Earthworms can be fed all forms of food waste, yard and garden waste, paper and cardboard, etc. Yard wastes, such as leaves, grass clipping, straw, and non woody plant trimmings can be composted. Leaves, are the dominant organic waste in most backyard compost plies. If grass clippings are used, it is advisable to mix them with other yard wastes, otherwise the clippings may compact and restrict airflow. Branches and twigs greater than Â¼ inch in diameter should be put through a shredder/chipper. Kitchen wastes such as vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and eggshells may also be added. Sawdust may be added in moderate amounts if additional nitrogen is applied. Approximately 1 kg of actual nitrogen is required for 100 kg of dry sawdust. Wood ashes act as a lime source and if used should only be added in small amounts (5 kg per ton of waste). Ordinary black and white newspaper can be composted; however, the nitrogen content is low and will consequently slow down the rate of decomposition. If paper is composted, it should not be more than 10% of the total weight of the material in the compost pile.
The biologically degradable and decomposable organic wastes commonly used as composting materials in vermiculture and vermicomposting are as follows:
Cattle dung, sheep dung, horse dung, goat dung and poultry dropping etc may used for this purpose. In use of animal dung other than cattle dung, various preliminary testing and precautions for pathogens and responses to earthworms are necessary. The uses of horse dung should be done carefully because tetanus virus is common in horse dung and is lethal to human beings.
Agricultural waste obtained after harvesting and threshing may be used. They include stem, leaves, husk (excepting paddy husk), peels, vegetable waste, orchard leaf litter, processed food wastes, sugarcane rash and baggase; and processing wastes.
These are plant products such as wood shavings, peels, saw dust and pulp. All these besides various types of forest litter can be used. The unutilized forest waste such as leaf litter may also be used for Vermicomposting.
City leaf litter
The burnt leaf litter from avenue or residential areas may be used, however, reports are not available. If it is used, this would keep cities clean and would provide useful product. The leaf litter of mango, guava, grasses and certain weeds (free from seeds) may be used, but we need more information on this aspect. Waste paper and cotton cloth etc.
These are decomposable organic waste. These if are not being recycled for other useful products, can be recycled with Vermicomposting.
City refuge or garbage on daily production basis comprise important items of city factors and a considerable portion of city refuge can be sorted and recycled or composted. Most of household as kitchen waste with little manipulation can be used for vermicompose.
After recovery of biogas, if not required for agricultural use, viz., in conventional composting can be used for Vermicompositing.
The industrial wastes like waste from food processing, distillery etc. can also be used in vermiculture with some manipulations.
More specifically following combinations can be used as feed for earthworms for vermiculture and vermicomposting. However, exact proportions may have to be adjusted with little pre-testing.
- Biogas slurry with some leaf letter and some soil sprinkled over.
- Cow dung + Sheep droppings + horse dung mixed in equal quantities.
- Cow dung or mixed dung + Agricultural wastes in ratio of 10: 3.
- Cow dung or mixed dung + Gram bran in ratio of 10: 3.
- Cow dung or mixed dung + Kitchen wastes in ratio of 10: 3.
- Cow dung or mixed dung + Rice polish in ratio of 10: 3.
- Cow dung or mixed dung + Semi crushed leaf litter in ratio of 10: 3.
- Cow dung or mixed dung + Sewage sludge in ratio of 10: 3.
- Cow dung or mixed dung + Vegetable waste in ratio of 10: 3.
- Cow dung or mixed dung + Wheat bran in ratio of 10: 3.
- Old cow dung of minimum 7 days
- Only agricultural waste or sewage sludge or kitchen waste or leaf litter or their mixtures.
- Weed, leaves, grass clippings + cow dung or table waste + soil 70: 15: 15.
Standard diet by Prof. R.D. Kale includes cow dung or mixed dung + gram bran + wheat bran + vegetable waste in ratios of 10 : 1 : 1:1 + some powdered egg shell.
Any of the above material combinations can be taken up. These are thoroughly mixed with upturning with a spade to mix. Heaps are watered and kept in shade for partial digestion for 2 to 3 weeks. Then it is beaten to break lumps, i.e. to make it some-what powdery and used as feed for earthworms (preliminary treatment of composting material).
In addition to above numerous other combinations have been tried and or can be tried with care. For example de-oiled Neem Kernel cake can also be used after it has been partially matured or decomposed. Fresh de-oiled Neem cake has been reported to reduce reproduction and so does sheep dung. Vermin-stabilization is also delayed in some combinations. For all such problems best is to subject it to initial pretesting.
Some weeds and spent or used substrates after mushroom harvest can also be used. Treatment of this material too is same and is to be mixed with any of the feed materials. The weeds should be free from seeds.
FEEDING VERMICOMPOSTING MATERIALS
What should not be Fed to Earthworms?
It is important to note that do not feed them; metals, foils, plastics, chemicals, oils, solvents, insecticides, soaps, paint, etc. Avoid all citrus products (oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit), onions, garlic cloves, extremely hot and heavily spiced foods, and high acid foods. Also, avoid oleanders and other poisonous plants meat, chicken, dairy foods, dog and cat manure.
Table 2. Chemical composition of earthworm meal ChemicalAs such basis in %100% dry matter basis in % Moisture7.7 Crude protein56.2760.95 Total ash10.4911.36 Crude fibre0.560.60 Calcium1.011.09 Phosphorus1.251.36 Fat (ether extract)6.056.55 Silica3.764.07
Plants that have been treated with herbicides or pesticides should be avoided for composting, small amounts of herbicide-treated plants (e.g., grass clippings) may be mixed in the pile as long as one is careful to allow thorough decomposition Ideally, clippings from lawns recently treated with herbicides should be left on the lawn to decompose.
Some materials may pose a health hazard or create a nuisance and therefore should not be used to make compost. Adding human or pet faeces cannot be recommended because they may transmit diseases. Meat, bones, grease, whole eggs, and dairy products should not be added because they can attract rodents to the site. Most plant disease organisms and weed seeds are destroyed during the composting process when temperatures in the center of the pile reach 150-160Â°F.
Table 3. Amino acids in earthworm meal g/100g protein How much Earthworm Eat
Usually 2 kg of earthworms will recycle 1 kg of organic waste in 24 hours. In absolutely ideal conditions of comfort and group up, moist food, the herd will recycle their own weight in wastes every 24 hours.
How to Feed Earthworm?
The earthworm will need a little help from you in the preparation of some of the materials. When feeding the scraps if at all possible chop or break them into small pieces as it will be easier for the worms to process. Leave the scraps in a container for a few days so bacteria will start forming because worms love bacteria. Be sure the overall mix, (or any individual waste), is moist, about like a blueberry muffin or sponge cake.
In case of vermicomposting of kitchen waste, most food wastes can be put directly on the worm bed just as it comes from the table. Just scatter it around the top of the bed.
VERMICOMPOSTING : TYPES
There can be several names designated to vermicomposting. Basically all are same but vary only with extent of waste mass to me vermicomposted and composting containers. Some tag with names of mechnical structure used as composting containers viz., vermin excelerator etc.
Small scale or Indoor Vermicomposting
It is done under covered areas (with a shade viz., cattle sheds, poultry sheds, back yards, underneath temporary thatched sheds or in containers). It is preferred in the areas where protection from climatic adversaries like high rains, prolonged spells of high or low temperatures (from les than 10Â°F to more than 45Â°F) is required, and predators like ants, rodents and large insectivorous birds are abundant.
Large scale or outdoor Vermicomposting
Larger scale vermicomposting may be of two types:
In-situ culturing of earthworms
It may be (a) simple promotion of vermic activity in fallow fields after harvesting of crops and (b) in-situ development of earthworms in gardens and orchards.
Simple promotion of vermic activity in fields
In process of simple promotion of vermic activity in fallow fields ridges are to be raised by 8-10'' and whole areas is divided into smaller plots in accordance with existing ground level. Partly digested (decomposed) wastes, largely uniformly spread over plots. It is watered to keep moist and covered with other decomposable organic wastes like weeds and leaf litter etc. This helps conserving moisture and promotes vermic activity, i.e. soil humification. Over this leaf litter dwelling species of earthworms are introduced along with a thin layer of somewhat mature cow dung manure. This process is allowed to continue for 3-4 or more months, but periodic light irrigation or moistening is continued.
In some parts of America, such natural vermicomposting is practiced. In India, this may be possible at community level, viz., on Panchayati lands (like pastures) and on forestry plantations etc.
Bhawalkar Earthworm Research Institute (BERI), Pune, India has developed cost effective package to promote vermic activity. The package consists of an application of 5 tons of vermin castings per hectare (basal dose) and application of 100 mm layer of mulch over them. Any organic matter like weeds, agricultural residues, manures, city wastes, food processing wastes can be used as mulch. An application of this basal dose of vermicastings produce earthworms, below the mulch with in a month. The young ones mature with in two months and soon start reproduction. The population soon reaches a maximum level, depending on the carrying capacity of the soil. Predators also help to control their population. An establishment of earthworm population of 2.1 lakh/ha is considered ideal for soil fertility.
In IIT Mumbai vermiculture parks have been established to convert food waste of their canteens in to vermicasting.
Development of Eathworms in Gardens and Orchards
In situ development of earthworms in gardens and orchards where the land is not of the ploughed often. The organic matter mulch is maintained at the base of the plant and drip/sprinkler irrigation is practiced by these farmers. Most of these farmers developed earthworms in bins and later, as the population of earthworms, started increasing, they released them into plant basins. In such fields, these earthworms are thriving well and the soil living earthworms are also establishing with the formation of organic layer at the top. Coconut gardens, fruit orchards and some mulberry gardens are showing good response to this kind of practice. In case of cardamon plantations, with the increase in earthworms population the visit of rodents also increased and they started destroying the pods of cardamom. The farmers should adopt the practice that is suitable to the region and to the cultivation practices. It is important to note that what is good for one crop and one region may not be congenial for the other.
Large Scale Commercialized Vermicomposting in Open Heaps This may be done with any method suits to local availability of raw material and other requirements.
VERMICOMPOSTING : REQUIREMENTS
The various species of earthworms have different environmental requirements which are necessary for their propagation and continued health. These requirements will inevitably dictate whether one particular "family" of worms will be suitable for culture in any given circumstance. For instance, though many people may be interested in the possibility of raising Lumbricus terrestris (The Nightcrawler, or Dew Worm) in the house as a source of fishing bait, this is simply not very plausible when we consider that this particular worm prefers temperatures in the area of 5-10Â°C. During the heat of the day, this large number of the earthworm family retreats to the depths of his burrow, venturing out only in the late evening, or early morning, the coolest available times. (Burrows have been found to extend to a depth of over 12 feet) Thus, if we wish to culture this animal in the confines of our homes, we will require the ability to refrigerate at least a part of the available space. Even then, however, the number of additional considerations will eventually convince most people that night-crawlers should be harvested rather than cultured.
On the other hand, the two most commonly-used worms for Vermicomposting, Eisenia foetida and Lumbricus rubellus, are the most popular precisely because of the ease in replicating the environmental conditions they prefer. Perfectly suited to an indoor existence, the culturing of these animals presents next to no problem, requiring only a minimum of effort, and presenting no hardship for those of us who share their place of residence. The fact is, in the absence of the normal hazards these worms usually face in their outdoor habitats, they are found to grow faster, stay healthier, live longer, and reproduce at an increased rate indoors. Thus, indoor culture turns out to be heaven for them, and a great benefit to the "Iandlord" who will have a great new way to convert his organic waste materials into a wonderful "food" for his plants, lawn, and garden. These requirements can be broken into three main areas, and we will look at each of these in the following paragraphs. (It is assumed that the worms in question have already been housed in an adequate bedding material, and are being supplied with a sufficient quantity of food.).
The microbes that turn your yard, farm and kitchen waste into compost are aerobes, which means that they need air to live (and to do their work to make compost). Compost piles should allow plenty of air into them. This is usually accomplished by using some kind of "bulky" ingredients such as straw, old weeds (without seeds!), etc. If a pile settles under its own weight and excludes air, it can also be "turned" to get more air into the pile. Turning is the process of dismantling a pile and rebuilding it in a fluffed-up state - the fluffiness allows air into the pile. Some people turn their plies several times as the piles rot, to keep the pile as aerobic as possible.
Worms are not fond of anaerobic bacteria, and if subjected to conditions of that nature, they will either leave the offending area or if they are unable to take this course of action, they will die.
Worms need to breath, just like most other living creatures. The process of osmosis makes a worm rather different than those of us with lungus, but the end result is pretty much the same. Gradually, the available oxygen is used up and replaced with carbon dioxide and other miscellaneous waste gases. Unlike those of us who live aboveground, however, the poor little worm is stuck beneath the soil, or bedding, in close proximity to the toxic fumes. In addition to this, the decreasing amount of fresh oxygen can result in an increase in heat, and the increase in heat will result in a similar rise in the oxygen requirements of the worm. Fortunately, the whole situation is easily rectified, and only requires very infrequent attention.
About once every two or three weeks, the top few inches of the bedding should be gently stirred, allowing for the escape of any builtup gases. This will also go a long way toward preventing the bedding from becoming too densely packed. The lower levels of the bedding can also be stirred, but on a far less frequent basis. If you are in the habit of burying the food you are placing in the worm-bin, it is quite possible that the bedding is already being stirred sufficiently, and all you really need to watch out for in that case is the accidental saturation of the bin. If you are just in the process of setting up a new system, you should keep in mind that a larger surface area is beneficial in this regard.
In case of simple promotion of vermic activity in fallow fields, aeration is not at all a limitation.
The bin contents should be kept moist but not soaked. Do not allow rainfall to run off a roof into the bin. This could cause the worms to drown. A straw convering may be needed in exposed sites to keep the bin from drying our during hot summer weather.
If we consider that the earthworm (contrary to what its name implies) is actually a creature of the water, it is not hard to accept that moisture constitutes the most urgent of its requirements for life. However, the problems most often incurred in a worm bed involve too much moisture, rather than not enough. As in most things in life, a suitable balance must be found and maintained for optimum performance, keeping in mind that this balance may have to be altered to accommodate specific needs. Let us first take a look at the lower end of the moisture scale.
Under natrual conditions, the greatest abundance of earthworms will be located in soils which average between 12% and 30% moisture content. If this amount of available moisture should fall too low, the earthworm will begin to occur which, if unchecked, will eventually result in the death of the animal. During the final stages of dehydration, a worm will even expel colemic fluid from within itself in a desperate attempt to moisten its own body. At this point, total submersion in water may be the only way to prevent the worm's demise.
A situation of too much moisture is very often arrived at when a newer breeder, or vermiculturist, attempts to keep the worm bedding consistently, and evently moistened. Observing that the top layer of the material is dryer than it should be, more water is added to the bed.
Adequate moisture is essential for microbial activity. A dry compost pile will not decompose efficiently. If rainfall is limited, it will be necessary to water the pile periodically to maintain a steady decomposition rate. Enough water should be added to completely moisten the pile, but over watering should be avoided. Excess water can lead to anaerobic conditions. Water the pile so that it is damp, but does not remain soggy. The compost will be within the right moisture range if a few drops of water can be squeezed from a handful of material. If no water can be squeezed out, the material is too dry. If water gushes from your hand, it is too wet.
When you first placed the worms in their new home, the bedding was made up of fresh material, which in due course would become simply another ingredient in the final product. Then food was added, and the worms went about their usual business of eating everything in sight, altering the material as it passed through their remarkable little bodies, and finally excreting it back into the bed from which it will eventually be harvested, and used to feed plant.
A worm is unable to remain healthy if forced to live in his own waste material. Thus, we change the bedding on a regular basis, preventing the castings from reaching a level where they would be toxic to the bin's inhabitants. By over watering, however, we spped up the process, spreading the castings with the run-off. (The substance, which will eventually kill the worms, is also the same substance that we wish to save for the plants, and a lot of this can be lost in the excess water).
Temperature requirement for optimal results is 20-30Â° C. However, survival of earthworms is even at lower temperatures and up to 48Â° C air temperature. Obviously with little provision of shade, temperature within worm feed substrate (material to be vermicomposted) can be reduced. For this it is desirable that substrate should be tightly packed in containers.
Active decomposition happens at average outdoor summer temperatures. While higher pile temperatures will speed the rate of decomposition, it is not true that compost piles have to be hot to decompose properly.
The worms survive a fair amount of variation in their climate. They only do so if these variations occur slowly, over a period of time. Taking a worm-bin from a house which is a comfortable 20Â° C, and moving it out into a winter temperature of -1, even if only briefly while on the way to the car, is a sure way to solve the problem of overpopulation in the bin. The same problem can occur in reverse. If you have the worms out on the balcony for instance, and fearing an early frost you move them from a temperature of 5Â°C into the heated living room, try not to be surprised if you later notice that a lot of the survivors are in mourning for missing loved ones.
The most suitable temperature range for Eisenia foetida and Lumbricus rubellus have been shown to fall between 13 - 22Â° C, a range, which is also quite convenient for those of us who live with them. Temperatures which fall outside this range can affect the worms in several different ways, not all of which are as final as death.
As the temperature drops below 10Â°C, the amount of food eaten by the worms will also decrease. The worms will be less active, and possibly move a little lower into the bedding (unless it is a cold floor causing the problem, in which case they will move nearer the surface. At 4 or 5Â° C, the adult worms may stop producing cocoons, and the growth rate of the younger worms will diminish.
Redworms can survive a wide range of temperatrues (40-80Â°F), but they reproduce and process food waste at an optimum bedding temperature range of 55-77Â°F. The worms should never be allowed to freeze. Bins kept outside may have to be insulated with straw in the winter to keep the worms from freezing. Portable bins can be kept by a hot water heater in the garage during the winter to keep them warm.
It is important to note that if the worm-bin has sufficient moisture content, the temperature in the bedding will average anywhere from 5 to 10 degress lower than the surrounding air. There are times when this will be an important consideration.
HOW TO CONSTRUCT A WORM BIN
Bins can made of wood or plastic, or from recycled containers like old bathtubs, barrels, or trunks. They also can be located inside or outside, depending on your preferences and circumstances.
As red wigglers tend to be surface feeders, bins should be no more than 8 to 12 inches deep. Bedding and food wastes tend to pack down in deeper bins, forcing air out. Resulting anerobic conditions can cause foul odors and death of the worms.
The length and width of the bin will depend on whether it is to be stationary or portable. It also depends on the amount of food waste you family produces each week. A good rule of thumb is to provide one square foot of surface area per pound of waste in you bin.
Wooden bins have the advantage that they are more absorbent and provide better insulation. Do not use redwood or other highly aromatic woods that may kill the worms. Plastic tends to keep the compost too moist. Plastic, however, tends to be less messy and easier to maintain. Be sure containers are well cleaned and have never stored pesticides or other chemicals. Drilling air/drainage holes (Â¼- to Â½-inch diameter) in the bottom and sides of the bin will ensure good water drainage and air circulation. Place the bin on bricks or wooden blocks in a tray to catch excess water that drains from the bin. The resulting compost tea can be used as a liquid fertilizer around the home landscape.
Each bin should have a cover to conserve moisture and exclude light. Worms prefer darkness. Bins can be covered with a straw mulch or moist durlap to ensure darkness while providing good air ventilation. Outside bins may require a lid to exclude scavengers and other unwnated pests.
Outdoor bins should be insulated from the cold to protect the worms. One option is to dig a rectangular hole 12 inches deep and line the sides with wooden planks. The bottomless box can then be filled with appropriate bedding material, food wastes, and worms. Food wastes can be continually added as they accumulate. The pile should be kept damp and dark for optimum worm activity. During the winter, soil can be piled against the edges of the bin and straw placed on top to protect the worms from cold weather. Do not add food waste to outdoor bins the winter because this could expose the worms to freezing weather.
Bedding for bins can be made from shredded newspapers (non-glossy), computer paper, or cardboard; shredded leaves, straw, hay, or dead plants; sawdust; peat moss; or compost or aged (or comosted) manure. Peat moss should be soaked for 24 hours in water, then lightly wrung out to ensure it is sufficiently moist. Grass clippings should be allowed to age before use because they may decompose too quickly, causing the compost to heat up. Bedding materials high in cellulose are best because they help aerate the bin so the worms can breathe. Varying the bedding material provides a richer source of nutrients. Some soil or sand can be added to help provide grit for the worms digestive systems. Allow the bedding material to set for several days to make sure it doesn't heat up ( and allow to cool befrore adding worms).
The bedding material should be thoroughly moistened (about the consistency of a damp sponge) before adding the worms. Fill the bin three-quarters full of moist bedding, lifting it gently afterwards to create air space for the worms to breath and to control odors.
The shape and size of the Vermicomposting container, depend on the requirement, that is quantity of waste to be composted and number of live earthworms we want to culture. On an average, 2000 adult earthworms can be maintained in containers of 1 m2 dimension. These with appropriate conditioning of composting material would convert approximately 200 kgs wastes evey month. Interestingly, roughly in a container of 2.23 Ã- 2.23 m. about 10 kgs of earthworms can convert approximately 1 ton per month. However, to have optimal conversion normally only upper 9-12'' layer is composted. This should be softly scrapped off.
A suitable bin can be constructed of untreated, non aromatic wood, or plastic container to be purchased. A wooden box is better if you will keep the worms outdoors, because it will keep the worms cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. If a plastic container is used, it should be thoroughly washed and rinsed before the worms and bedding are added. The bin size depends on the amount of food produced by your household. The general rule of thumb is one sequare foot of surface area for each pound of garbage generated per week.
For two people (producing approximately 2 kg of food scraps per week), a box 2 feet wide, 2 feet long, and 8 inches deep should be adequate. A 2-foot-by-3- foot box is suitable for four to six people (about 3 kg of waste per week). Redworms (the type used for vermicomposting) thrive in moist bedding in a bin with air holes on all sides. For aeration and drainage, drill nine Â½-inch holes in the bottom of the 2-foot-by-2-foot bin or 12 holes in the 2-foot-by-3 foot bin. Place a plastic tray under the worm bin to collect any moisture that may seep out. Drilling holes on the upper sides of your bin will also help your worms get needed oxygen and prevent odors in your worm bin. Keep a lid on the bin, as worms like to work in the dark. Store the worm bin where the temperature remains between 55Â° and 77Â°F.
Small Barrel or Drum Composter
The barrel or drum composter generates compost in a relatively short period of time and provides an easy mechanism for turning. This method requires a barrel of at least 55 gallons with a secure lid. Be sure that the barrel was not used to store toxic chemicals. Drill 6-9 rows or Â½ inch holes over the length of the barrel to allow for air circulation and drainage of excess moisture. Place the barrel upright on blocks to allow bottom air circulation. Fill the barrel Â¾ full with organic waste material and add about Â¼ cup of high (approximately 30% N) nitrogen containing fertilizer. Applying water until compost is moist but not soggy.
Every few days, turn the drum on its side and roll it around the yard to mix and aerate the compost. The lid can be removed after turning to allow for air penetration. Ideally, the compost should be ready in two to four months. The barrel composter is an excellent choice for the city dweller with a relatively small yard.
Large Barrel or Drum Composter
For large quantities of organic wast, bin type structrues are the most practical. As an example, a circular bin can be made by using a length of small spaced woven wire fencing and holding it together with chain snaps The bin should be about three to five feet in diameter and at least four feet high. A stake may be driven in the middle of the bin before adding material to help maintain the shape of the pile and to facilitate adding water. With this design, it is easiest to turn the composting material by simply unsnapping the wire, moving the wire cylinder a few feet, and turning the compost back into it.
A very efficient and durable structure for fast composting is a three-chambered bin. It holds a considerable amount of compost, and allows good air circulation. The three chambered bin works on an assembly line idea, having three batches of compost in varying stages of decomposition. The compost material is started in the first bin and allowed to heat up for three to five days. Next, it is turned into the middle bin for another 4-7 days, while a new batch of material is started in the first bin. Finally, the material in the middle bin is turned into the last bin as finished or nearly finished compost.
Making of three-chambered bin
For this purpose use rot resistant wood such as redwood, salt treated wood or wood treated with an environmentally safe preservative or a combination of treated wood and metal posts. Unless the wood is treated or root resistant, it will decompose within a few years. Each bin should be at least three to five feet in each dimension to contain enough volume to compost properly. Using removable slats in the front offers complete access to the contents for turning.
Initally, proper collection, sorting or separation of compostable, noncompostable and non-biodegradables like plastics, stone, glass, ceramics and matals should be done. Heavily contaminated wastes (even in kitchen wastes, heavily spicy wastes) with chemicals should be separated. The clean matter selected for composting should be heaped and large lumps should be broken. The separated matter should be spread in a layer up to 1 foot and to be exposed to sun for a day. This helps in killing several unwanted organisms and removes foul smell. The mixing of daily organic waste produce may be done with somewhat pretrated leaf litter in approximate ratio ranging from 10 to 40% of the waste to be vermicomposted.
This is the lower most layer of earhworm feed substrate that is required to be vermicomposted. The bedding material for startup and future restarts can be any biodegradable matter like banana stem peels, coir pith, coconut and other leaves, sugarcane trash, stems of crops, grasses or husk. Peat moss (soaked in water at least 24 hours), yard clippings, dead leaves wood shavings, newspaper (torn-up and soaked in water). Garden clippings should have "aged" beyond the green stage. Any moistened organic material can be used for bedding. Waste or discarded cattle feed can also be used for bedding.
IDEAL CONDITIONS FOR LIFE OF EARTHWORMS
Keep them at 55 to 70 deg. F., w/65 deg. being a good average temperature of the bedding. Mean humidity should be 55%, and keep the earth worms out of the rain. They will drown and/or scatter all over under rainy or very humid conditions, Finally, the pH of the bed should be as close to 6.5 as possible, with 7.0 and 6.0 being the upper and lower pH limits.
FOOD FOR WORMS
Under optimum conditions, redworms can eat their own weight in food scraps and bedding in one day. On the average, however, it takes approximately 2 pounds of earthworms (approximately 2,000 breeders) to recycle a pound of food waste in 24 hours. The same quantity of worms requires about 4 cubic feet of bin to process the food waste and bedding (1 cubic foot of worm bin/500 worms).
Composting worms can be purchased from dealers listed in the adsections of many garden magazines. Some dealers sell worms as pit-run worms consist of worms of all ages and sizes. Add worms to the top of the moist bedding when they arrive. The worms will disappear into the bedding within a few minutes.
Adding Food Waste
Earthworms eat all kinds of food and yard wastes, including coffee grounds, tea bags, vegatable and fruit waste, pulverized egg shells, grass clippings, manure, and sewage sludge. Avoid bones, dairy products, and meats that may attract pests, and garlic, onions, and spicy foods. Limited amounts of citrus can be added, but too much can make the compost too acidic. The compost should be kept at a pH of 6.5 if possible, with upper and lower limits at 7.0 and 6.0, respectively. Overly acidic compost can be corrected by adding crushed eggshells.
Avoid adding chemicals (including insecticides), metals, plastics, glass, soaps, pet manures, and oleanders or orther poisonous plants, or plants sprayed with insecticides to the worm bin.
Food wastes should be added to the bin by pulling back the bedding material and burying it. Be sure to cover it well to avoid attracting flies and other pests. Successive loads of waste should be buried at different locations in the bin to keep the food wastes from accumulating. Grinding or blending the food waste in a food processor speeds the composting time considerably.
Proper Ingredient Mixture
In broad terms, there are two major kinds of food that composting microbes need:
Browns are dry and dead plant materials such as straw, dry brown weeds, autumn leaves, and wood chips or sawdust. These materials are mostly made of chemicals that are just long chains of sugar molecules linked together. As such, these items are a source of energy for the compost microbes. Because they tend to be dry, browns often need to be moistened before they are put into a compost system.
Greens are fresh (and often green) plant materials such as green weeds from the garden, kitchen fruit and vegetable scraps, green leaves, coffee grounds and tea bags, fresh horse manure, etc. Compared to browns, greens have more nitrogen in them. Nitrogen is a critical element in amino acids and proteins, and can be thought of as a protein source for the billions of multiplying microbes.
A good mix of browns and greens is the best nutritional balance for the microbes. Half-and-half of greens and browns, or two parts browns to one part greens works pretty well. This mix also helps out with the aeration and amount of water in the pile. Browns, for instance, tend to be bulky and promote good aeration, Greens, on the other hand, are typically high in moisture, and balanced out the dry natrue of the browns.
The smaller the size of organic wastes, the faster the compost will be ready for use. Smaller particles have much more surface area that can be attacked by microbes. A shredder can be used before putting material in the pile, and is essential if brush or sticks are to be composted. A low cost method of reducing the size of fallen tree leaves is to mow the lawn before raking or run the lawn mower over leaf piles after ranking. Raked piles should be checked to insure that they do not contain sticks or rocks which could cause injury during operation of the mower. If the mower has an appropriate bag attachment, the shredded leaves can be collected directly. In addition to speeding up the composting process, shredding will initially reduce the volume of the compost pile.
Fertilizer and Lime
Microbial activity is affected by the carbon to nitrogen ratio of the organic waste. Because microbes require a certain amount of nitrogen for their own metabolism and growth, a shortage of nitrogen will slow down the composting process considerably. Materials high in carbon relative to nitrogen such as straw or sawdust will decompose very slowly unless nitrogen fertilizer is added. Tree leaves are higher in nitrogen than straw or sawdust but decomposition of leaves would still benefit from an addition of nitrogen fertilizer or components high in nitrogen. Grass clipping are generally high in nitrogen and when mixed properly with leaves will enhance decomposition. Poultry litter, manure or blood meal can be used as organic sources of nitrogen. Otherwise, fertilizer with a high nitrogen analysis (10-30%) should be used. Other nutrients such as phosphorus and potassium are usually present in adequate amounts for decomposition.
During the initial states of decomposition organic acids are produced, decreasing the pH. In the past, small amounts of lime have been suggested for maintaining and enhancing microbial activity at this time. However, high rates of lime will convert ammonium nitrogen to ammonia gas, which will lead to the loss of nitrogen from the pile. Research indicated that lime additions may hasten decomposition; however, the loss of nitrogen from the pile often offsets the benefits of lime. In general, lime is not necessary for degradation of most yard wastes. The pH of finished compost is usually alkaline (pH= 7.1-7.5) without the addition of lime. If large quantities of pine needles, pine bark, or vegetable and fruit wastes are composted, additional lime may be necessary.
OTHER FACTOR AFFECTING EARTHWORM'S GROWTH
Eathworm and Insects
The major earthworm predator is the mole. This voracious insect predator loves to dine on white grubs and any earthworm it can find. Grubs, attached to the root from which they gain their food, can't escape, but the earthworm can feel the vibrations of the mole digging and quickly try to flee. The moles own digging conceals the noise of the earthworm fleeing, so star nose mole developed a unique method to find earthworms. It uses its fuuny looking nose to detect the faint electrical fields that earthworms (and some other insects) radiate. Not only does this mole detect and find an eathworm, but it knows how to bite it so it is paralyzed but does not die. The mole stores the living worm along the burrow as food for dining at leisure.
Another predator, usually not found in the northeast, is a carnivorous snail. These snails are long and thin, just right for invading the shell of another snail and devowering it. But they also love earthworms.
When you till the ground, the earthworms flee the tillers vibration. (They must think its really BIG mole.) So the active earthworms are not usually chopped by the tiller. Some earthworms, like night crawlers, have 5 heatrts. If chopped in half, they don't die but try to regenerate; however, sometimes a half gets confused and it end up regenerating a worm with two heads or two tails.
Tilling and Earthworm Population
Tilling the soils does reduce the earthworm population. Not because it kills or disturbs them, but because tilling ariates the soil, and this oxygen quickly reduces the organic matter that the earthworm uses as food. Mulching with green matter will help provide food to earthworms to replenish what is lost in tilling.
The population of earthworms, in the north, follows a different cycle then most garden fanua. The population of adults is highest in the spring, and decreases in the dry summer months, followed by a increase of young in the wetter, cooler fall. For a high number of earthworms in the spring, its important to protect the young and the eggs over winter.
Earthworms can freeze soild and still live if the freeze is slow and they do not thaw out and refreeze often, Any form of ground cover, cover crops, leaves, mulch or even boards help mediate the freezing and allow more earthworms to survive the winter. Fields that are plowed and left bare are almost devoid of earthworms in the spring. Luckily, earthworms have a high K (reproduction) factor.
Earthworm and come Drounding
Earthworms come out of their burrows during a rain to avoid drounding. Worms have no lungs, they take their oxygen directly through the skin, either from air or from water. In fact, rather then fear water, they love it. Its drying out they fear and dry soil kills them. When it rains, they come to the surface because its easier to find a mate in the flat open ground theb in the three dimensional burrows. The wet ground allows them to move without fear of drying out. To an earthworm, the wet ground in a wild singles bar.
MAINTAINING THE BIN
Food scraps can be continually added to the bin for up to 2 to 3 months, or until you notice the beeding material disappear. When the bedding disappears, harvest the worms and finished compost, then refill the bins with new bedding material.
Watering in bin
Overloading the bin with food wastes can result in foul odors. If you notice these odors, stop adding the waste until the worms have a Chance to catch up. Overly moist food waste and bedding also cause ordors. To relieve this problem, fluff up the bedding to add air and check the drainage holes. As a general rule of thumb, keep the bedding material moist, but never soggy. Make sure the food waste is buried properly in the bedding. Exposed food wastes can attrat fruit flies, house flies, and other pests. Keeping the bin covered with straw or moist burlap also deters these pests.
Garden centipedes can be a problem in the worm bin, especially outside. These predators shuold be destroyed. Overly wet beds also can attract the earthworm mite, which cause the worms to stop eating.
HARVESTING THE COMPOST AND WORMS
There are three basic ways to separates the worms from the finished compost. One way involves moving the finished compost and worms over to one side of the bin and adding new bedding material and food waste to the other side. Worms in the finished compost should move over to the few bedding with the fresh food waste. The finished compost can then be removed.
HARVEST FROM A WORM BOX Â Â Â Â WORM SPAGHETTI
A second way to remove the worms is to build a small harvester frame of 2 Ã- 4s with a 3/16-inch mesh bottom. Place the worm compost on the frame and sift the worms out. Larger pieces of compost can be returned to a new batch of bedding and worms.
Collection of vermicompost
The compost also can be placed in small piles on a trap in the sun (or under bright lights inside). Because worms don't like light, they will wiggle to the bottoms of the piles.
After waiting 10 minutes, remove the upper inch or more of finished compost from each pile until you run into the worms. Allow the worms to again wiggle to the bottom of the pile and repeat the process. Combine what's left of the small piles into one big pile and again reapet the process. You should eventually end up with a pile of finished compost and a bal of worms. The worms can be added back to a new bin of bedding and food waste. Larger worms also can be used as bait for fishing.
A heap of vermicompost
GENERAL PROBLEMS IN PRODUCTION OF VERMICOMPOSTING
The best approach is prevention. By always burying the food waste you will discourage fruit flies. Keep a tight lid on the container you use to store waste before adding them to the bin. This will prevent flies from laying eggs in the scraps. This does not help if you kitchen is infested with fruit flies, in which case all the peels of your kitchen fruit will have fruit fly eggs.
It is unlikely that your worm bin will have an unpleasant odour. If it does, there a number of possible causes and steps you can take to remedy the problem.
- You have overloaded your bin with too much food waste. Solution: Don't add any more food for a week or two.
- The bedding is too wet and compacted. Solution (a) gently stir the entire contents to allow more air in and stop adding food waste for a week or so. Make sure that your food waste is still buried. (b) The lid can be removed or left slightly ajar to allow the contents to dry out.
- Your bin is too acidic. Solution: Add some calcium carbonate and cut down on the amount of citrus beel and other acidic food waste.
Worms hate light and prefer to remain in the dark of their bin. They will not leave their home. They are very sensitive to vibrations. Please try not to disturb them unnecessarily.
Worms are living creatures with their own unique needs, so it is important to create and maintain a healthy habitat for them to do their work. If you supply the right ingredients and care, you worms will thrive and make compost for you.