Vermiculture

Vermiculture, or vermicomposting, involves using earthworms to convert food waste into nutritious compost for use by home or community gardens.  It’s an efficient and green way of cutting waste!  Sometimes a facility using this process may be called a worm farm.  However, any worm increases are secondary to the conversion processes.

Eisenia fetida, more commonly known as red wigglers, is the ideal earthworm species for vermiculture. They thrive in moist conditions with mild temperatures and readily available compost materials that they consume to produce vermicompost.

Manual Harvesting

Vermiculture is an earthworm-powered method for turning organic waste into rich fertilizer, often known as vermicomposting. Through specific species of earthworms and vermicomposting bins, waste materials are converted to an earthworm-rich compost known as “worm manure”, and then used in gardens and farms to improve soil quality, while simultaneously cutting down on waste disposal costs, and simultaneously supporting biodiversity conservation efforts.

Vermiculture begins by gathering waste material to be composted, free from pathogens, toxic elements and weed seeds, for processing by vermiworms. As they pass through their digestive tracts they will extract essential nutrients which they release back into the soil as vermicast, an organic material rich in nutrition that is then added back into garden beds for use as soil enrichment.

Once organic material has been collected, it should be placed into a worm bin and covered in damp peat moss. A lid should then be sealed securely to avoid leakage. Worms will begin eating the material while creating tunnels, essential parts of their process for releasing nitrogen that plants rely on for growth! Worms also promote microorganism growth which helps fix nitrogen into soil.

After eating material, worms produce dung that contains nitrogen-rich waste products. Once collected and stored in worm beds, this waste product can then be broken down further by worms into nutrient-rich soil amendment. This process is essential to maintaining soil health, so regular recycling should take place.

Vermiculture can also be conducted using a mechanical harvester known as a trommel screen, a cylindrical device measuring 11 feet long by 4 feet wide with different-sized screens attached. Powered by an electric motor, this machine will separate earthworms from compost materials efficiently, allowing for large scale operations.

Downward Migration

Earthworms can be used as part of vermiculture to convert kitchen waste into all-natural worm compost, which can then be used in both indoor and outdoor gardens. Worm composting also promotes soil health, reduces waste production and creates an eco-friendly closed loop system enabling worms to recycle organic materials into their own manure production cycle.

To harvest worm compost, the earthworms need to be manually moved from their current locations using onion bags or screens affixed to the bottom surface of a bin or box, forcing them downward into an enclosed space filled with peat moss.  This method takes advantage of earthworm’s tendency to migrate when hungry or exposed to light or dryness which could harm them.

Red wiggler earthworms (Eisenia fetida) are ideal for vermiculture as their high metabolic rate allows them to transform compost material into vermicompost in about 45-50 days, making them suitable for either indoor or outdoor garden vermiculture systems.

Vermiculture helps gardeners maintain the proper pH level for soil. Worms help break down organic material in compost piles to release beneficial microorganisms that support plant health, while providing essential mineral nutrients necessary for plant growth.

Vermiculture can do more than improve soil, it can also provide gardeners with an effective means of starting their own profitable business selling worms and castings. The process is straightforward and can easily take place in either an apartment courtyard or backyard setting, not to mention that it helps reduce landfill waste.  This all-natural fertilizer improves the quality of the soil itself.

Screening

Screening is an essential step in vermicomposting to create nutrient-rich “worm manure” or compost, helping remove large and small particles that would otherwise end up in the finished product, including plastic film, rocks and paper scraps that might otherwise contaminate it. Screening also serves to aerate and speed up decomposition processes.  Various screening equipment is used such as deck/flat screens, disc, grizzlys, orbitals stars trommel screens for this process.

Composted sludge’s high levels of moisture make it particularly challenging to screen. Traditional vibrating screens, like trommel and circular shakers, often fail to effectively screen these sticky materials. and brushing alone is often ineffective against this buildup.  Many commercial facilities turn instead to flip-flow screening media which significantly reduces blinding when handling wet material.

Vermicompost produced using earthworms is significantly lower in pathogens than traditional compost, due to earthworm consumption of fungi, instead of aerobic bacteria that cannot thrive under low oxygen conditions in their gut.

To reduce pathogens in the finished product, it is vital that aeration of materials in a vermicasting bin remain consistent. Too thick waste layers may block air from passively diffusing into them, leading to fermentation and heat build-up which drives away earthworms. To help avoid this situation, layers should not exceed 30 cm (1 ft). Furthermore, bins should contain continuous supplies of fresh materials which earthworms can migrate into.

Worm Bins

There are a variety of worm bins on the market today. From commercially available containers, such as plastic storage bins or washtubs, to homemade ones made out of plastic storage bins or wooden crates or even dug into the ground.  There is something suitable for every environment and situation! 

Worm bins can be filled with various food waste products, including meat scraps and fish scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells and crushed fruit rinds. Worms will convert this waste into rich compost for your garden or houseplant to provide them with valuable nutrients. Large farms may limit the types of scrap products placed in the bins.

After adding food waste to a worm bin, for the initial weeks after adding food waste you should cover it with a thin layer of bedding material to prevent the worms from digging into it and spoiling it. After some time has passed and they have eaten through initial food amounts you can increase them gradually until eventually your worms will consume approximately 50% of their bodyweight in food per day.

Vegetable matter can provide extra nutrition for worms, while also helping avoid any potential odor issues in your worm bin. If any issues do arise, consider stirring up the contents to add air or burying waste under new bedding; if that doesn’t do the trick, limit feedings until the smell dissipates.

Rather than using it in your garden, worm compost can be given as a gift or sold. Some even use its castings as fish fertilizer or for their own gardens.

Recommended Reading: Urban Farming

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