How to Make Perfect Worm Bedding for Thriving Worms

Shredded newspaper makes excellent worm bedding material
Shredded newspaper makes excellent worm bedding material

Instead of soil, composting worms live in moist bedding material. Worm bedding refers to the material that is both high in carbon and also moisture absorbent. It creates a habitat for your worms to thrive in. And if the conditions in the bin are not quite right, it also gives your worms some temporary respite. The most important step in setting up a worm farm is selecting the right bedding material. The ongoing moisture level of the worm bin bedding is also important to keep on top of.

Worm bin bedding usually consists of a mix of carbon materials and needs to be at about 80% moisture level. The bedding material should feel like a damp sponge, moist but not dripping.

Worm bedding is a long term food source for worms. In fact, up to 50% of a worms diet may consist of its bedding. Bedding also helps to keep the bin conditions balanced in general (C:N ratio, moisture level, oxygen content etc…). Some of the most common problems that arise in a worm farm are fixable by adding some fresh bedding.

Characteristics of Great Worm Bedding Material

The best bedding material:

  • absorbs and holds moisture
  • allows oxygen flow
  • is pH neutral
  • odorless
  • is free of any sharp or abrasive things that can harm the worms’ sensitive skin
  • block out light
  • free of chemicals

What to Use as Bedding Material

Egg cartons made from recycled paper are a good variety to add as worm bin bedding.
Egg cartons made from recycled paper are a good variety to add as worm bedding.

Here’s a list of common bedding materials you can add into the worm bin.

  • Brown cardboard (cut into small pieces)
  • Paper (not bleached white office paper, shredded)
  • Newspaper (not colored, shredded)
  • Aged compost
  • Aged horse or cow manure
  • Coco coir or coco fiber
  • Peat moss
  • Straw and hay
  • Fall leaves and other yard waste
  • Wood chips

The best approach is to add a variety of bedding materials in the worm bin. This will balance the strengths and weaknesses of different materials. For example, some materials hold more moisture than others such as peat moss and coco fiber (coir). Leaves usually do not hold as much moisture as cardboard or paper. While bulkier materials such as cardboard are better at creating more air pockets in the bin. Furthermore, hay and straw do provide great space for air and worm movement because of their structure.

A variety of different worm bedding materials will result in a greater mix of nutrients, improving the quality of finished worm castings.

Note that adding dry leaves could introduce some unwanted creatures into the worm bin. This may not be a problem though.

And if you’re adding compost for worm bedding, make sure that it is aged past the compost heating stage. Otherwise the head can kill your worms.

Item Image Comments
Brown Cardboard

Shredded cardboard is essential for worm bin bedding.
Shredded cardboard is essential for worm bin bedding.
Source: cvhomemag.com
Provides lots of air pockets. Absorbs moisture well. Brown cardboard has a C:N ratio of 350:1.
Shredded Newspaper

Shredded newspaper makes excellent worm farm bedding material
Shredded newspaper makes excellent worm farm bedding material
I always have a lot of old newspaper hanging around. If you do not own a shredder, hold a few pieces together and tear long vertical strips by hand. Shredded newspaper has a C:N ratio ~175:1.
Aged Compost

Aged Compost
Aged Compost
Source: teedandbrown.com
Excellent bedding to help get your worm bin started. Mix it in with other food scraps and bedding materials.
Coco Coir Super water absorbent. Excellent bedding to help get your worm bin started.
Peat Moss Super water absorbent. Peat moss is slightly acidic. So do not add too much. Peat moss has a C:N of 58:1.
Straw / Hay Occasionally I add straw for some variety. Straw has a C:N ratio of 75:1. Provides lots of air space due to it’s structure.
Dry Leaves

Add dry garden leaves into your worm bin.
Add dry garden leaves into your worm bin.
Source: thealternative.in
Not very water absorbent. Risk of introducing pests into the bin. Note that adding green leaves will add moisture and heat (similar to grass clippings). Dry leaves has a C:N ratio of 60:1.
Wood Chips

Source: daviddomoney.com
Wood chips has a C:N ratio of 400:1. Add some wood chips to increase the C:N ratio. Remember an ideal C:N ratio should be between 20:1 and 35:1 for worm composting. You can achieve this by adding equals amounts of greens and browns. See feeding worms.

Colored Print and Office Paper

You should avoid using colored print or glossy sections of the newspaper as bedding. These sometimes contain heavy metals which can be a problem.

Most office paper is made from wood, and in it’s natural state is actually brown in color. To change the color of paper from its natural brown color to white, it needs to be bleached. A chlorine-based bleach is typically used o make the paper white. The bleaching process creates dioxins and other toxic chemicals. These chemicals can irritate and harm your worms.

How to Add Bedding Into the Worm Bin

Brand new Worm Cafe worm farm with fresh bedding to get things started
Brand new Worm Cafe worm farm with fresh bedding to get things started

Worm bedding material needs to be at about 80% moisture level. Hence you should dampen the bedding material before adding it into the worm bin to keep things moist. The bedding material should feel like a damp sponge, moist but not dripping.

I choose to only add materials that I always have available such as newspaper and cardboard. Don’t forget that newspaper must be shredded and cardboard cut into smaller pieces before adding in.

Make sure the worm bedding does not matt together in large chunks. This can cause anaerobic (without oxygen) decomposition and a foul odor. Once a week you should lightly lift and fluff the bedding material to create air space and to prevent it from compacting.

There should always be a higher carbon to nitrogen ratio (C:N) contained in the worm bin. For worm composting, conditions are generally ideal with a carbon-to-nitrogen (C:N) ratio of between 20:1 and 35:1. Always remember, you can never add too much worm bedding on top. When in doubt, add more paper! When adding worm food into the bin, mix some bedding in to optimize the decomposition rate. Worms live in the dark and will more happily eat food that has been covered up.

Quick Tips

  • When feeding your worms, always add some extra worm bedding.
  • Maintain a nice thick dry layer of bedding on the top. Keep topping this later up as it gets moistened and shrinks down.

6 thoughts on “How to Make Perfect Worm Bedding for Thriving Worms

  1. I was lucky enough to get some extra large paper egg cartons and have just topped off my bedding again with 100% small torn egg carton pieces like shown in the above article. So nice and absorbent, soft to the touch when moistened, yet stays in a basic physical random form so it allows for good air circulation. A sprinkle of garden dirt to get the microbes introduced and spritz of water from the spray bottle and I can almost see the bacteria cheering, and worms thinking they are vacationing in worm heaven.
    This is also a good material to introduce dry on top to help pull some moisture out if your bin starts to get too wet from feeding, etc. After about 2 hours in a closed bin, egg carton cardboard really pulls out some moisture and becomes just about the right water content without adding or spraying water.

  2. Should the bedding be a separate layer or should it be mixed in? A few of my worms keep going into the sump area and drowning. Any suggestions on what I can do to prevent this would be good to know.

    1. Hi Jane,

      Bedding can be mixed in. But you also want a layer of bedding on top to cover the food. Worms like to feed in the dark.

      To prevent worms from getting into the liquid collection tray, try adding some cardboard onto the bottom of the bottom tray. It should last. Or you can use some mesh.

      Thanks,
      Daniel

  3. My worms seems to stay in the bottom levels. Why do I have more worms in the bottom 2 levels than in the top 2 where there is more food and bedding?

    1. Hi Julie,

      I’d say there’s still some organic matter for the worms to digest in the lower trays. There will always be some stragglers in the lower trays. When the food down the bottom runs out, you should see the worms slowly move up to the top trays. Try adding some fresh mushy fruit such as watermelon to the top tray. This will speed up their migration.

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