Worm Bin Bedding, No Better Place to Lay
I have read many times "you cannot have too much Worm Bin Bedding." But until I started studying it I don't think I ever realized just how awesome it really is. Bedding, if it is the correct or best kind, provides so many benefits to the worm bin system. It can increase oxygenation, moisture retention, proper carbon/nitrogen ration, freedom of movement, manageability, and overall efficiency. It, also, can decrease problems and offensive odors. As my friend Bentley Christie from redwormcomposting.com says "bedding is your friend". The keys to a great bedding or a great bedding mix are:
- Great Air Flow
- Great Moisture Holding Ability
- High Carbon to Nitrogen Ration (c/n ratio)
Oxygenation and Moisture
The best worm bin bedding is bulky enough that it provides lots of little air pockets. This provides a much more oxygenated system. Worms need oxygen just like we do. They can survive on a small amount but thrive when more is present. Worms breathe through their skin, which requires moisture. So to take advantage of this increased oxygenation it must also be a material that absorbs moisture well. The best bedding is one that holds a lot of moisture.
High Carbon/Nitrogen Ratio
Although bedding will eventually be a food source for the worms it breaks down much slower than higher nitrogen sources, the things we refer to as "food" instead of "bedding". It is necessary to have a high carbon source for several reasons. It helps to balance out problems that the higher nitrogen sources cause, creating a balanced environment for the worms. It will tend to buffer to a small degree some acidic materials and absorb the excess moisture that higher nitrogen sources release when breaking down. The best overall c/n ratio to maintain in your worm bin is 25/1 or 25 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. But, unlike hot composting, you can go higher on the carbon without any real problems.
Freedom of Movement
The bulky nature of the bedding also provides great freedom of movement for the worms. I admit that I am not really sure how great of an advantage that is. Some minor advantages, I suppose, would be the ability to get to the food sources they have easier. Also, to more easily get away from problem area's, such as areas heating up, or too acidic. Potentially, ease of movement could promote more reproduction since the worms will possibly encounter each other more often.
Manageability of the System
When you have plenty of good bedding the system becomes much easier to manage. Plenty of good bedding functions as a balancing mechanism. If you feed too much or too little bedding helps compensate for both. Bedding acts as a food source if the worms are fed too little. And it gives the worms a safe zone to go to if you feed too much and cause an area to become sour. Because worm bin bedding is a carbon source, it absorbs unpleasant odors that may develop. This, of course, benefits you the worm farmer more than it does them.
The worm composting system is basically optimized by adding plenty of good bedding. By accomplishing all the things mentioned already, increased aeration, increased movement, good moisture absorption, proper c/n ratio and buffering of the ph the worm composting system becomes very efficient. It creates an environment that the worms thrive in. The result is faster processing of the waste products as well as the bedding. Reproduction rate of the worms will increase. The worms will grow faster, possibly even bigger as long as they are not too crowded. And all this makes worm composting easier and more fun. Some of those great beddings are Peat Moss, shredded paper, aged manure, regular compost, and my 2 favorites, cut up cardboard and shredded leaves. The best bedding of all is really a mix of several.
Bedding really falls into 2 categories, Primary and Secondary. Primary bedding is a stand-alone bedding, it gives you your all 4 of the key necessities:
- Good Air Flow
- Good Moisture Retention
- High Carbon/Nitrogen Ratio
Secondary bedding meets some of the 4 key necessities but not all of them. Usually, it needs to be mixed with another secondary bedding or with a primary bedding material.
Examples of Primary Bedding:
- Shredded Cardboard
- Other shredded paper products (excluding any glossy paper or white office paper.
- Well-aged Manure (the ultimate because it meets all the key necessities as well as being a great food source also.
- Aged straw ( has started to break down and rot)
- Aged leaves (has started to break down and rot)
- Peat Moss ( as long as it is buffered properly to reduce the acidity and fluffed or mixed up occasionally)
- Egg carton cardboard
Examples of Secondary Bedding:
- Dried leaves (that have not started to break down) (Good airflow, bad moisture retention until it starts breaking down) (Probably one of the most nutritious beddings around)
- Straw (that has not started to break down or rot)(Good airflow, bad moisture retention until it starts breaking down)
- Coco-coir (remember to rinse it thoroughly since it usually has a high salt content in it)
- Burlap Bags or old cotton t-shirts (good moisture retention, ok airflow, but takes a lot longer to break down than other beddings)
Examples of Materials not to us as Bedding:
- Do not use Garden Soil (poor moisture holding ability, poor airflow)
- Potting Soil (very often it contains chemical fertilizers which will harm or kill your worms)
Here at Midwest Worms, we desire to help you see how awesome worm composting is. We have everything you need to get started. Take a look at our products today.
Update on order of 1lb of European night crawlers in April. After following all instructions. They are a very happy crew.. many have began laying cocoon’s. Will separate in a couple more months and start another bin. I’m so happy to have located you. I am preparing to place another order only Red Wigglers thin time. I wish I had learned about worm farming 20 years ago..
As I look at some of the really ‘BIG BOYS’ in the industry, with flow through systems, it seems that they only add food to the beds. Generally the food is pre-composted dairy manure. What is your thought on this or am I missing something? I am working on a new flow through bed and want the most efficient system possible.
How many worms needed to produce 4 lbs of red worm compost per week?
I’m glad to hear that your worms are doing good in spite of this extreme Missouri heat. The frozen water bottles is a great way to help give them a reprieve from the heat. I used that method quite a lot before I had our worms in a climate controlled environment.
The answers to your other questions:
1. How do I know when there are too many worms in my worm bin?Composting worms typically will self-regulate their population, meaning: they will not usually get overcrowded because when food sources start to become scarce or they start feeling that the population is too high for the amount of space or quantity of food available, they will slow down or stop reproducing until those conditions improve. Also, I’ve noticed that if the conditions stay that way for very long, they will start to reduce in size, making more room for each other and reducing the quantity of food they consume. If you want them to continue to reproduce or reproduce faster, you have to optimize their conditions, meaning give them more room and make sure that they always have food available without overfeeding them. Also, remember that moisture and temperature will greatly affect their rate of growth, reproduction and how fast they process the food and bedding they are given.
2. How do I know if they have hatched any cocoons with babies yet?You should be able to see small worms that were not in your bin before. When they first hatch out of a cocoon, they are very small and much harder to see than the cocoons, but if your eyesight is good or you use reading glasses like I do, haha, you should be able to see them.
3. Can you notice the cocoons easily?Cocoons should be visible for Red Wigglers and European Nightcrawlers if there are very many, they start out fairly bright yellow, look a lot like a very small popcorn kernel. As they get older they gradually turn brownish. By the time they are ready to hatch out the cocoons are not near as easy to see as when they were new (bright yellow). African Nightcrawler cocoons, on the other hand, are much more difficult to see. They are much darker at the beginning and have a rougher texture which causes the castings to cling to them a little more. So, don’t be discouraged if you cannot see African Nightcrawler cocoons.
4. How long it takes for European Nightcrawlers to get big?As my friend, George Mingin always says, “it depends”. Similarly to the answer, I gave you up above in question number 1, all of the key elements: Food, Bedding, Temperature, moisture and space all affect their ability to grow. All 5 of those key elements affect how well they grow, reproduce, and the speed they process the food and bedding they are given. I believe the primary key elements that affect their ability to get big are food and space. European Nightcrawlers need more space if you want them to get bigger. I recommend that you keep them between 1/2 a pound and 3/4 of a pound per square foot of space if you want them to keep growing in size. You have to always keep food available without overfeeding. That means you have to monitor them a little more often than worms that you are not trying to get big. All this is assuming that you are maintaining the proper moisture and temperature. Also, I’ve noticed that once they have processed all the bedding I have better growth if I sift them out of that completely processed material and put them into new bedding. This also gives me a great opportunity to weigh them and keep only 1/2-3/4 a pound per square foot in the bins. I hope this has adequately answered all your questions. Great questions by the way.
So how do I know when I have too many worms in my worm bin? Also how do I know if they have hatched any cocoons with babies yet? Can you notice the cocoons easily? I have euro’s and red wigglers I purchased from you and they seem to be doing fine. I keep my Lids off my bins and been trying my best to keep bins cool cause the heat is terrible here in Missouri. I’ve been freezing milk jugs with water in them and placing them on one side of my bin to help. Wondering also how long it takes for these boys to get big lol. I put my euros that I purchased from you in a bin May 30th of this year so it’s been over two months now. I just a few days ago went thru both my bins and flipped all their bedding so it was not so matted together seemingly. They seemed to enjoy that.