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
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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