Vermicompost Production Guide:
Introduction of Vermicompost:- What is vermicomposting? Well, it is essentially the decomposition of organic material (plant and/or animal origin) by earthworms. One can get excellent profits by commercial production of vermicompost as the use of this increasing day by day. Using proper species of earthworms, excellent quality of compost can be produced in ambient temperature conditions in a short period of time. The earthworms promote faster decomposition of organic material when compared to compost pits without earthworms. Vermicompost plays an important role in improving growth and yield of different field crops like vegetable, flower and fruit crops. After using vermicompost in most of the crops, it has been found that germination percentage as well as produce quality is very high. Vermicompost, apart from supplying nutrients and growth enhancing hormones to plants, improves the soil structure leading to increase in water and nutrient holding capacities of soil.
The major advantage of vermicompost is this can be used for all crops like agricultural, horticultural, ornamental and vegetables at any stage of the crop. The commercial production of vermicompost is increasing tremendously by individuals and fertilizer companies due to low investment and high returns. In India, generally, it costs about 4 to 5 rupees to produce 1 kg of vermicompost and this can be sold at 10-12 Rs/kg in open market. Let us discuss further about process of making vermicompost along with the materials being used in the process.
Advantages and Benefits of Vermicompost:- The following are advantages of vermicompost used in various crops.
- Vermicompost is rich in all essential plant nutrients and provides excellent plant growth and encourages the growth of new leaves and improves the quality and shelf life of the produce.
- Nutrient content of vermicompost is higher when compared to traditional composts.
- Vermicompost is free flowing, easy to handle and store and does not have any foul odour.
- Vermicompost improves soil structure, texture, aeration, and water-holding capacity and prevents soil from erosion.
- Vermicompost contains earthworm cocoons and increases the population and activity of earthworms in the soil.
- Vermicompost horbours certain microbial populations that help in Nitrogen fixation in the soil and ‘P’ solubilization.
- Vermicompost prevents nutrient losses and increases the use efficiency of chemical fertilizers.
- Vermicompost is free from activity of earthworm in the soil, soil pathogens, and weeds.
- The other main advantage of vermicompost minimizes the incidence of pest and diseases in growing crops/trees/plants.
- Vermicompost enhances the process of decomposition of organic matter in soil.
- Percentage of N: P: K content is more in vermicompost when compared to traditional or bacterial compost.
Process of Vermicompost:- Before going into the process, let us talk about vermiculture. What is vermiculture? It is a process of breeding and raising earthworms in controlled conditions. Vermiculture is also part of production of vermicompost. So if you are planning for vermicompost production, it’s better to go for vermiculture as well to reduce the operational cost. Even one can opt for just vermiculture to sell the earthworms for vermicompost production.
- If you are planning for large scale commercial production of vermicompost, be aware of initial costs involved apart from cost of production. The one time investment will be like shed construction, preparation of vermi-beds and machinery. Because of this initial high investment, the capital cost may work out to about 8,000-10,000 INR (this may change with current market conditions) for every tonne of vermicompost production capacity. However, this is happens only once. From second year onwards, once can expect only production cost of vermicompost. Make sure to include transportation cost in operation costs for getting organic material like cow dung and transporting finished product to market.
- Spread the agricultural wastes and cow dung in gradually built up shallow layers. The pits used for this purpose should be kept shallow to avoid any heat built up that may impact the earthworm’s growth.
- It is necessary to maintain optimal temperature of 28 to 30°C for faster transformation of bio material.
- The vermicomposting process consists of constructing brick lined beds of 1.0 to 1.5 meter width and 0.25 to 0.3 meter height should be constructed inside a shed open from all sides.
- If you are planning for commercial production of vermicompost, the beds can be prepared with 15 meter length, 1.5 meter width and 0.6 meter height spread equally below and above the ground. The length of the beds can be made as per convenience. However, the width and height cannot be increased as this may affect the ease of operation and an increased height on conversion rate due to heat built up.
- Place the organic material like cow dung and farm waste in layers to make about 0.6 to 1.0 meter height. Earthworms should be introduced in between the layers at the rate of 350 to 360 worms per m3 (1 cubic meter) of bed volume that weighs nearly 1 Kg. The beds should be maintained at about 40-50% moisture content and a temperature of 21–30°C by sprinkling water over the beds.
Earthworms in Vermicompost Production:- Earthworms are long and cylindrical in shape and size having a large number of grooves. There are about 3000 to 3500 species of earthworms are in the world which are adapted to a range of environment out of which 350 species have been identified in India.
- Epigeics which are surface feeders are very important in production of vermicomposting process. The ‘epigeics’ such as ‘Eisenia foetida’ and ‘Eudrilus eugeniae’ are exotic earthworms and Perionyx excavatus’ is a native one being used for vermicomposting in India.
- Epianecic are feeders on leaf litter and soil at upper layers of soil. This group such as Lampito mauritii is indigenous and is active in in-situ decomposition of organic wastes.
- One earthworm reaching reproductive age of about 6 to 7 weeks lays one egg capsule which contains seven embryos for every 8-10 days. 3 to 7 earth worms emerge out of each capsule. Thus, the multiplication of worms under optimum growth conditions is very fast. The earthworms live for about 2 years.
Selection of Location in Vermicompost Production:- Mainly rural areas with abundant agriculture and suburbs of towns and cities are ideal for setting commercial vermicomposting units. Make sure set up nearness to a commercial dairy farm or large concentration of cattle population will have an added advantage of cheap raw material i.e. cow dung and transportation cost would be less in this case.
Commercial Production Components in Vermicompost Production:- Cow dung is main input for vermicompost production for large scale producers, establishing vermicomposting units nearby dairy units is an added advantage. For commercial production of vermicompost, certain mandatory components should be established for vermicompost production. Consider all these components cost while setting up a commercial vermicomposting unit.
- Sheds for Vermicomposting Production: Sheds are needed for protecting vermi beds. Shed can be made with any locally available material such as bamboos/wooden and stone or RCC pillars. HDPE sheets can also be used as roof for lowering the set up cost.
- Vermi-beds for Vermicomposting Production: Make sure to have vermi-beds with 0.3 to 0.6 meter height depending on the provision for drainage of excess water. It is recommended to make bed with uniform height over the entire width to avoid low production owing to low bed volumes. Make sure the vermi-bed width will not be more than 1.5 meter to allow easy access to the center of the bed.
- Land for Vermicomposting Production: An about half acre land is good enough to set up commercial unit for vermicomposting. One can build couple of sheds as per convenience and room for finished product. A bore well with pump is needed for water supply to vermi-beds.
- Buildings for Vermicomposting Production: Some rooms are required for workers and to secure materials/machinery and any other equipment including any office set up.
- Seed Stock for Vermicomposting Production: Though the earthworms multiply fast to give the required numbers over a period of 7 months to a year, it may not be wise to wait till such a time having invested on the infrastructure heavily. Thus, earthworms @ 1 kg per m3 of bed volume should be enough to start with and to build up the required population in about 2 or 3 cycles without unduly affecting the estimated production.
- Fencing and Paths for Vermicomposting Production: Trespassing by animals should be prevented by having fencing around the shed. Path ways in shed to be built for easy handling of material.
- Water Supply for Vermicomposting Production: It is required to keep the beds always moist for proper and fast growth of earthworms. As the vermi-beds have to be kept moist always with about 50-60% moisture content, there is a need to plan for applying the water to the vermi-beds frequently. Drippers with round the clock flow arrangement would be quite handy for continuous supply and saving on water. Water stress could kill the earthworms and reduce the population.
- Machinery for Vermicomposting Production: For shredding the raw material into small pieces and getting them to vermi-beds is primary task which can be achieved by farm machinery. Apart from this, loading, unloading collection of compost, loosening of beds for aeration, shifting of the compost before packing and for air drying of the compost, automatic packing and stitching also require farm machinery and some extra implements for efficient running of the unit.
- Transportation for Vermicomposting Production: Transportation also plays major role in vermicomposting. If the production unit is far away from the raw materials or to take the finished product, transportation is a must. Mini trucks and onsite trolleys should be required to handle the transportation requirements.
- Furniture for Vermicompost Production: To enhance the office operations, any storage racks, bags or wooden boxes should be required.
Idle Conditions for Earthworms in Compost Material:-
- A pH range should be between 6.5 and 7.5 along with moisture content of 60-70% below and above range mortality of worms taking place.
- Suitable aeration should be 50% from the total pore space.
- Temperature range of 19 to 35°C is suitable for best production.
Precautions in Preparing Vermicomposting:- The following cautions are recommended in the productions of vermicompost.
- Make sure that vermicompost beds/heaps are not covered plastic sheets/material, since this can trap the heat and gases.
- Should not overload the vermicompost heap to avoid high temperature that adversely affects their population.
- Water stress or dry conditions kill the earthworms. Make sure to water daily in summer and every third day in rainy and winter season to supply the continuous moisture to the beds.
- Make sure that the addition of higher quantities of acid rich substances such citrus wastes should be avoided.
- Make sure to have a drainage channel around the heap to avoid stagnation of water particularly in high rainfall areas in rainy season.
- Use organic materials in composting which are free from materials such as stones, glass pieces, plastics, ceramic tubes.
Pests and Diseases in Vermicomposting:- No specific diseases found in vermi compost preparation. However, ants, termites, centipedes, rats, pigs and birds main predators. To prevent these, treat the location/site with 5% neem based insecticide before filling the heap.
Harvest of Vermicompost from the Pit:- The following steps should be taken for harvesting the vermicompost.
- Stop watering before one week of harvest.
- Sometimes the worms spread across the pit come in close and penetrate each other in the form of ball in 2 or 3 locations.
- Heap the compost by removing the balls and place them in a bucket. However, under most instances, top layer has to be disturbed manually. Earthworms move downward and compost is separated. After collection of compost from top layers, feed material is again replenished and composting process is rescheduled. The material is sieved in two mm sieve, the material passed through the sieve is called as vermicompost which is stored in polythene bags
- Re-composting can be done in the same pit or bed. Similar to the above described pit/heap method,
- Vermicompost can be prepared in wooden box or brick column in similar way.
- In-situ vermicomposting can be done by direct field application of vermicompost at 5 tonnes/ha followed by application of cow-dung (2.5-3.0 cm thick layer) and then a layer of available farm waste about 15 cm thick. Irrigation should be done at an interval of 2 weeks.
Rate of Application of Vermicompost in Various Crops:- Though it can be applied at any stage, mixing in soil after broadcasting fetch more benefits.
- Usually any filed crops require 6-7 tonnes/ha.
- Any vegetable crop requires 11-12 tonnes/ha.
- Any flower plants require 100-250 grams/square feet.
- Any fruit trees require 6-12 kg/tree.
How to Make Vermicompost at Home:- You can make vermicompost in small quantities at home with the following steps.
- Prepare/arrange a vessel or bin.
- Add 5 to 6 cm of bedding material in the bin.
- Add earthworms to the bed.
- Cut waste material and add to the bin.
- Keep bin covered with moist cloth.
- Keep the bin away from direct sunlight.
- Moisture should be checked and accordingly water should be sprinkled on bed as water stress could kill earthworms.
- Harvest vermicompost for every 3 to 4 months.
- Store harvested vermicompost for two to three weeks and remove the young earthworms.