Vermicomposting Clothing – Fall 2021 Update

Back in early December of 2020 I set up a system intended to test the use of biodegradable fabric as “bedding” material for vermicomposting. Most of the material came from ripped up cotton-based clothing, but I also added some old karate belts that happened to be lying around. To help get things rolling, I started things off with some compostable food scraps, and stocked the bin with worm-rich material from another active system.

The images below shows how things looked on the day I got things rolling.

This bin was set up at my dad’s place (where I have done most of my indoor vermicomposting for the past couple of years), and kept down in his basement. During the winter, temps down there tend to be very cool – likely below 60 F for several months.

So, I can’t say I was too surprised to see things proceed very slooooooowly early on.

For the first couple of months I didn’t even bother adding food at all (at least not in any sort of significant way). Then, in early February when I happened to have an extra bag of food scraps that needed a “home”, I decided to try something a bit odd and out character for me. I dumped the scraps into a piece of moulded pulp (cardboard packing) and simply sat it on top of the contents of the bin.

The reason this was “out of character” for me is that I always advocate burying scraps under plenty of bedding in home bins (especially those sitting indoors). In this case, I wasn’t really concerned about pests, and I was just kinda curious to see what would happen.

At that point I mostly forgot about the system altogether and, other than the odd peek inside over the course of the next 7 (or so) months, completely left it alone…until yesterday (Sept 16, 2021) when I happened to be over at my dad’s place.

Looking inside, I was surprised to see that most of the actual clothing material had been converted to vermicompost – yet, weirdly enough, the “100% cotton” karate belts were still completely intact.

I wasn’t too surprised to see that everything had become pretty soggy (due to all the water in the scraps, no drainage, and likely very little in the way of evaporation from the bin).

Although not obvious from the pics, it’s worth mentioning that the worm population (both Reds and Euros) looks to have expanded quite a bit – but they are looking pretty small and thin by this point.

I decided to address both the wet conditions and hungry worm situation by adding a mix of old rotten corrugated cardboard and straw that been sitting for a while. It should help to soak up excess moisture and greatly improve the overall habitat quality.

NOTE: After the next photo was taken, I moved all the old bin contents over to the right-hand side and added even more of the cardboard mix down in the bottom of the system.

I will give the worms some time to move into the new habitat material before removing the karate belts and any other clothing remnants that clearly aren’t going to break down.

All in all, as neglected as this system has been, this has been an interesting experiment. Once again, it seems clear that certain types of old clothing (and fabric in general) can work really well as a type of bedding. So far, I would say my favorite has been denim – it holds moisture well, provides good habitat structure, and seems to breakdown more readily (and completely) than some other cotton-based fabrics.

I’d be interested to hear from others who have tried biodegradable fabrics as bedding materials!

Related Past Blog Posts
Vermicomposting Clothing
Bedding as Bedding
The Vermicomposted Sheet (Follow-up to previous link)
Hair Shirt Vermicomposting
Hair Shirt Vermicomposting – 3-01-18
Natura Cloths – Not Just For Cleaning Anymore!

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    • Steve
    • September 17, 2021

    Very interesting, I might have to try one of my awesome old denim jackets in one of my bins sometime.

    • mjswider
    • September 17, 2021

    Wow, what a timely post Bentley! Just this week I was wearing a long sleeve shirt with a bit of extra ventilation in one of the sleeves. I finally decided that was enough miles out of that shirt. I figured I would be throwing it away, but on the way to the trash can I walked past my UWB, and thought, why not! Buttons removed, and the 100% combed cotton shirt is in the bin. I only ripped it in half and cut a few holes in it to make it easier for the worms/critters to get from one side to the other. 1/2 is on top of my bedding layer, covered in food and more bedding. On top of that I have several layers of flat cardboard, burlap and newspaper. My recent technique with cardboard is to just lay sheets on top, and a few days later when their damp to rip them into smaller pieces, as the cardboard tears easier.

    The second half of the shirt is the top layer of the bin for now. I’ll likely keep it there as I watch the shirt in the “active” layer start to decay. I’m leaving for a week, which is good as the system can sit for a bit without me poking at it.

    • Mr Yan
    • September 18, 2021

    Denim and old tee shirts run through great. I’ve cycled a few pair of jeans through my bins in the last few years. Just wait until you’re sifting the compost and find the long thread chains from the seams and surged edges.

    • Andy
    • September 20, 2021

    I used socks in the past in a bin in my early years in vermicomposting. The worms turned the cotton into vermicompost. The polyester threads was a pain to harvest the vermicompost.

    • Bentley
    • September 21, 2021

    Steve – sounds good! Let me know how it turns out if you go ahead with this! 😎

    Matt – always great to hear from you, and I will definitely be interested to see how things proceed with the breakdown of your old shirt!

    Mr Yan – I haven’t encountered issues with threads in jeans yet, but that has been a major issue with some other thing I’ve tried (eg T-shirts, and sheets). It’s definitely one of the major things that can make the cloth “bedding” idea a bit of a hit or miss.

    Andy – yeah, I suspect that socks might not be the best choice in a lot of cases.

    • Matt
    • October 24, 2021

    Well, one month in and I’ve not seen any obvious signs of decay of the shirt. It does have lots of worms on it, so I suspect its only a matter of time. We’ll see how this is doing around the end of the year.

    • Bentley
    • October 26, 2021

    Thanks for the update, Matt!

    • Matt
    • November 26, 2021

    Now about 2 months in, the first half of the shirt was constantly covered in worms, and it’s pretty shredded now. I put the other half of the shirt in recently to see how it will hold up in two months from now.

    • mjswider
    • December 4, 2021

    Well, that shirt is pretty tattered at this point. Time to throw in the other half now, guessing by the end of January it will also be vermicompost in the making.

    • mjswider
    • January 22, 2022

    During a vermicompost harvest today, a small piece of the shirt came out. So about 4 months (for that piece) to travel through my UWB. I’ll be putting it back in, likely never to be seen again . . . 😉

    I didn’t dig around to find the shirt I added in November

    • Bentley
    • January 24, 2022

    That’s really cool, Matt! Thanks again for keeping us in the loop!

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