“Waste” Wool as a Vermicomposting Medium

This past Thursday I went to visit my friend Leanne at the site of her exciting eco-farm/permaculture project – something I’d definitely like to write about in more detail at some point – here in Waterloo Region. Almost immediately, I noticed that she’s been using “waste” wool as a mulch material around the base of small trees and in some of her beds.

What a cool idea!

Like other mulch materials, the wool should be able to help suppress weed growth (she said that it seemed to be working ok in that department so far) – but I think an advantage might be that the wool could be a source of nitrogen, yet still be more resistant to breakdown (lasting longer) than some other mulch materials.

I was very surprised to learn from Leanne that a lot of this “waste” wool is simply burned or discarded by sheep farmers. To me, it seems like there could be many potential uses for it – even beyond farming/composting.

But of course, it was immediately the potential vermicomposting applications that came to mind for me! I know how much composting worms seem to love having some sort of wet matrix to inhabit (you can refer back to my old “Natura Cloths – Not Just For Cleaning Anymore!” for evidence of this) – so I can’t help but think that wet wool might be every bit as appealing.

As I was leaving, I asked Leanne if she could spare a small amount of the material to do some testing (and you can guess what she said). Once home, I simply soaked it in water, let it drain a bit, then placed it on top of my VB48 bed (with brown paper yard bags over top to help keep in moisture).

So far I haven’t seen anything particularly remarkable happening. None of the worms have moved into the material yet, and there doesn’t even seem to be much of a congregation of them down below. Interestingly, the worms that are below seem to be primarily Red Worms (the bed is loaded with Euros as well). One thing I noticed about the material is that it IS somewhat oily – so this might be making it less appealing to the worms.

Another interesting tidbit to mention, based on Leanne’s own observations…

Underneath her wool-mulched garden zones there is evidence of soil worms pulling the wool down into the soil! I will be interested to see if something similar happens eventually with the composting worms.

I’ll keep you posted!

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  1. Suggest don’t soak in water, even less, in soapy water? Sheeps wool is rich in oils (lanolin I think) which help keep them dry… and may help keep the wool in one piece on the ground? It will / should resist water (try it?).

    A.n.other use – when you have new shoes/blister, wool is the best ‘packing’ piece you’ll find.

    • Lynn
    • July 13, 2013

    Dave – “Sheeps wool is rich in oils (lanolin I think) which help keep them dry” – so use it instead of cardboard or whatever on top to hold moisture below it? I’m curious because one day I may have the space to have a larger system than what I have now.

  2. Or you could use it as dermestids bedding/food!

    • thuan
    • July 14, 2013

    I shredded an old smooth cashmere sweater and place in the bin and it was composted in about three months. I tried another sweater made of wool and that one was a bit problematic. It seems the worms got stuck in the wool fibers and could not get themselves untangled. One thing I noticed in both circumstances was the increased amount of cocoons around the wool and cashmere.

    • Kim from Milwaukee
    • July 15, 2013

    I have a cat that has enough fur for 5 cats….I could brush him all day long and still get more furballs from him.

    I wonder if that would also work as a mulch? It would make great boot liners, that’s for sure.

    Waste wool would be great for keeping the bad creepy crawlies from plants since they would get tangled in, and perhaps repelled by, the wool and it’s lanolin. Hair and fur doesn’t seem to compost very readily, so I’ve always wondered how we can somehow repurpose it. That’s surprising about the cashmere!

    • onafixedincome
    • April 16, 2014

    They do love good scratchy stuff to scrape cocoons off on! Since I started raising worms under my rabbits, then spreading the results on my yard, I have worms literally EVERYWHERE, itty bitty ones all the way up to HOLY COW size. Nightcrawlers enough to make raking the yard pointless :), redworms all over.

    I also spin, and have a lot of wool around. I’ve not tried it in the beds, but I HAVE composted deadstock in them, fur and all, and when it’s time to flip and sort the beds, there’s nothing left but bones, and I mean NOTHING. I’ll have to try some wool in there this time round and see if wool left out in the rain vanishes any faster than uncleaned wool.

    Thanks for a great article!

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