Hair Shirt Vermicomposting?

I’ve been enjoying my (weird and whacky) experimental systems lately, and figured why stop now?!

There are two “bedding” (ish) materials I have been wanting to test out more extensively for quite some time: 1) natural fabrics and 2) hair. I have dabbled with both of them in the past (adding them to various systems), but never as part of a focused experiment.

In a lot of ways I think degradable fabrics (eg cotton, linen, hemp – even bamboo!) could be be a sort of “ultimate” bedding material (definitely in the group I refer to as “primary” bedding materials) since they tend to be highly absorbant, highly breathable, yet quite resistant to breakdown (high C:N).

Hair on the other hand, while similarly resistant to breakdown – may offer more long-term food value due to the higher nitrogen content.

As the title probably implies, I am using old shirts (at least initially) for this system. One of them I know for sure is 100% cotton -but I am not so sure about the other ones (since their tags are gone or unreadable). In some ways I actually hope I end up with a shirt that contains synthetic fibers, so I can demonstrate why you want to AVOID these! lol

If I had wanted to be really lazy, I probably could have just tossed the shirts in as-is, but I knew it would be a lot more annoying working with the system later on – plus the fabric would likely take longer to break down.

SO, I cut/ripped the shirts into small pieces…and yes, this is even more annoying and time consuming than ripping up cardboard by hand! lol

Most of the hair I’ll be using will come from my cat, Fargo, but since I buzz my noggin regularly I will be including some of my cranial vegetation (haha) as well.

NOTE: I have read reports of human hairs (longer ones, if I am not mistaken) potentially harming worms when they get tangled up in them. I will keep a close eye on things, but I suspect I’ll be fine based on the kind of hair I am using (soft cat hair, and very short human hair).

The bin I am using is very small (maybe 4 gallons or so) and getting the system up and running was very straight-forward. I started by adding my shirt fragments in the bottom…

…and then the bag of hair.

I’ve decided to keep the feeding simple, settling on carrot peelings/cuttings (something we tend to produce a lot of) as my food of choice. Today I added a small bag of frozen peelings…

…before adding a fair bit of water and mixing everything around.

NOTE: My recommendation for closed-bottom plastic bins is to add as much moisture as you can without ending up with a lot of liquid pooling down in the bottom (you may need to mix everything well to ensure all the components are at their maximum water-holding capacity). If you do end up with a lot of pooling, simply add more dry materials.

I stocked/inoculated the system with worm-rich living material. The mix I have is quite dry, so I actually had to add even more water just to make sure everything was nice and moist.

Then even more (gentle) mixing…

…before adding a small plastic bag as a “lid” (great way to keep moisture in while promoting excellent air flow).

Similar to the walnut shells and banana peels experiment, it may take a long time before these materials (other than the carrots) break down. But, as always, I am excited to see how things turn out!

Stay tuned.

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    • Caleb
    • February 21, 2018

    Really interesting experiment! I’ll definitely be curious to see how this one goes! I’ve always wondered about hair in the bin and what it would do, how it would breakdown, etc. Where did you hear about hair hurting worms?

    Also the shirts, definitely makes a lot of sense since those fabrics all come from natural fibers that would (should) breakdown. I had some burlap blankets that I (tried to) used for overwintering my tomatoes and peppers last year that ended up in a pile in the corner of the yard from spring til fall. I picked it up and it was falling apart so I just mixed it into my bedding material bucket and it seems to get composted medium quick by the worms – granted it quite weathered. Sam with some twine rope. For the shirts, I’d maybe be concerned about the dyes used, but at the end of the day its a great experiment in composting and sustainability. I often think about all the stuff in the dump that if better separated could be composted instead of getting polluted with all the other stuff and turning into the toxic leachate that poisons water supplies. I recently learned that San Francisco and Oregon require you to separate food waste into separate bins for composting, I guess kinda like yard waste bins but even further. I’d be curious to see their composting operations and what they do with the end product, I need to look this up.

    Anyway, looking forward to seeing the hair-shirt bedding ends up in 6months!

    • Bentley
    • February 21, 2018

    Thanks, Caleb!
    The hair hazard has been discussed in the RWC Facebook group if I remember correctly. But I’m pretty sure it was longer hairs causing the problems, which would make more sense.
    Burlap is a fantastic material to use – I’ve even read that it can help with cocoon production.

    • mjswider
    • February 28, 2021

    I know this is a really old experiment, but I would be curious to know how the hair composting went. I put some cut hair from my son and I into one of my bins today . . .

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