Vermiculture is a technique based on utilizing some species of earthworms to convert organic waste into vermicompost which is again, the product of decomposition by various worms. It is a practice of harvesting worms that take part in decomposing organic waste and turning it into nutrient-rich fertilizer. The worms consume the decomposing organic material and flush it out of their system which is referred to as worm manure. 

Earthworms that are commonly used in vermiculture are, Eisenia Andrei, Eisenia fetida, and Lumbricus rubellus horticultural in temperate climates and Pheretima Perionyx Hawanya Excavatus and Eudrilus Eugeniae and in the tropical areas.

In short, vermiculture and vermicomposting are the cultivation of earthworms and the use of earthworms to decompose organic wastes into nutrient-rich fertilizers.

Vermiculture Meaning

In general terms vermiculture means the cultivation of earthworms in order to use them to convert organic waste to nutrient and beneficial microorganism rice fertilizer. It allows us to grow organically rich compost year-round. Vermiculture was first introduced in the 1970s by a biology teacher, Mary Appelhif. She developed the idea of using red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida) for composting in indoor and outdoor systems to convert kitchen waste to worm compost.

Vermiculture Techniques

There are three major techniques in vermiculture for harvesting worms. These are

  1. Manual

  2. Migration

  3. Mechanical

Manual Method of Harvesting 

This method is generally used by framers for small-scale businesses of selling worms. The worms are harvested from the soil directly by using hands. The organic material which contains earthworms is kept on a flat surface and exposed to sunlight. It should be noted that earthworms are sensitive to light, so once they are exposed to sunlight they dive below the surface. The harvester will then remove the organic layer above and once the worms are seen they are harvested.

Migration Method of Harvesting

This method takes advantage of the earthworm’s tendency to migrate to a new location for food and for this reason, onion bags and screens are used for harvesting.  At the bottom surface of the screen, a box will be constructed where the worms would be collected. The migration method is carried out in two ways.

The downward migration method where the worms are forced to move downwards in the organic material with the use of light. They will go through the screen mesh and be collected in the container box below which is filled with peat moss. The process is repeated until the required quantity of worms has been achieved. It is a time-saving process and can be seen in multiple locations.

In the upward migration method, the mesh bottom of the box would be replaced by a worm bed. The box will be filled with peat moss and food which attracts the worms. Generally, coffee grounds and manure from fresh cattle are used as food for worms and they will move towards it and be collected in the box.

Mechanical Method of Harvesting 

In this method, a mechanical harvester is used to collect worms. It is a trammel screen which is called a rotary screen that is used to separate materials. It is around 11ft long and 4ft in diameter and has a cylindrical shape. The walls of the cylinder are made of screening materials with different sized meshes. The cylinder is powered by an electric motor. The device would be set at an angle at the top-side of the trammel. After that, the castings and the worm beds are added. When the rotation starts the castings of the worms will drop through the screen and the worms will move across the trammel device and enter into the wheelbarrow.

Vermiculture Process

The method used by farmers to multiply earthworms is by mixing high amounts of organic wastes, including the plant materials, cattle dung in a proportion of 1:1. Once the substrate medium has been made, around 40-50 earthworms species are released into the medium and it is protected from various environmental factors.

Regular maintenance is important for the growth of earthworms. The temperature should be between 15 to 25-degree centigrade and the moisture level should be at 80-90%. 

Within one to two months, the earthworms can multiply up to 300 times relying on this process and factors affecting the process, and then they can be harvested.

Materials Required for Vermicomposting:

  • Crop residues

  • Vegetable waste

  • Cattle dung

  • Dried leaves

  • Waste from agro-industries

  • A suitable container

  • Shed

  • Pits

  • Water supply

  • Earthworms

Preparation of Vermicomposting

  • A container with suitable dimensions is chosen and a worm bed I made at the pit of the container. This worm bed consists of old papers, sugar cane trash, paddy husk, and coir waste. A thin layer of soil is spread over this mixture and the humidity is maintained at 40-45%

  • A mix of organic waste, slurry from a biogas plant and cattle dung is spread over the bed and it is kept for half digestion for a period of two weeks. During this time, the temperature of the bedding will rise to 50-55 degrees centigrade. A 5-10% neem cake is added to eliminate harmful microorganisms. 

  • After the temperature is cooled down to 30 degrees, the earthworms are introduced. Around 500 earthworms are introduced for 100 kgs of organic material.

  • The bed is covered with straw and jute clothes to protect the worm. The temperature is maintained at 20-30 degrees centigrade and the moisture content is kept at 45-50%. (pH: 6.5-7)

  • The compost will be ready in around 60 days and after it is ready the worms are separated by spreading the vermicompost on a plastic sheet in a heap under sunlight. As earthworms are sensitive to sunlight, they will move to the bottom of the heap and the top layer of the compost can be removed.

Vermiculture Facts:

  • Vermicompost is eco-friendly and it can help in reducing landfill

  • The worm liquid at the bottom of the worm bin is great for the growth of garden plants. It is also known as worm tea.

  • Worm casting can improve soil fertility by enriching it with nutrients.

  • Worms have no eyes, no ears, and 5 hearts.

  • They breathe through their skin.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1. What are the Advantages of Vermicompost Over Regular Compost?

  • Worm-made compost material is far superior to normal compost

  • The compost material size of vermicompost is less than 2 microns which is smaller than regular compost

  • Vermicompost improved the soil water retention, drainage, aeration, and soil stability.

  • Vermicompost contains high amounts of natural plant growth hormones and has more antibiotic properties than regular compost.

Q2. What are the Benefits of Vermicomposting?

The benefits of vermicomposting are:

  • Improves the physical structure of the soil and enriches it with beneficial microorganisms 

  • Improves seed germination, plant growth, and crop yield.

  • Enhances root growth and structure

  • Microbial activity in worm castings is 10 to 20 times more than in the soil and organic matter that the worm ingests