How to Use Sawdust for Raising Red Worms


Red worms, more commonly called red wigglers or Eisenia fetida, can convert kitchen scraps to vermicompost (worm castings) in home worm bins. They require bedding materials that absorb water, since they breathe through their skin and require a moist environment. The bedding in their bin also needs to stay fluffy; if it packs down too tightly, oxygen can’t penetrate. ??? ?Opinions run the gamut on whether to use sawdust as bedding for worm bins. While many books and articles for the general public on raising compost worms list sawdust as potential bedding, sawdust ranks low on the list of good bedding materials compiled by Canadian worm composting researcher Glenn Munroe. Sawdust lacks both water absorbency and fluffiness compared to manure, cardboard and shredded paper and other alternatives, according to Munroe. Other experts and hobbyists discourage use of sawdust alone as worm bedding for additional reasons, but if you choose to go that route, there are ways of incorporating sawdust into your worm operation.

Things You'll Need

  • Sawdust
  • Animal manure
  • Cardboard and other bedding materials
  • Worm colony
  • Worm bin
  • Combined moisture-pH meter
  • Spray bottle
  • Age the sawdust for at least six months. recommends that the sawdust be exposed to the rain and the sun as it ages. The aging sawdust should also be combined with animal manure, particularly poultry manure, so these waste products age together, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.

  • Mix the aged sawdust-manure mixture with other bedding, such as soaked cardboard torn into strips, shredded paper, peat moss or coconut coir (fiber).

  • Construct a new, small worm bin to test the bedding so that your primary worm bin is not placed at risk. Add 1 pound of worms from your primary worm bin to the satellite bin containing the aged sawdust-manure mixture as well as your other bedding materials. Maintain your primary bin without exposing it to the sawdust experiment.

  • Monitor the progress of the new worm colony for at least six weeks. Check that its pH level remains around 7.0 (neutral). Add crushed eggshells to restore balance if the bin becomes too acidic from the sawdust.

  • Check that the bedding appears loose on visual inspection and full of air pockets as demonstrated by a “sniff test,” checking for unpleasant odor. Add damp cardboard or torn newspaper strips if you discover odor, to absorb excess liquid, and turn the bedding with a three-tined garden cultivator, to add oxygen.

  • Test the bedding moisture level with a moisture meter to ensure it remains at between 70 and 80 percent. Spritz with dechlorinated water if the bin becomes too dry or lower the sawdust content of the bin bedding, or both.

  • Use aged sawdust and manure in your main bin cautiously if your test herd appears unharmed by its exposure to this mixture. Proceed with caution as worm herds can have marked preferences for foods and bedding materials.

Tips & Warnings

  • Soak the sawdust in several changes of water, recommends Organic Farming and Gardening.
  • Add nitrogen in form of manure or food scraps. Your goal is to mix “green” compost such as kitchen scraps with “brown” compost such as the sawdust for optimal bin conditions. Try mixing your sawdust directly with kitchen scraps, to reduce odors as the scraps are being collected in a bucket for your worms.
  • Use a variety of bedding to avoid placing your worm herd at risk and to obtain the most minerals in your worm compost.
  • Some farmers recommend aging the sawdust for as long as 20 years before using it in worm bins.
  • Most agricultural extension specialists see regular fresh sawdust as too risky for red wigglers, especially if not mixed with other types of bedding. Fresh sawdust contains little nitrogen, a huge surplus of carbon, little moisture and slightly toxic elements such as lignin, a type of resin. Worm hobbyists recommend against using sawdust from cedar, redwood, oak, fir and exotic woods. ??Don’t use sawdust from wood treated with copper or arsenic, such as pressure-treated lumber, or sawdust from black walnut trees, warn University of Arkansas extension specialists.

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