Vermiculture is the practice of using worms to compost food and garden waste, yielding an economically viable growing material in the form of worm castings in addition to the worms themselves. Worms break down compost and other nutrients in the soil leaving behind a trail of broken down worm castings which make for great soil.
All you need to get started is a worm reproduction bin, some worms, and a carbon source which is the perfect way to start a worm culture.
Worm Reproduction Bin
This bin will be a modification of an already existing blue plastic bin which will be a reused bin from the eco-machine. The bin will be fit with six wheels and a sled to sit on, with plastic lumber for support as well as drainage. The bottom of the bin will have a plastic lining with small drainage holes which will then be covered in burlap. Once covered, soil and well aged compost will be layered with two pounds of worms for every two wheel barrel loads the bin can take.
Once layered, the top will be covered with layers of burlap as well. The worms will be maintained by feeding off the compost collected by the Berea College SENS department which is generated by the SENS house and surrounding Eco-Village. The bin should be filled with the proper bedding material which can consist of shredded newspaper or cardboard, leaves or peat moss, or coconut fibers. Also, a mixture of these can prove beneficial as well.
There are two types of earth worms commonly used are Eisenia foetida , the common red wiggler; and Lumbricus rubella, another prevalent decomposers. Both are commonly found in compost and manure bins. Eisenia foetida can be bought at bait shops in addition to local online distributors such as Long Branch Little Wigglers who ship via USPS priority mail to ensure quick delivery. Shipping costs for 5 pound orders is $13.95 plus $1.00 bag and handling costs. Orders will be shipped on Mondays or Tuesdays to ensure delivery of live, healthy worms.
They are located in Monroe County, Kentucky, between Tompkinsville and Gamaliel and should be contacted beforehand if worms are to be picked up.
For more information, visit http://www.kyagr.com/KDAPage.aspx?id=5037
Earthworms require good drainage in their bins so as to reduce excess moisture in the soil. Bins which are kept outside need to have lids on them whereas bins kept inside can easily be covered with burlap. Bins should be kept warmer than 40 degrees Fahrenheit and cooler than 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Earthworms should be fed at a ratio of 1 lb of food for every 2 lbs of earthworms. However, other studies show that the worms should be fed at ratios of 1:1 and that worms will gladly eat their fill for best production which has seasonal ups and downs pending the size of the worm culture. Earthworms eat and breakdown compost materials and food wastes such as vegetable scraps, fruit scraps (although, citrus and banana peels often attract fruit flies), coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, bread, spent grains, and beer mash. If the earthworm bins start to smell that means there is excess moisture in the soil and that the amount of compostable feed should be reduced. If fruit flies prove to be an issue, try to bury food scraps an inch or two under the top layer of soil. Also, vinegar and water will help to capture some of the flies.
There are a few methods of harvesting your worm castings that is, to separate the worms from the processed soil medium. One is to set up your worms in vertical rows in a larger bed and put fresh food in another medium. The worms will make their way to the newer food source. A second method would be manually separating the worms from their castings which can be a fun activity for most children and a perfect learning opportunity.
Another method, utilized by Growing Power, is to place a relatively fine mesh screen (or reuse an old window screen) on top of your bin and put fresh food over the screen. The worms will crawl through the mesh and start to devour the food at which point they can be removed in one swift motion from the processed soil medium.
Use of worm castings
Worm castings can be used in various manners such as a nutrient rich soil conditioner applied topically to the soil surface or mixed with soil and other compost to form a fantastic growing medium. Worms are able to multiply microbial populations by up to 13 times in their gut and it is this microbial life presence which is so vital to plant growth. Some castings are heat sterilized to get rid of the microbes and those castings proved to be less effective than the castings with a rich microbial culture.
Also, worm castings can be used for bioremediation, reducing soil and water contaminants by up to 98% with the only byproducts being carbon dioxide and water. E. coli and other pathogens are killed in the worm’s gut and the castings can also help prevent plant diseases and insects.
- City Farmer. Canadian Office of Urban Agriculture. http://cityfarmer.org/
- Growing Power. Growing Power Vermiculture Workshop 2009. www.growingpower.org
- Using Castings and Casting Tea. Slocum, Kelly. http://mypeoplepc.com/members/arbra/trinity/id14.html