Choosing the correct worm bedding for a worm composting bin is a high-consequence decision for a new vermicomposter.
Choose wisely and be patient, and you’ll be off to a great start recycling organic waste into worm castings, and before you know it, it will seem like you’ll be able to do no wrong.
If you choose poorly and get impatient with preparing your bin, you’ll find that the worms will attempt to leave your bin as quickly as you put them in there. It will be a waste of money and, worse yet, you may get discouraged with the idea of worm composting and just decide to throw your kitchen waste in the trash like pretty much everyone else does.
This article will cover common types of bedding material that you can use in your bin, to include the pros and cons of each. At the end, I’ll give you some final thoughts.
This article is part of a “Vermicomposting 101” series of posts aimed at helping the beginning vermicomposter. To read other “VC101” articles on how to start a worm bin, how to choose worm food, how to maintain moisture, and the differences between composting and vermicomposting, please visit the Vermicomposting 101 section of this site!”
What is Worm Bedding?
Bedding in a worm bin is considered to be a ph-neutral organic material consisting of high carbon-to-nitrogen (C:N) ratio. Once high-nitrogen food waste is present, the high levels of carbon help to slow down the rate of decomposition and give microbes a food source while they decompose the nitrogen-rich foods in a worm bin.
The microbe part is important! A high-carbon substrate is a necessary, but not sufficient habitat for composting worms, who will be seeking a diverse ecosystem of not only bedding, but microbes (aka microorganisms), and at least some nitrogen sources in order to acclimate.
What Should I Choose for Worm Bedding?
At least initially, your choice of worm bedding will most likely be influenced by whatever happens to be your most convenient source of carbon-rich material. For most households, the most easy-to-find source of worm bedding will be paper and cardboard, which will need to be shredded and soaked.
And while it seems preferable to choose a worm bedding that you can procure from your own household waste, it may not be the best choice for ensuring you get off to a good start with vermicomposting.
Aged Horse Manure
Aged horse manure is an excellent choice of bedding for a worm bin. It can be ready-to-use dual-purpose bedding and food source for worms and is normally free. But give thought to the transportation hassles, permission from farm owners, and any deworming medications which might be present in the not-so-well-aged stuff.
- Often has a low enough C:N ratio that it can serve as a food source as well as bedding.
- Normally free to procure from any horse farm.
- May require no addition of water.
- Not readily available, especially in an urban environment
- Requires the consent of the horse or farm owner.
- Can be heavy, and requires transportation for most household worm composters.
- Horse deworming medication may be present in fresher manures and could be toxic to the worms. However, deworming medication is broken down reasonably quickly by sunlight and a pile of aged horse manure should be considered safe, especially if it is teeming with worms!
Shredded cardboard, especially of the corrugated variety, is a very common bedding source for most residential vermicomposters as more cardboard is delivered to a single home in the form of Amazon boxes than could ever be consumed by the worms. But improper preparation can create some hassles at harvest time.
- Free and in great supply.
- Dry cardboard can be a good way to regulate water content as it can absorb excess moisture.
- Microbes and worms readily colonize the corrugations, the little wavy parts in between the layers of paper.
- Need to be shredded and saturated with water if starting a new bin. Dry cardboard can be used in existing bins, however.
- If not shredded throughly, cardboard can create matting and slow the decomposition of the cardboard, which might make separating worms from the worm castings difficult.
Like cardboard, paper is in high supply in most households, offices, and schools. However, paper tends to clump and get matted during the vermicomposting process, ultimately creating a mess during harvest time. While plenty of online resources suggest not using colored, or glossy papers, most inks today are soy-based and will not be harmful to the worms.
- Free and in great supply.
- Shredded newsprint breaks down easily and will create a relatively homogenous bedding in a short time.
- Paper is also a good way to regulate moisture in an existing worm bin
- Like cardboard, paper needs to be shredded and saturated with water if starting a new bin.
- Paper can also cause matting in the sub-surface areas of the bin.
Some composts can be a wonderful starter for a worm bin as it is normally free and often (but not always) colonized by microbes. Large-scale vermicomposting operations “pre-compost” organic waste, so the idea is well-established. Composts, especially with leafy or woody material often promote a more fungal vermicompost.
- Normally free!
- Often already colonized by microbes.
- May be more difficult to procure in an urban environment.
- May include critters that, while most likely harmless, may not be welcome in an indoor environment.
Coco coir is a popular substrate among first-time vermicomposters.
Made from coconut husks, coco coir helps create a clean, nice-looking homogenous bedding that will appear to break down quickly.
But purchasing worm bedding is probably not necessary and coco coir must be rinsed to reduce salt content. It will also need to be colonized with microbes by adding small amounts of organic waste in order to be hospitable for worms.
The Urban Worm Company is now proud to offer low-salt Urban Worm Coco Coir with free shipping in the lower 48 of the US. To maximize value, we strongly suggest checking out the multipack options!
(And Urban Worm Coco Coir is now available via Amazon Prime as well!)
It holds 8x its own weight in water, is already rinsed and creates a very nice base bedding material. The worms also seem less likely to initially climb out of this bedding.
- Is clean and requires no messy trips to the compost yard or horse farm.
- Creates a bedding that is good looking and homogenous in texture.
- Often has a salt content that may be noxious to the worms, so it should be rinsed before being introduced to the worms. This information is normally included on the label. (Urban Worm Coco Coir is already rinsed.)
- Must be purchased, possibly negating the environmental benefit of using an organic waste due to transportation costs, especially since nearly all coco coir is imported.
Similar to coco coir, peat moss is a clean-looking, consistent high-carbon bedding. But peat moss is acidic, non-renewable and again, it may not be necessary to purchase your worm bedding.
- Looks great and new vermicomposters will be confident in using it.
- Easily found in garden centers in both rural and urban environments.
- Has a low, sub-5 pH and may need to be rinsed and/or mixed with other substrates to create a good worm bedding.
- Peat moss is considered a non-renewable resource, most likely imported from Canada and the methods of “mining” it are not considered sustainable in some circles.
Straw, not to be confused with high-nitrogen hay, is easily procured in rural and suburban areas. While it allows for airflow, it does not retain water well and should be used with another bedding material for best results.
- Free or at least inexpensive
- Is a great “bulking agent,” allowing air to enter various levels of the vermicompost, keeping it aerobic.
- Promotes a fungal vermicompost
- Does not retain water well.
- Not easily procured in urban environments.
Leaves, Yard Waste, and Wood Chips
Leaves, yard waste, wood chips or a mixture of all the above can be a wonderful source of worm bin bedding, especially for a fungal vermicompost. Care should be taken that green yard waste like grass should be composted to raise the C:N ratio.
- Woody material is an excellent habitat to promote the growth of beneficial fungi.
- Will often be a ready-made habitat for worms due to existing ecosystem of microorganisms
- Any green yard waste should be composted and possibly examined for pesticides and herbicides.
- Will introduce non-worm critters into the bin, which isn’t really a con but may be unwelcome to the new vermicomposter.
- Worm castings harvests will include plenty of unprocessed material.
Final Thoughts: Mix Your Bedding, Stay Patient, and Cheat!
Your worm bin will not fail because you did not provide enough food.
It will fail because you did not provide adequate bedding or prepare your bin sufficiently before introducing the worms.
So, my ambitious vermicomposter, before I release you into the wild to gather your worm bedding, let me leave you with some final thoughts.
A Mixture of Worm Beddings is Wise
Don’t just choose one of the above beddings and say “that’s it.” A diverse mix of bedding is most likely the safest choice as you could get a few things wrong and not screw the whole thing up. Increase your chances of success by giving your worms a diverse habitat, just like they enjoy in nature.
Patience is Key
I counsel new customers of the Urban Worm Bag to take time preparing their bin, taking as long as a week or two to allow the bedding and moisture to stabilize and to add a small microbe-blooming organic material like food waste to the bin, well before the worms arrive. I lost over $100 in composting worms by not taking this advice when I began.
Start with Existing Vermicompost if You Can
If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.
By starting with existing vermicompost, you are greatly increasing your odds of success since you’re starting with a proven substrate. A worm bin is like a fire; it’s much easier to keep one going than it is to start from scratch.
This dovetails with the advice to mix up the beddings as well. If you start with existing worm compost and one of the choices above, it is going to be a diverse habitat. And a successful one too.
You Don’t Need to Buy Worm Bedding, But……..
It is not necessary to purchase a carbon-heavy worm bedding with which to start your worm bin. Full stop.
And once you get going with vermicomposting, the idea will seem silly.
But you have the blessing from the Urban Worm High Priest (that’s me) to go ahead and buy it if doing so makes your foray into worm composting in the home, school, or office a little less intimidating.
The purists are going to hate me for saying this, but if you want to do this and don’t have a shredder, don’t have access to leaves or compost, or don’t want to ask a farmer for horse poop, then by all means, buy your bedding. (Hint: I recommend coco coir!)
Never Stop Learning
Always be a skeptic and be willing to question everything, including the “wisdom” in this article. There are a lot of conflicting sources of information and this is one of them. (Heck, you’re going to find conflicting guidance on this very site as my own views have evolved over the past 5 years.)
My guidance is just that….guidance. And it should not be taken as gospel.
If you liked what you read here, I invite you to join my e-mail list below and the rest of our Vermicomposting 101 Series.
60 thoughts on “Worm Bedding: 9 Awesome Choices”
Very good article,Steve. <
Thanks so much, Wayne!
Very helpful information! As you suggested to me awhile ago, I added a couple of spent banana peals to my new bedding a few weeks before I added my worms. They seem quite happy. I look forward to reading your other articles. Thanks!
That’s great! Thanks for the update Cheryl! Glad to see it’s working for you!
Well if no one else will say it I will 🙂 . Your Urban Worm Bag is truly something. I have saved a lot of time fuddling around with having to water my compost and other things. I always start with sterile peat moss and leaves. But I also add from my former bin to inoculate the new bin with microbes for sure! I always prep the new bin with a watered down diluted juice of bananas,apples,pineapples and pumpkin put through a blender first with glacier rock dust
and powdered egg shells. I have just ordered a 10-40 x 2500 microscope with 5 MP camera to check on using the best aerated worm tea for my citrus trees and other veggies plants. Having the best worm castings with fast reproduction and no hassles is the first issue.
So thrilled to hear this Barry!
Seems I killed all my worms I had 750 worms 2months ago now only 20 guess incorrect bedding or overfeeding or not enough air have a 360 bin but find with a tray on top of each other it suashes the bedding together flat leaving limited air as sides have no air either holes or nothing Shame really as a avid gardner and looked forward to this venture but with 300 bucks in composter and worms don’t have the heart to start again
Our daughter recently gave is ground rice powder which the worms just love more than anything else we have given them. Just give a little at a time.
Ground rice powder…..gonna have to look that one up!
Steve. Your starter article is well-done for new Vermies. I really like how you promote getting the bedding started and maturing before adding worms. I teach that too to all my customers. Before I realized I have a 10 pg shredder, I was tearing cardboard. Wow – now I can shred a cardboard box in about 10 min – but pay attention to not use more than the 1-cell corrugation so you don’t burn out your machine. Then have a bucket of water and quickly douse handfuls of shred. Don’t recommend using cereal boxes or such cardboard that also have all the color dyes.
Another tip I recommend is to go light on coffee grounds – I lost a couple trays with too many grounds after a heavy week of guests. Coffee is too acidic so now I just avoid it along with citrus peels and strong vegs like jalapenos, chili peppers, onions and garlic.
Thanks for the kind words, Janine! About the coffee, spent coffee grounds are actually pH Neutral to slightly acidic as the acidity comes out in the actual coffee. I wonder if they actually ended up heating your bin, which caused the die off? They can also dry out a bin in a hurry.
Nah …. I think it was too many coffee grounds. Since I’ve stopped adding coffee grounds, have had no prob. Mind you – I make my coffee strong & yummy ….
hi,i have a bin and its doing but at some point i mixed all the contents including the bedding which was shredded paper,so do i need to add some more for bedding and should i mix the bedding or should it be at the bottom or at the top?thanks
If you have a bin that is already going, I would mix it with food waste and lay it on the top.
Just setup my UWB yesterday. I used aged horse manure ground up and sifted to 1/4″, soaked 24 hour shredded paper bags and drained for 48 hours, 3-4 quarts of Millicast (Millipede manure), a cup of Azomite and a cup of ground egg shells.
I didn’t let the mix set for long (4 hours), but I did put my African Night Crawlers on the bottom with the vermicast they came in then applied 3-4″ of bedding above this. I did a feeding latter in the day with about 2 cups of blended food. Today they are already in the new bedding eating on the food!
I’m sure I could remove the pre-existing vermicast in a few months or so.
Holy cow, Karl…..that’s some serious bin prep! Salud! Will be very interested to see how ANCs do in your UWB. I know plenty of other folks are using them, but I haven’t heard about how they are working out.
I finally put my worms in tonight it was hard for me to follow the instructions and wait all this time as I was eager to put the worms to work but I think they will like the premium bedding mix I made.
I put wood chips, peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite, along with some horse manure, potting mix, and a little water to start.
Then I waited several days and added a banana peel and waited another three days and put 2lbs of the red wiggler worms on top.
After several hours I noticed that a bunch of the worms were escaping so I grabbed them all three then back in and added some worm castings, straw, partially composted leaves, and a shovel full of azomite and mixed it all together with the existing bedding and worms.
I am so eager to put food scraps in but I plan to wait another three days per the instructions.
The only thing I am concerned about is that I have it outdoors and it’s going to rain the next 7 days.
Should I cover it with a tarp or maybe it will help keep it moist?
I put a thermometer and the temperature right now is around 60 degrees hopefully they don’t get too cold but its Northern California bay area weather so it should be fairly temperate.
Yeah, you’re definitely going to want to cover it somehow…a tarp ought to do the trick. Just no direct exposure to the elements.
And yes, it’s not uncommon to get a few escapees right off the bat. Please check back in here or via e-mail with me once they have settled in!
Okay thanks for the tip I will throw a tarp over it. Forgot to mention above I also initially mixed in some homemade cold compost to start the bedding. Got excited today and added a bunch of garden variety earthworms I collected by moving my large containers around I figured they would help decompose the deep end while the red wigglers munch the surface. I did end up adding some additional partially decomposed food waste along with more leaves, horse manure, and some lime. I also mixed it up quite a bit with my arms. I’ve always loved playing with worms, when I was a kid my mom said she would find them in my pockets when she did the laundry!
I’ve since added more food waste and I also purchased some European nightcrawlers which I put in as well. Tonight I ordered some African nightcrawlers, Alabama jumpers, and blue worms which I will add the bin and they add arrive within the next week or two. I also went out this evening and collected quite a bit more worms from the garden as well which I put in the middle of the bag. We’ll see how my multi species urban worm bag turns out hoping to get it going to where I can really compost a lot of waste because we practically eat exclusively at home and make most all of our food from raw vegetables. I also have a hot compost bin and a bokashi bucket going planning to create a nice cycle where the waste goes through all three systems to fully degrade.
Hey Graham! No need to mix all of these species together. It may actually harm reproduction as they cannot mate with one another. I don’t think it will hurt anything, but it won’t add any material benefit.
Let me know how the bokashi to compost to worm bin goes. I would just make sure that the bokashi has lost its acidity before you feed it to the worms. That stuff can be pretty noxious at first!
Yeah I know I don’t need to but I ordered a couple more worm bags that I will do single species setups in to compare results, and I will probably order a few more too once I finish getting those setup. I do still want to keep experimenting with my original multispecies urban worm bag so today I went ahead and added the African nightcrawlers and the blue worms. Maybe it won’t be a material benefit but we will see what happens either way I’m having fun!
I didn’t get the alabama jumpers yet I’ll probably keep those in one of the new bins and then maybe order some more red wigglers for the other new bag. Then I just need to get a few more separate bags for the Europeans nightcrawlers, african nightcrawler, and blue worms.
For the bokashi I have heard that about acidity being a potential issue so I am going to be using lime and rock dust to help alkalize the compost after the bokashi step and then when the compost is finished I figure I should be able to feed it to the worms as a final finishing to turn out high quality black gold vermicompost worm castings.
The tarp and the worm bag kept the bedding dry through heavy rains that left standing water on top of the tarp and even on top of the bag this thing is quite waterproof!
I was re-reading comments here are realized you said you added perlite and vermiculite in your bedding mix. I would not add these to future mixes as I have not seen anyone suggest using them. I don’t believe either one of them will break down in the short time the worms will produce compost in. I’m actually limiting the use of perlite in any of my soil mixtures as well. I used a lot in a hydroponic setup I had so I still have a quite a bit leftover.
You will also end up with small particles of each in the finished compost which if you are only using yourself it’s not a problem. If, however, you decide to sell your compost you will not want them in your finished product.
Good morning everyone, I just wanted to point out that almost all farmers use a Glyphosate based product used to evenly ripen their wheat crop prior to harvesting wheat. Many people have heard of Roundup and this has the same effect. Of course we know that straw mostly comes from wheat and oats. For this reason I opt out of using this as a bedding amendment to my work bins.
Thanks Barry! Great point!
Janine sent a link to your site. I like the information you have provided. I started my first bins with a can full of worms I got from Janine. I preped the bed with steer manure, peat moss, shredded paper & wet carboard. I just checked and the worms seem to like it so far. I have them set up in the garage for now, but during the summer (it gets over 100 F.), i will transfer them to the basement
Hey thanks for checking in Bill! Sounds like you’re off to a great start!
Hi Steve, after harvesting my first (storage tote) bin, last year, I put my castings into a 5 gal. bucket, put a lid on it and forgot it for a few weeks. It wasn’t completely processed but it was useable. When finally opened it, I was shocked to find it completely processed and large worms living in it! I missed a few tiny ones during the harvest and there were probably cocoons in it as well. The bucket has no air holes or drainage. And it was Summer, here in Florida, which means unless I’m working in my shop, with the air conditioner on, it gets hot in there. So this has led me to believe I can keep a worm bin in my shop. Wish I had a place for it in our house but I don’t. So now I’m planning to get an Urban Worm Bag. I will use the castings from last years harvest, to start it. I have lots of shredded paper/cardboard and lots of dried leaves from last Fall, to use as bedding and I want to use coconut coir with it. What ratio of coir to the other bedding, do you recommend? Thank you.
This is great news, Susan! Yes, these worms are much hardier than we give them credit for. And I just had some vermicompost I sold a customer that was in a sandbag in some freezing temperatures since last fall. I opened it and found some worms myself! :). They can put up with a lot.
Hey Susan. Where in Florida are you? I am in East Collier County (near Naples) and I’m waiting to see how my worms do over the summer. I got them in December so I’ve been more concerned about the couple of cold snaps we got a few weeks back.
How did you PittMoss testing go?
So far so good on the Pitt Moss. I haven’t done any scientific testing, but the worms took to it right away. I will be getting a couple hundred cubic foot bags of Pitt Moss with a manure based additive that will help boost microbe populations in the bin. Look for announcement on that soon!
You mentioned in you video about maybe using PittMoss as worm bedding. Which one do you recommend? I was looking at their animal bedding product.
I would use Pitt Moss Prime as it has a small manure component to it which will help grow your microbe population!
Hi Steve. Thanks for all the knowledge. I’m new to vermicomposting and look forward to learning more from you. I just started my worm bin. My bedding is compost soil mixed with aged horse manure, and straw. I’m using Eisenia Hortensis (ENC) as my worm of choice. I added a small amount (2tblspns) of celery, carrot and grapes as a test run. They say these worms need more water than red wigglers. Do you know if this is true? Thanks
I don’t think they have any different needs than red wigglers.
I am on my second order/bin of your coco coir and it works great. My question is whether the worms are eating the coir also and about how much of a bin after 4-5 months is castings and how much is wet coir? Just wondering what I’m putting in the garden each time I use a finished bin. Thanks!
They absolutely eat the coco coir. Whether your harvest includes the coco coir depends on how long your bin has been running and what kind of a bin you have. 4-5 months should be ebough for them to eat everything in a Rubbermaid bin setup.
If you have an Urban Worm Bag or a flow-through style system, then it’s likely that the first harvest (and maybe the second) will have a lot of unprocessed coco coir. But as you’re constantly adding material to the top of the bin, the harvests after that should just be worm castings.
This post, as well as (or maybe even moreso) your recent email about bedding really struck a chord with me recently. I’ve been very guilty of running my bins too wet, due to not including enough bedding. In one of my stacking systems I roughly hand sized pieces of cardboard on top of some of the lower layers to help absorb some of the moisture. Looking in there today, I could see multiple pieces with a worm party going on underneath them. The now we cardboard is a great food source for the worms.
Regarding shredding cardboard, I have a couple of things to share. First, I’ve gotten into the habit of placing dry cardboard on top of my UWB for a few days to a week, and let the moisture that rises to the top and condenses on the lid wet the cardboard. Shredding by hand is a breeze when the cardboard is damp. Second, I’m sure that using a machine to shred cardboard into tiny pieces is great for the worms and helps the cardboard get consumed quicker. As I don’t have a shredder that will handle cardboard, I haven’t done this, and find that its not really required.
Thanks for checking in Matt! And I appreciate the words about the e-mail. It’s a drum I’ve been pounding for awhile.
And I like the idea about using the ambient moisture in the bin to help start the breakdown process of the cardboard. That’s definitely working smarter, not harder!
Thanks for the guidance -retired pilot 42 years
You got it Edward! Great to see another aviator on here. 🙂
Great advice thanks for ALL the help on getting the bag started I think I made a good choice to go with the bag and get rid of our plastic stackable worm bin keep up the GREAT customer service 👍😎
Thanks so much Ron!
I built an eight ft by three ft, 14 inch deep, raised frame with border walls made of perforated, plastic roofing eave paneling, and then a mesh wire lid. I did this just to create a place to produce garden soil. I filled with it chicken manure, dirt and lime with the intention of just allowing it to sit long enough for the chicken manure to ‘mature’. After about a year I was shocked to see that it was full of wigglers! Now I dump the powered remnants of my pellet chicken feed, along with various peels, old veggies, etc. to nourish the worms.
It was beneficial to me to read your article since I didn’t know that I can also use cardboard and old [email protected] shredded newspapers also! I’m in the process of replacing the old bedding/dirt/castings by removing half of everything, while filtering out the worms and putting them in the old bedding, and then filling the empty half with horse manure and shredded leaves. Once all of that matures, and the worms encroach into it, I will do the same to the other half. Now to use that old worm material to make potting soil!
Can par boiled rice hulls be used in the bedding when starting a new Urban Worm Bin?
Rice hulls are used interchangeably with pearlite to add aeration and reduce soil compaction. I have a huge compressed bail of PBRHs I would love to find additional uses for.
hi, I wanted to know if ikea receipts marked koehler KT 55 F 20 can also work as waste paper
I don’t see why not!
I just got my UWB and I’m starting the bedding set up. I noticed that you always mention old horse manure. Is there any reason that I shouldn’t use cow compost/cow manure or leaf compost? These are readily available for me for adding to the bedding.
This is Troy replying. Cow manure and leaf compost are both excellent options. Go for it!