What is Vermiculture?
Vermiculture is the process in which the composting of the garden is done by the usage of worms. All the material which is organic will be undergoing the process of decomposition. But in the vermiculture, the decomposition process increases its rate. The worms present in the system will be consuming the organic material which is undergoing decomposition and then releases them out in the form of waste which is considered as castings. This is also called as worm manure. The casting released by the worm is very much rich in nutrients.
Vermiculture is a process which allows the farmer or the person who is growing to create the compost which is rich in organic matter. Different types of worms are used for the process of vermiculture such as earthworms, white worms, etc. for the compost to be produced. The compost which would be created by the worms present in the system act as natural fertilizers and also as a very good conditioner to the soil.
Introduction to Vermiculture:
The earthworms which help the farmer by influencing the microbes present in the soil and their physical properties and chemical properties are considered to be the friends of the farmers. These are called “nature’s ploughman”. The earthworms will be having the capability to break the particles of the soil and the litters of the leaf. This is what makes them improve the organic matter and make them available for the degradation of the microbes. The vermicompost occurs with the degradation of the organic material by the combined action of the earthworms and other beneficial microorganisms. The vermicompost is the one which is very fertile. It is divided into the material which looks like peat and has a very good porosity. The carbon and nitrogen ratios are low in the compost and they also have less capacity to hold water. The volume of soil, flora and fauna which are micro will be influenced by the earthworms and these are combinedly termed as drilosphere.
As there is a drastic increase in the population of mankind and reduction in the availability of the land for the purpose of cultivating and disposal of waste, there is a requirement for the increase in the production of crops and also the system of waste disposal. To increase the crops, farmers started using the chemical fertilizers for quick growth, which with time have become the harmful factors in the environment and caused pollution. These also spoiled the predators which occur naturally in the crops and the flora and fauna. So there should be another method for the production of crops which is highly required in the present generation.
The conversion of organic wastes into organic compost is a very good technology in the present trend. The wastes which occur in an organic way can be converted into helpful composts which can be used as natural fertilizers for the agriculture to make the crops sustain in a healthy way. In the method of composting which is conventional, the microorganisms will participate in the process of degradation by themselves. As the composting which is done conventionally is a process which is thermophilic, there is a chance of loss of the microorganisms which are beneficial. This loss occurs as the microbes will not be able to tolerate the temperatures which are higher. So, the usage of the process of vermiculture would help in the place of conventional composting. As vermiculture is a process which is mesophilic, it makes the earthworms and the other beneficial microorganisms and makes them participate in the degradation of the organic material.
Vermicomposting will quicken the process of composting and also preserves the beneficial microorganisms which are diverse. This will provide them with the biofertilizers which are rich in nutrition and also active. The transformation of the organic wastes into organic composts will be done by the earthworms by digesting the organic waste with the help of microorganisms. The activities which are conducted by the earthworms will improve the beneficial microorganisms in such a way that the wastes coming from the hospital, which seem to be infectious and harmful can also be converted into the materials with no risk.
Importance of vermiculture:
- The costs occurring for the disposal of a garbage can be reduced.
- The earthworms play a very important role in the process of vermiculture. They help in ploughing and also making the soil fertilized.
- The earthworms will provide the plants with the nutrients which are required.
- The earthworms will help in the improvisation of the structure of the soil, fertility of the soil and also help in the promotion of soil aggregation.
- The earthworms will help by encouraging the soil to give few favourable reactions. They increase the content of nutrients, the earthworms promote the growth of the plants which thereby increases the productivity and quality of the crops.
- Earthworms take part in churning which would increase the porosity of the soil.
- They help in the soil improvement by providing it with air and water required ensuring the healthy growth of the plant.
- The infiltration rate of the water can also be improved by the earthworms. The tunnels created by the earthworms will help the soil in the process of absorption of water.
- The earthworms will bring the minerals present in the soil upwards and makes the nutrients required for the plant available to more extent.
- The pH level of the soil will also be neutralized by the earthworms. The analyzation of the castings released from the earthworm will help the farmer to check if the pH level of the soil is in a neutral state that is 7.
- The residues of the plants will be composted by the earthworms.
- Earthworms encourage the population of microbes to grow. The bacteria which helps in the fixing of nitrogen will be majorly seen around the burrows of the earthworms.
- The vermiculture will help to save the water and power which are being consumed by the waste disposal units.
- Vermiculture will need a less number of labor, less space and low maintenance.
- These worms can also be used as food for pets and also as feed for fishes.
Techniques of vermiculture:
General methods of harvesting worms:
This method of harvesting is followed for the commercial purpose of selling them. These are not harvested to create new worms. To create the worms, worm beds should be split. This is done by taking off a part of the bed to create a new one and replace that material with completely new bedding and also the feed. When the earthworms are sold, they will be differentiated and their weight will be calculated, Then the transportation will be done in a medium which is sterile. Generally, peat moss will be used for this. To make this process a success, the separation of worms should be done from the bedding and also from the organic compost formed in the process of vermiculture. There are three methods of harvesting the worms:
Manual Methods of harvesting:
Manual methods are generally not used by the commercial growers of the crops. There are used by the people who choose it as a hobby and also by the farmers who do small scale business of selling the worms. The manual method of worm harvesting will be done by picking the worms from the soil directly by using the hand. As worms cannot take direct light, this factor is taken as an advantage in the manual method of harvesting. The organic material which contains the worms will be kept on the surface which is flat and is exposed to light. As soon as this is done, the worms will start diving to the below surface. Then the harvester will remove the above layer of the organic compost and stops when he would be able to see the worms again. This will be repeated until there is no compost left except the worms with a little compost on them. These will be collected in a container immediately, their weight is calculated and the preparations for the delivery will be done.
There will also be many improvements and changes in this method of harvesting. A container can be used to place the organic material with the worms instead of the flat surface. Many piles of the compost can be done at once so that the harvester, instead of wasting the time, he can move from one pile to another and collect worms. This method of harvesting works when the area is small and the amount of worms is high.
These methods of harvesting worms will be used in the process of vermiculture depending on the tendency of the worms to migrate to the new places for food or because of light or dryness which are undesirable for the worms. The migration methods will use easy mechanisms such as onion bags and screens for harvesting.
The method in which screens are used is simple and the most common one. Construction of a box will be done at the bottom surface of the screen. A mesh which will be up to 1/5” and 1/9” will be used as a well. For this, there are two ways.
The downward-migration system is very much similar to the manual harvesting method. Here the worms are forced to move in the downward direction by using a light. The difference between the screening system and the manual system is that the movement of the worms in the downward direction will be done through the screen into a container which is already weighed and has peat moss which is moist. After all the worms move into the container through the screen, the organic compost which is present in the box constructed will be removed. Then, the box will be filled with the new compost which has worms in it. This process will be repeated until the box which is containing the moist peat moss is filled and has achieved the weight which is required. This method of harvesting worms can also be set at multiple locations at the same making the harvester move from one box to the other so that there would be saving of time which is required for the waiting until the worms migrate.
The upward-migration system is similar to the downward-migration system. But here, the box which is having the mesh bottom will be placed in the worm bed directly. This box will be already filled with peat moss and then the food which attracts the worms will be sprinkled on it. This food includes coffee grounds and the manure of cattle which is fresh. The box will then be removed and the weight of the box is calculated. This is done after the confirmation that most of the worms moved up into the organic material visually.
The same system is followed by using the onion bags. This method is majorly followed in Cuba. The main advantage of using onion bags is that the worm beds will not get disturbed. The disadvantage of using the onion bags is that the worms which are harvested will be in the organic material which contains the food which is not processed. This food will make the organic material disturbed and the heating will occur in the package when the shipping of worms is done. This problem can be avoided by removing the food particles and giving the worms some time to consume the food which is left in the box before the packaging is done.
Mechanical methods are the ones which are very simple and quick methods to separate the worms from the vermicompost.
The mechanical harvester is a trommel screen which is also called a rotary screen which is basically used in the separation of materials. This would be 11 feet long and 4 feet in diameter. The walls of the cylinder will be made of the screen material with meshes of different sizes. A tiny electric motor will be mounted to one end of the cylinder which will help the cylinder to rotate. The trommel device will be set at an angle at the upper side of the trommel. Then the worm beds and their castings are added. When the rotation of the cylinder takes place, the castings of the worms will drop through the screen. The worms will move through the trommel device and its lower end and enter into the wheelbarrow.
Vermiculture can take place in the below three ways:
This is the most popular method used in vermiculture process to take place. This contains a bin which is stackable and has two tiers. The bin will be 17 by 25 inches in diameter with a length of 20 inches. This bin can be bought from any workshops which involve public composting. The bin will have trays so that the composition of worms will occur. One of the trays will catch the liquid which runs off the bin. This liquid run-off is called the worm compost tea. This bin will also have a lid which is airtight, but has openings on the sides. This will have four legs so that the movement would be easy. A spigot will release the worm compost tea whenever required. A newspaper which is torn or a product which is made from the coconut fibre can be used as a material for bedding. This bedding material will be made moist and then a layer of it will be spread in one of the trays and a half pound of the redworms will be kept in it. A very little food such as grounds of coffee, the banana peel should be added so that the process of composting will be started. The temperature should be at 60 degrees Fahrenheit so that the worms would be comfortable. The castings will be rich in nitrogen and can be used in the gardens as fertilizers.
The bins used in vermiculture can also be made at home from the storage bins made of plastic. These should have tight lids. These bins should be drilled with holes at the bottom and around the lid so that the worms will get good ventilation. The compost of the worm will not have any kind of smell when there is a balance in the food, beddings and the number of worms. There would be a foul smell occurring when the materials used for bedding are placed in compact conditions with heavy food content or the wet bedding. The newspaper or the coconut coir bedding should be made moist. Worms should be added to this will small amount of food. Another storage bin should be prepared by drilling the holes as the first one and place it below the first bin. The first one will hold the liquid run-off from the second one. You can get red worms in your garden itself. Place cardboard which is wet in your garden for an entire night to collect the red worms. Prepare a second plastic storage bin with the same drilled holes and place it underneath the first bin. This one catches the “worm tea” runoff. Red worms can be caught in your garden by putting out a wet piece of cardboard overnight.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service is the one which encourages the vermiculture. This executive body promotes vermiculture as one of the most important ways of farming. To make the agriculture more sustainable, the outputs from one section of agriculture should be made as inputs for other systems of agriculture. In nature, every organism or product will be food for some other organism. When the operations of vermiculture are occurring in large scale, then the compost which is prepared should be sold to the companies which prepare the compost. The marketing of worms should also be done.
Windrow method: This method is the one which involves keeping the organic wastes into wide beds and sequentially add red worms along with the materials for bedding. The bedding materials and the organic waste are improved continuously. Harvesting of the worms is done by allowing them to move into a new bed and by removing the organic compost from the actual bed.