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Worm bin bedding

Shredded paper for worm beddingWorm composting is a lot like ordinary composting in that it's important to mix together the right ratio of browns (high carbon materials) and greens (high nitrogen materials) for efficient composting without a bad smell.  In the past, greens have been in short supply on our farm, but now that we're getting food scraps from a local school, we're suddenly short of browns.  The browns make up the bedding in the worm bin, covering up the food scraps so that they don't smell and keeping the bin damp and aerated, so we really can't skimp there.  Time to do a bit of research and figure out which waste materials can be used as bedding in a worm bin:

  • Shredded paper seems to be one of the best options, as long as you steer clear of glossy magazines and seed catalogs.  Once separated into small strips in a shredder, paper soaks up water well, and the spaghetti-like strands tend to stay fluffy, allowing lots of air to get to the worms.  We had planned to focus on shredded paper for our worms' browns, but quickly ran through our junk mail and needed much more!
  • Cardboard is another good option, although you have to tear corrugated cardboard by hand.  (The thin cardboard that many foods come in goes through our shredder.)  Several people have reported good luck using cardboard in their worm bins, but it's essential to keep an eye on it and make sure the cardboard doesn't mat down and make the bin anaerobic.
  • Autumn leaves don't require any work to prepare them for use in the bin, but can tend to mat down.  Also, they don't absorb as much water as other bedding materials, so you risk having your worm bin dry out.  It sounds like leaves make a good bedding when mixed with other high carbon materials, but probably aren't the best idea by themselves.
  • Cardboard egg cartons were suggested to me by J and I think they have a lot of potential.  They're easy to rip apart, and I suspect that the complicated shape will make them much less likely to mat down than traditional cardboard.
  • I've read about people using other materials for worm bedding like straw, coconut coir, and peat moss, but those would all have to come from the store for me, so they fail the "waste materials" test.

Egg carton beddingSince I was itching to put the first round of food scraps in our bin, I went ahead and gave all of the free options above a try.  I (mostly) segregated the bedding into zones within the bin, so I should be able to tell which ones work best for us when I come back through in a few weeks to check on the state of decomposition.

Our chicken waterer is the best way to get chicks off to a healthy start.



This post is part of our Hands-on Wormkeeping lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:





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It would be awesome if you could find a source of already bagged and shredded paper near the school so you could double up on transport. I know it is remote there but any government or lawyer's office should have a lot (unfortunately) of regular shredded white paper that contained sensitive information.
Comment by Lisa Tue Feb 22 14:27:13 2011
Do we have to worry about any colored inks on the egg cartons leaching into the other bedding materials?
Comment by Sara Tue Feb 22 14:46:27 2011

Lisa --- Nothing like that near the school, but it might be worth looking into a place for our biweekly big city trips. We could definitely load up enough for a month at a time in the truck or minivan if we found a place with that much paper.

Sara --- My understanding is that glossy ink is the real problem, and that colored, nonglossy ink is okay in moderation. The cardboard egg cartons I've run into don't tend to have much colored ink, if any, but I'm sure some brands are different.

Comment by anna Tue Feb 22 15:37:55 2011

I found regular white office paper balls up into hard lumps that require quite a bit of time to break up. To prevent this, I was told to mix it into the existing bedding/food but then you're disturbing the worms, which impacts the rate of reproduction. Newspaper is easier to shred and doesn't clunk up as hard as white paper. I was able to source on newspaper here that uses vegetable ink, and knowing this, I can safely use it all the time. A second downfall to the office paper is that it can be printed on a variety of printers, with a variety of inks. Point of the story -- would it be worth the time to find one or two newspapers in your area that print with vegetable inks, and then strategize how to get a regular supply of that?

Comment by J Tue Feb 22 17:12:26 2011

As for any heavy or corrugated paper, in your sewing kit do you have a pounce wheel or a rotary cutter? Make slivers out of the paper with not a lot of energy expended. Cut either with or against the seams. The pounce wheel will perforate it, making it easy to tear and the rotary cutter will, well, cut it. Be well worth trying don't you think?

Comment by vester Tue Feb 22 17:24:28 2011

J --- Does the office paper lump up even when it's shredded? I can definitely see how newspaper would be better --- the thin paper would give a lot more surface area for microorganisms to decompose it quickly. I think you're probably right that if I'm going to hunt down paper in bulk, I should focus on newspapers. Now I just need to figure out where to find that! I was thinking of maybe asking at the library to see what they do with their newspapers when they get old. The library is so small that I can't imagine them storing all those bundles of paper.

Vester --- My sewing kit has needles, thread, pins, and scissors in it --- I never got very high-tech. :-) I might have to try a pounce wheel or rotary cutter if I find someone who has a set.

Comment by anna Tue Feb 22 17:50:06 2011
I read that you shred the food boxes, aren't most of them glossy or waxed? I was under the impression that they are like glossy magazines and not usable. Thanks, Jenn
Comment by Jennifer Sun May 13 08:47:58 2012
Jennifer --- The kind of food boxes I was shredding had a thin coating of colored, glossy paper on the outside, then a thicker layer of cardboard on the inside. (None of them were waxed.) There seemed to be enough of the cardboard to drown out the bit of glossy paper, and I didn't see a problem with using them.
Comment by anna Sun May 13 11:16:19 2012

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime