Thursday, June 5, 2014

Bedding for Your Worm Compost Bin

Worms' need a bed...or rather bedding.  So, what should you use?

Originally posted 7-8-09

Vermicomposting bedding
"I prefer a soccer ball to a laptop any day."

"Digger! Come! You've got a blog post to write."
-Ol' Bill

Digger's Vermicomposting Series:

First Entry: Vermicomposting Guide (Introduction to me and my friends)
Second Entry: Red Worms for Composting
Third: Indian Blues Composting Worms
Fourth: European Nightcrawlers for Composting
Fifth: Use a Mix of Composting Worms

Sixth: Setting Up Your Vermicomposting Bin

O.K, O.K.  Slave driver.

Digger here, your expert vermicomposting dog and ex-soccer player.

For the purposes of this post, I've set aside a portion of the available food scraps (just don't ask me to do it again). We'll add it to the worm compost bin after we get the bedding in place.

Worm Compost Bin Bedding

If you have your container to serve as a composting bin, you'll need to add bedding to the bin for the worms to live in. The bedding for your composting worms should be thought of as a "sea" for the worms, meaning it should provide your worms with a safe, healthy environment in which they can move about freely to feed. The key attributes of your worm bin bedding:
  1. It should allow oxygen flow
  2. It should be lightweight
  3. It should retain moisture
  4. It should be non-toxic
  5. It should be easily digested.
There are several types of bedding materials that fit the bill:
  • Loam/top soil
  • Organic peat moss
  • Leaf mold from composting piles
  • Shredded cardboard (this should be mixed with one of the others)
  • Shredded newspaper or computer paper
  • Coconut Coir
Using a mixture of any or all of these makes very healthy bedding material for your composting worms. Your final decision would take into account: the above attributes; is the bedding material easy to obtain; and, importantly, is it free or inexpensive recycled organic material.

Keeping Your Worms Alive!

After the bedding, there are three things your worms need to live:
  • oxygen
  • correct moisture
  • food
Worms need oxygen, that's a no-brainer. Who doesn't? Moisture is so very important because the worm's surface membrane uses moisture to absorb the oxygen. But the amount of moisture is critical. Too much moisture creates anaerobic (no oxygen) conditions and too little moisture causes the worms to dry out and they won't be able to breath. Either way, the outcome is the same. Your worms will die. Or leave. Which is worse, 'cause where did they go?

Think of the Three Bear's. Not too wet, not too dry, but j-u-s-t right. The ideal moisture content of your worm compost bin bedding should be 50-60%. One good way to judge, aside from a moisture meter, is to grab a fist full of the bedding after you've dampened it. If you can squeeze out a drop or two, the bedding has the correct amount of moisture. Squeeze out several drops or a stream and you've got it too wet. You'll have to let it sit and dry out, or add more dry materials to the wet stuff and mix it in. It's easier to err on the side of too dry and add more water that to get it too wet and have to dry it out.

We'll get to the food later.

More Composting Worm Bin Requirements

Actually, there is a fourth and fifth element worms need to be happy (they are very demanding, sorta like me): Cool temperatures; low light.

As a rule, composting worms prefer cool conditions. The good news is European Nightcrawlers and Red Worms are tolerant of a wider range of temperatures. But they're happiest at temperatures we enjoy: about 70 degrees.
They'll survive freezing temps if the bedding is thick enough and not too wet. They'll survive in 90 degrees plus if the bedding is thick enough and more moist. When they get uncomfortable, they just dive for cover into the middle of the bedding. Thing is, though, they won't eat as much. So, if you can, keep those little babies at room temperature.

Compost worms, like all worms, shun the light. And for good reason. Extended exposure to light will actually make them sick and/or kill them. Just keeping some kind of cover(a lid, a piece of landscaping cloth, a sheet of cardboard, shredded paper) over the surface of your worm bin will do the trick. Leaving a light over the worm bin, if it's covered, will serve the purpose of keeping the worms from crawling and will do no harm. Those worms aren't coming out into the light, no sir-ree.

Wet Your Worm Bin Bedding

So, you've decided on the materials you'll use for your worm compost bin. You'll want to moisten the material prior to introducing your worms into it, otherwise, the dry material will pull moisture away from your worms. And we all know what that means.

Let's say your using peat moss. It should be moistened at least 24-48 hours before adding compost worms. That's because peat moss is on the acid side of things. Since compost worms like a neutral ph, letting the moss sit for a time will adjust the ph to 7, which is ideal for worms. Really, at least 48 hours is best.

You'll need to mix it a little at a time, spraying with water and tossing, much like a flour mixture, until you have enough to fill your worm bin. At first the water will just run off (think "dry-sponge-syndrome"). After it gets a little wet, it starts to absorb the water better. Test as you go with the fist-squeeze technique. When you can squeeze out a drop, leave it covered and re-test the next day. If it's too dry, add some more water and toss. If it's too wet, add some dry.

If you're using shredded paper, follow this method:
  • Place a plastic bag into a bucket of chlorine free water (always use chlorine free water)
  • Dump the shredded paper into the bucket of water. Completely saturate the paper.
  • Take a handful at a time of wet paper and make a ball. Squeeze out all but a couple of drops of water.
  • Pull apart the damp (think "wrung-out-sponge" dampness) ball of paper and place it into the worm bin. You should have a minimum of 4 to 5 inches of loose, damp bedding when you finish. Keep adding shredded paper to the water-fill bucket until you have enough bedding. (You can also add a little bit of damp cardboard. The worms love the glue in the cardboard. So do I.)
  • (Optional) Mix in 16 ounces of good garden soil, finished compost or clean dirt (now that's an oxymoron!) from your yard to the damp bedding.
Adding compost to whatever you use as bedding is good because it contains microorganisms which help the worms digest food. If you don't have compost, you can spray with VermaPlex ™ to inoculate your worm bedding.

Next..... Adding Worms to Your Compost Bin and Feeding

Food.  My favorite subject. But first, I've got a soccer game to finish.

Worm Compost Bin Resources

Earthworms for vermicomposting bin

Red Worms: Nature's premier composting earthworm

European Nightcrawlers: Excellent composting worm and THE best fishing worm

VermaPlex®: Worm composting bedding enhancer

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