Bird Seed & Bedding

I seem to be in a bit of a “reader questions” mode lately! lol

Here are some from George (will include my response below each):

1) I have a 20-pound bag of birdseed that the birds don’t seem to like. (The chipmunks and skunk are very happy!). I’m thinking of mixing the seeds into my worm bin (not all at once). I’m not worried about green lush growth because, without sunlight, any sprouts are doomed. I don’t expect so much green that I start a thermal compost cycle, so other than green sprouts and slower breakdown of seed husks, can you see any downside? Do you think I would be better served to grind the seeds in my blender? It would eliminate the sprouts and hasten breakdown, but it’s more work and then there’s the emotional effort of explaining it to my wife.

This is an interesting question! I would probably lean more towards letting them sprout. Not only is it easier just to toss them in (than grinding), but it might even be a superior way to access the nutrition inside the seeds. I’ve done this – mostly accidentally – plenty of times over the years. The one experience that really stands out was back when I ended up with a mini forest of pumpkin sprouts in one of my bins, after tossing in some “pumpkin guts” sometime before. They grew so vigorously that they literally pushed the lid open! Once yanked and dropped back in they broke down very quickly.

Grinding is an interesting possibility as well, if you happen to have a good grinder. And I guess one advantage might be that you would end up with much smaller seed case fragments (eg. I still was left with what looked like whole pumpkin seeds in my bin).

2) Bedding – I confused myself about bedding. I understand the concept when starting a bin. It’s the carbon stuff on the bottom. However, once things get rolling, when I read “add bedding” doesn’t this really mean just add cellulose carbon stuff? I think of “bedding” as bottom material, but does the location really matter later on? My bins are inclined about two inches so any excess water pools to the one end. I carve out a three-inch swatch at the lower end and throw dry material there. Eventually, it absorbs whatever water accumulates. My top covering is last year’s oak/maple leaves.

Yet another interesting question, George. The term “bedding” (as it relates to vermicomposting) refers to the carbon-rich material that is added – usually in a higher proportion – along with the “food” materials (eg. kitchen scraps) as a way of balancing the C:N, absorbing moisture, helping with air flow, and offering the worms more “habitat” structure. For some time now I have been promoting the idea of “primary bedding” and “secondary bedding” types of materials. Primary bedding should be C-rich, bulky, and absorbent – while secondary bedding will only have one or two of those traits.

I appreciate your line of thinking about adding lots of bedding down in the bottom of a system. This is something I do almost religiously at this point – what I refer to as the “false bottom” of my systems. In a sense you are over-compensating in the bedding department right out of the gates, providing the worms with a safe habitat zone to hang out in. It becomes more challenging to “overfeed” (especially if you also use “living materials“) and it becomes richer and richer over time as more food scraps are added further up.

That being said…

It should come further up in the system than just down in the lower reaches. I like to load new systems with as much bedding as I can.

Moving forward I tend to add a lot less, but I do put some in periodically to make sure things stay fairly balanced.

I guess the bottom-line recommendation here is to not just think of it as only a bottom material. Something I actually like to recommend (especially in typical worm bins) is to keep a nice thick layer of cover bedding up top to help soak up moisture and provide you with an ongoing supply to mix in with food materials over time.

Old brown leaves are what I would consider a secondary bedding – and a pretty resistant one at that if not shredded up at all. Apart from being slow to break down, they don’t hold much moisture, and can even impede air flow (stick together). This is not to say you shouldn’t use them – I just think there are better bedding materials out there (eg shredded corrugated and “egg carton” cardboard).

3) Newspaper – speaking of bedding, is anyone else having trouble finding just plain black and white newspaper? Most everything I find now has colored pictures or colored headlines on almost every page. Even our low circulation community rag is color.

This is something a lot of people wonder about and you are absolutely right about the diminishing supply of black and white newsprint. I don’t have a definitive answer – but my understanding of it is that even the color ink used for newspapers these days is a lot more eco-friendly than the inks of the past (people say a lot of it is soy-based). If you have a particular paper in mind, it might be worth getting in touch with their printing department to learn more, since it may vary from one publication to the next.

I myself use color newsprint. What I tend to avoid is the glossy stuff. I’ve read that this can contain heavy metals and various other things not ideal for your vermicomposting system. Again, I am not an expert on this. I try to stick to brown cardboard and paper as much as I can.

Thanks for the questions. Hope this helps!

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    • George
    • August 10, 2020

    Thanks for the reply. Everything is clear.

    We have a Vitamix with the dry grind container. We grind our coffee beans, flax seeds, egg shells and make oat flour. The bird seeds wouldn’t stand a chance! Since I have two bins I will do one with whole seed and one with ground seeds.

    I did a bit more homework on newsprint. I read it the ink easily smears with your figure it is most likely oil based. This is a guide and not a definitive test.

    Enjoy and thanks


    • RJ
    • August 11, 2020

    Grinding birdseed works great! Tom from vermibag has a YouTube video showing that he used it as an alternate to worm chow.
    I bought a bag of seed when the hardware store was selling them at a discount. I use an old blender that is able to chop the seed fine. When I apply it to my bins I only use a few tablespoons worth. The next day I usually find a mass of worms just underneath the birdseed.

    • Sue
    • August 31, 2020

    Have you noticed that newsprint paper and cardboard/corrugated CB boxes quality is getting better and better. It sucks that they’re not as absorbent as they used to and take longer to break down.

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