By Tyler Ellison
Vermicomposting is the use of worms and microorganisms to break down organic matter into compost. The importance of composting with worms come from their stunning ability to digest organic material into nutrient-rich ‘castings’ packed with beneficial microorganisms. After the worms have fully digested the material the castings can be used in topdressing container plants, amendments in bedding plants, inoculant for fresh composting piles, as well as made into a compost tea to be applied to the foliage.
The most common composting worm is Eisenia fetida the ‘Red wiggler’. These worms are voracious eaters, reproduce quickly and can withstand a wide range of conditions. In most cases, red wigglers are the best species for home and commercial vermicomposting systems. Red wigglers lay cocoons, each of which can produce up to three hatchlings. Mature red wigglers can lay two or three cocoons per week once the worm is around ten weeks old. These worms live and feed in the top 6 to 8 inches of soil and will consume a quarter to half of its weight in food a day. It is important to note that worms do not have teeth and cannot directly feed on the material. Rather bacteria, protozoa and fungi break down and soften the organic material for the worms to digest.
A worm habitat is made up of the bedding where the worms live and the food in which the worms eat. Bedding is not only food but a place where the worms can live and move around in. Bedding material is carbon-rich and adds aeriation to the habitat. This can be dried leaves/ grass, cardboard, newspaper, sawdust/ wood chips, or straw. The foods in which the microorganisms and worms eat are vegetables, fruit (excluding citrus because of their high acidity), coffee/ tea grounds, eggshells, breads and pastas. It is important to note that worms cannot eat non-biodegradable materials, dairy/ meat, oils/ grease or cooked food. The ideal conditions for the red wiggler are a temperature between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit and moisture level that of a wrung-out sponge.
There are a few different types of vermicomposting systems. The main difference is how the worm castings are harvested. The system Benevolence uses is called a Vertical Flow Through system. This system allows the worms to work their way up through the organic material and deposit the castings behind. Once a sufficient layer of castings has been formed beneath the living layer of worms, harvesting can begin. The floor of the worm bin has a screen so the castings can be scraped away and drop to the ground for collection. This process is designed to keep the worms living and feeding in the top portion of the bin while harvesting the castings through the bottom without disturbing the worms.
Vermicomposting is one of the ways Benevolence increases the biodiversity and biodensity on the farm. There are many different ways to compost as well as many different ways to use compost. The worm castings we harvest will be used in as many different ways as possible. However, the most exciting way to use the castings is as a key ingredient in aerated compost tea used to spray the entire farm. This is done because worm castings contain lots of beneficial bacteria and fungi that have a direct influence on a plant's immune system. Aerated compost tea is used to rapidly increase the population of these microorganisms to then spread around the farm. The more our farm can support the beneficial microorganisms, the healthier our plants will be. This not only improves pest and disease tolerance but also increases the nutrition and taste of the produce from the farm.
In conclusion, vermicomposting is a fantastic way to have a sustainable source of compost for your garden. It has the amazing ability to build soil and life in your garden like no other amendment can. It will help reduce the impact we have on our earth while regenerating our soils through a closed-loop system. If you would like to learn more about vermicomposting and aerated compost tea here is a list of references:
· Red Worm Composting:
· Northwest Red Worms:
· The Logical Gardener:
· Appelhof, Mary. Worms Eat My Garbage. Kalamazoo, Michigan, Flower Press 1997.
· Working Worms: