Earthworms have been on the Earth for over 20 million years. In this time they have faithfully done their part to keep the cycle of life continuously moving. Their purpose is simple but very important. They are nature’s way of recycling organic nutrients from dead tissues back to living organisms. Many have recognized the value of these worms. Ancient civilizations, including Greece and Egypt valued the role earthworms played in soil. The Egyptian Pharaoh, Cleopatra said, “Earthworms are sacred.” She recognized the important role the worms played in fertilizing the Nile Valley croplands after annual floods. Charles Darwin was intrigued by the worms and studied them for 39 years. Referring to an earthworm, Darwin said, “It may be doubted whether there are many other animals in the world which have played so important a part in the history of the world.” The earthworm is a natural resource of fertility and life.
Earthworms live in the soil and feed on decaying organic material. After digestion, the undigested material moves through the alimentary canal of the earthworm, a thin layer of oil is deposited on the castings. This layer erodes over a period of 2 months. So although the plant nutrients are immediately available, they are slowly released to last longer. The process in the alimentary canal of the earthworm transforms organic waste to natural fertilizer. The chemical changes that organic wastes undergo include deodorizing and neutralizing. This means that the pH of the castings is 7 (neutral) and the castings are odorless. The worm castings also contain bacteria, so the process is continued in the soil, and microbiological activity is promoted.
Vermicomposting is the process of turning organic debris into worm castings. The worm castings are very important to the fertility of the soil. The castings contain high amounts of nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium. Castings contain: 5 times the available nitrogen, 7 times the available potash, and 1 ½ times more calcium than found in good topsoil. Several researchers have demonstrated that earthworm castings have excellent aeration, porosity, structure, drainage, and moisture-holding capacity. The content of the earthworm castings, along with the natural tillage by the worms burrowing action, enhances the
permeability of water in the soil. Worm castings can hold close to nine times their weight in water. “Vermiconversion,” or using earthworms to convert waste into soil additives, has been done on a relatively small scale for some time. A recommended rate of vermicompost application is 15-20 percent.
Vermicomposting is done on small and large scales. In the 1996 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, the Australians used worms to take care of their tons and tons of waste.They then found that waste produced by the worms was could be very beneficial to their plants and soil. People in the U.S. have commercial vermicomposting facilities, where they raise worms and sell the castings that the worms produce. Then there are just people who own farms or even small gardens, and they may put earthworms into their compost heap, and then use that for fertilizer.
Vermicompost and its utilization
Vermicompost is nothing but the excreta of earthworms, which is rich in humus and n
utrients. We can rear earthworms artificially in a brick tank or near the stem / trunk of trees (specially horticultural trees). By feeding these earthworms with biomass and watching prope
rly the food (bio-mass) of earthworms, we can produce the required quantities of vermicompost.
2. Materials for preparation of Vermicompost
Any types of biodegradable wastes-
1. Crop residues
2. Weed biomass
3. Vegetable waste
4. Leaf litter
5. Hotel refuse
6. Waste from agro-industries
7. Biodegradable portion of urban and rural wastes
What Worms Need
The Five Essentials
Compost worms need five basic things:
1. An hospitable living environment, usually called “bedding”
2. A food source
3. Adequate moisture (greater than 50% water content by weight)
4. Adequate aeration
5. Protection from temperature extremes
These five essentials are discussed in more detail below.
Bedding is any material that provides the worms with a relatively stable habitat.
This habitat must have the following characteristics:
Worms breathe through their skins and therefore must have a moist environment in which to live. If a worm’s skin dries out, it dies. The bedding must be able to absorb and retain water fairly well if the worms are to thrive.
Good bulking potential
If the material is too dense to begin with, or packs too tightly, then the flow of air is reduced or eliminated. Worms require oxygen to live, just as we do. Different materials affect the overall porosity of the bedding through a variety of factors, including the range of particle size and shape, the texture, and the strength and rigidity of its structure. The overall effect is referred to in this document as the material’s bulking potential.
Low protein and/or nitrogen content (high Carbon: Nitrogen ratio)
Although the worms do consume their bedding as it breaks down, it is very important that this be a slow process. High protein/nitrogen levels can result in rapid degradation and its associated heating, creating inhospitable, often fatal, conditions. Heating can occur safely in the food layers of the vermiculture or vermicomposting system, but not in the bedding.
Housing: Sheltered culturing of worms is recommended to protect the worms from excessive sunlight and rain. All the entrepreneurs have set up their units in vacant cowsheds, poultry sheds, basements and back yards.
Containers: Cement tanks were constructed. These were separated in half by a dividing wall. Another set of tanks were also constructed for preliminary decompo
Bedding and feeding materials: During the beginning of the enterprises, most women used cowdung in order to breed sufficient numbers of earthworms. Once they have la
rge populations, they can start using all kinds of organic waste. Half of the entrepreneurs have now reached populations of 12,000 to 15,000 adult earthworms.
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