these characteristics:
- absorb, retain, and drain moisture
- allow oxygen flow
- pH neutral
- free from things that can damage the worms’ sensitive skin
- nontoxic and chemical-free
Materials to add to your worm compost for bedding are nearly as vast as your imagination. Consider all of your free and low-cost resources. From junk mail to yard waste, these are just some of the excellent options available:
- Brown cardboard (torn into small pieces)
- Paper (rinsed if bleached, shredded)
- Newspaper (not glossy, shredded)
- Finished compost
- Grass clippings
- Aged horse or cow manure
- Old natural-fiber clothing
- Coco coir or coco fiber
- Straw and hay
- Fall leaves and other yard waste (shredded)
- Wood chips
So, is worm bedding food?
When worm composting hobbyists talk about feeding our worms, we generally aren’t referring to serving up some fresh bedding. We mean actual food scraps instead.
Yet, our worms spend their entire lives in their bedding reproducing, pooping, growing, and yes, eating it too. Nearly 50% of their daily diet may consist of bedding. Thus, over time, all that brown material is consumed and transformed into black gold.
DID YOU KNOW?
Overwintered worms often consume or re-consume the bedding and compost that they are in. Worms stay healthy even living off moistened cardboard and shredded newspaper!
The Functions of Worm Bedding
It really can’t be overstated; bedding is everything in the worm bin. Dare I say, bedding is a worm’s whole world!? Aside from being the space in which they reside, bedding provides all that the worms need to do what they do best.
- Helps retain and maintain consistent temperatures
- Provides moisture for oxygen exchange
- Offers a steady source of nutrients
- Allows for air gaps and passageways
- Keeps cocoons moist during incubation
- Absorbs and drains away excess moisture
- Protects worms from environmental conditions and predators
How to Make and Maintain Bedding
Now that you see how important the quality of your worms’ bedding is, let’s make sure you’ve got the recipe to make it yourself! Made from home you can be sure everything you offer your worms is safe, free of chemicals and other toxins.
Ultimately, worm bedding is what transforms into the rich, natural fertilizer we love. But sometimes the growing worms process everything so rapidly that it seems your bedding disappears before you know it.
What happens then? Simple. You add more.
Compost Worm Bedding Mix
- Use a large tote or bucket
- Shred as many different dry bedding materials as you can
- Mix to combine
- Add unchlorinated water (let tap water sit out overnight to dechlorinate ahead of time)
- Mix and to allow bedding to absorb and redistribute water
- Test for moisture and pH using a 2-in1 instant-read probe meter
- Gently fluff using a compost turning claw
- Add a 2” layer of new bedding any time it’s getting low, or when starting a new tray
How to Test and Treat Bedding
I’m sure you’d agree, bedding in the worm bin accumulates rather quickly. A batch may even go from brand new to finished in just 3 months if conditions are kept just right!
To keep your bedding in prime condition you need to give it a little check every now and again. Fortunately, there are only 3 criteria you need to hit the mark:
- Temperature (55-77F)
- Moisture (high 70-90%)
- PH (neutral 7)
To take the temperature, you can use a soil or compost thermometer. That’s a simple probe with clear markings that show if your bedding is within a safe range or not.
Make sure your bin is kept out of direct sunlight, year-round, and insulated to keep warm through the cold months. There are lots of ways to adjust for temperature if necessary. To cool quickly, it’s safe to run water through your system every once in a while. To warm, use a heating mat or even Christmas lights to raise the temperature.
To maintain that high humidity, feed worms high moisture foods, lay moist newspaper over the top of the compost to reduce evaporation, and add water when needed. If too much water is an issue, make sure adequate drainage holes are present and kept clear. Add shredded paper to absorb the excess.
Regularly maintain pH by buffering bedding with a healthy dose of pulverized eggshells in their feedings. Coffee grounds and peat moss will create a more acidic bedding, while lime and calcium work the opposite way – toward neutral and higher pHs.
Last but not least, make sure to harvest your worm compost at least twice each year. This avoids harmful salt build-up. And it gives your worms a jump on boosting reproduction each time!
Now You’re Ready for Bed
And there you have it. Those are the basics of vermicomposting bedding care. Now you have all you need to gather up the materials your worms need for comfy cozy bedding all year long. Not only that, but with the simple compost thermometer and multifunction probe tool, your temperature, pH, and moisture levels will always be on point.
For more basics and even some extra tips and tricks, sign up now to receive The Squirm Firm Newsletter and Blog. Once each month we’ll share something new and exciting for you to discover the wonderful world of worm composting.
If I’ve left anything out or you’d like to share your creative methods, please add your comments below. You never know, your questions may end up being the focus of next month’s article!
Thanks for all your very helpful information,just like a new worm farmer like myself need. Keep up the good work. Graeme New Zealand
Francesca, I always look forward to your emails. They are concise to the point, accurate, easy to comprehend and relevant. Thank you so much!
My worm bin is in the garage and in Summer I use a long low container of ice on the very top to keep them cool. I have layers of newspaper between the worms and the ice but I sometimes find some adventurous worms are snuggled up to the ice. In Winter I cover with towels to keep them warm. I also sprinkle a “meal” when I feed them each week made of 1 Cup corn meal, 1 Cup whole flour, 1 cup ground oatmeal & 1/2 cup finely ground eggshells or oyster shell. This mixture lasts a good 9 months or so.
Can I keep
Them in the winter Buffalo
The ideal temperature range for red wiggler worms is between 55 degrees and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. As the temperature gets colder than this ideal range, the worms will become sluggish and their ability to process food will decrease substantially. Worms will start to die when the temperature hits freezing.
Insulating your worm bin may allow it to hold enough warmth to keep your worms happy through the winter.
The very best and simplest solution is really just to bring your worm bin inside to the safe and temperature-controlled confines of your home. Our worms are happiest at the same temperatures we are comfortable at.
You can find more helpful information here:
How can you tell how many worms are in the pail. It looks like my worms are dying not multiplying. It seems pretty wet. Not sure what I am doing wrong. Is it ok to start a 2nd bucket only a few months in if I think the first one is not working. will they move up if they don’t like there conditions? I’m using 2 buckets and have a 3rd one ready. Not sure how much is too much food. or how wet its supposed to be. H.E.L.P.
Hi Tina. First of all, it’s okay to start a new bin, pail, tray, or pit full of worms any time at all. It’s easy too. All you need to do is take some of your existing herd and put them in a new container with some bedding basics and some food. They’ll take it from there. As for how many you may have, in general, we assume about 1000 worms per square foot of surface area. It sounds like you may be using a tower of trays. The worms WILL move away from conditions that are less than ideal if they have a better option. Only feed your worms as often as they seem to finish the food you serve. In time it will become more often as your worm multiply. As for moisture levels, a moisture meter will be your very best friend every time. I use this one: https://shop.thesquirmfirm.com/worm-compost-moisture-meter/ . All the best to you and your worms!
Great info Just what I needed to know.
I would love to be able to use all the little bits of paper that has gone through my paper shredder. But this is mostly paper I’ve thrown away, from the mail or used photocopied on paper. I read your blog above I don’t need to WASH all that paper before using it in the worm bin?!
Hi Susan. When we use our scrap paper as a brown addition to the worm bin, it needs to be nice and moist- if it weren’t wet, a heap of shredded paper would really suck up a lot of moisture from the rest of the bedding. So when you moisten your shredded paper and squeeze it out, we assume that a good portion of whatever residual chemicals in there get washed away. Even if you don’t moisten your paper, and actually do use it to absorb excess moisture, your worms will be okay. I have never heard of worms having a bad reaction to the addition of even bleached and inked paper. The percentages of those chemicals are so slight that you can proceed with caution, knowing it should be safe, but that we rely on that pre-rinse to both moisten and wash off whatever is easily water-soluble.
What is the P.H. Point
Hi Lewis, you ask a great and important question. The pH refers to how acidic/basic something is. The range goes from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. pHs of less than 7 indicate acidity, whereas a pH of greater than 7 indicates a base. pH is really a measure of the relative amount of free hydrogen and hydroxyl ions in something. For red wigglers, a perfectly neutral 7 is ideal.
HELLO WORM FARMERS, I AM NEW TO THE GREAT ADVENTURE. HOWEVER, I NEED GUIDIANCE WITH SERVERAL ISSUES.
I HAVE THE WORM FARM 360 (LOVE ITS DESIGN). I PREPARED 3 TRAYS (ACCORDING TO INSRUCTIONS) FOR THE 3 BAGS OF WORMS I PURCHASED.NOW MOST OF THE WORMS FROM THE TOP TRY SEEM TO HAVE MOVED TO TRAY #2 AND WORMS FROM TRAY # 2 MOVED TO #3. WHY?????? I WORRY BECAUSE TRAYS 2&3 ARE VERY FULL. I THINK I MADE THE WORM BEDDING TO FULL (THICK). NOW WHAT DO I DO WITH TRAY 2&3 FULL OF WRMS AND BEDDING AND COMPOST?
fEEDING: ABOUT HOW MUCH BROWN MATERIAL IS NEEDED TO PLACE OVER THE GREEN MATERIAL?
It appears that the ink on shredded newspaper is not toxic to the worms. How about the ink from shredded documents that goes through your home printer? Is that safe too?
I have lots of babies, but most of the big worms are gone, what did I do wrong
We are sorry to hear that you can’t see mature worms in your bin. It is possible that the worms are just burrowed into the bedding. You can try using a hand rake and gently mix the bedding to check.
If you did not find any worms, it may mean that they have escaped or may have died. The remains can be hard to find once they dry out since they are mostly water. When worms escape or die, it means that the conditions in the bin are not favorable for them. That is why it is important to monitor the moisture, acidity, and temperature in your worm bin to ensure that the worms will stay happy and alive.
I have been using the worm bin 360 now for about 6 months…it seemed to be going well, but then about a month and a half ago I am finding my worms jumping ship…I bought a new moisture meter, because I think the bin was too wet- I added newspaper and stopped feeding high moisture food for a while, but the worms are still trying, or succeeding at escape. Should I be mixing the food in with the bedding? I feel like I can’t get the moisture meter deep enough in the bin to get an accurate reading, so I’m mostly guessing. Please help- I’m saddened by the amount of casualties I have created😣
The worms will only feel the need to get out of the worm bin if the condition is not favorable for them. That is why it is important to monitor the moisture, acidity, and temperature in your worm bin to ensure that the worms will not want to escape.
The ideal conditions within the worm bin would be moist like a damp sponge, at a temperature between about 65 – 75 F, and at a neutral (7) pH.
When it comes to maintaining the worm bin, we cannot assume that things are in order simply by appearance. That is why we need the aid of the thermometer, moisture meter, and pH meter to ensure that nothing is amiss.
Check out our blog post here about worms escaping for more info:
Grounds are not acidic; the acid in coffee is water-soluble so the acid is mostly in the coffee. Coffee grounds are close to pH neutral (between 6.5 to 6.8 pH). Coffee grounds improve soil tilth or structure. Coffee grounds are an excellent nitrogen source for composting.