Worms aren’t just for early birds; they can help farmers and gardeners save money and the environment at the same time through vermicomposting.
This is a simple, low-cost technology in which earthworms consume agricultural waste on one end and produce excellent fertilizer from the other. The entire process is earth-friendly and can reduce organic wastes with no harm to the environment or the bottom line.
“Compared to ordinary compost, vermicompost has higher amounts of available plant nutrients (minerals) and larger populations of beneficial microorganisms. Vermicompost also improves the structure, aeration and water-holding capacity of the soil,” Rafael Guerrero III, aquaculture/vermiculture specialist and co-proprietor of Aquatic Biosystems, wrote in an e-mail.
“Vermicomposting can be applied by resource-poor farmers using the right earthworm species and culture techniques. Use of vermicompost reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides while ensuring profitable and sustainable crop production. Recycling of farm wastes minimizes environmental pollution and promotes soil productivity. With less farm costs and hazards to human health, the incomes and well-being of small farmers are enhanced,” he said.
To start the process and produce Vermirich, Aquatic Biosystems’ 100% organic vermicompost product, the right worms have to be chosen. African nightcrawlers are the preferred species for tropical regions because “these species readily breed in captivity using artificial substrates (without soil) consisting of organic materials with favorable conditions for moisture, aeration and temperature,” Mr. Guerrero explained.
Next, the bedding has to be prepared. A flood-free area with ample sources of raw materials and water is an ideal location. Locally available and low-cost material such as crop residues, weeds and animal manure can be used for the substrate.
The composition and proportions of the actual substrate depend on the availability of these materials. An example formulation is 40% manure, 30% legumes and 30% dried leaves. The bed can then be covered in plastic for warmth, which speeds up decomposition.
After 2-3 weeks of decomposition, the bedding is ready to be loaded with earthworms. Mr. Guerrero said that 1 kilo of African nightcrawlers per square meter of bedding, with a depth of 0.2 meters and 150 kilograms of processed materials, is the preferred proportion. According to him, this produces 2-3 kilograms of earthworm biomass in 4-6 weeks of culture.
Ideal conditions for African nightcrawlers are temperatures below 30 degrees Celsius with a moisture level of 60%-80%.
After 4-6 weeks, the vermicompost is ready for harvesting. Preliminary harvested vermicompost is placed in sacks to allow worm eggs to hatch before drying the compost, after which it is ready for use as fertilizer or even as a substitute for soil. In the harvesting process, the vermicompost is separated from earthworm biomass. The biomass is processed and recycled as vermimeal, which is a good substitute for imported fish meal in aquaculture.
Mr. Guerrero sees vermicomposting as a good step for Philippine farmers to become more sustainable. “As a strategy for sustainable agriculture, it can reduce the impact of chemical fertilizers and pesticides on the environment and human health, promote soil and water conservation, and minimize the emission of carbon dioxide and other ‘greenhouse gases’ with the burning of crop residues, and the indiscriminate disposal of animal wastes which contribute to global warming.”
The specialist is the former executive director of the Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology. He is presently affiliated with the National Academy of Science and Technology as a professor at the University of the Philippines – Los Baños.
Run by Mr. Guerrero and his wife Luzviminda, Aquatic Biosystems is a consultancy and marketing firm specializing in the development of aquaculture and vermiculture. It has more than 20 years of research and development experience in the hatchery and culture of tilapia and earthworm production. For more information, call (49) 568-0073 or 0917-801-6641, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.- Eush Tayco
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