Vermiculture is worm farming. This process of farming worms has many benefits. In addition to reducing the amount of waste your household throws away, it is also very beneficial for your garden or homestead.
What is Vermiculture?
Vermiculture is the process of farming worms as a way of making very nutrient-rich compost. Worms eat organic waste (household food leftovers) and then excrete this waste as organic fertiliser known as worm castings.
How do you begin?
To farm worms you need to first set up a Vermiculture bin. An easy option for this is a plastic box with a lid that can be purchased from most hardware stores. The box should be opaque as worms are very sensitive to light and can die if they are unable to escape from it.
Bedding for the worms can be made of ripped up newspaper or cardboard. This provides a suitable living habitat for the worms but they can also eat this too.
You will need to ensure it is moist before placing it in the worm bin. You can then add food waste to the bin ready for the worms to eat and turn into fertiliser. Air holes should be drilled into the bin to ensure sufficient oxygen flow occurs inside.
How does it work?
Once you have your worm bin set up and worms have been added, simply feed your worms your food waste. The worms will chew on the waste before digesting it. At the end of this digestion process the worms produce their castings which are used as fertiliser.
What worms are needed?
Generally there are two types of worms to choose from for Vermiculture. They are either Red Wigglers (Eisenia foetida) or Red Earthworms (Lumbricus rubellus). The two types are difficult to tell apart and will usually be found living together.
These worms can be purchased online or from fishing shops as they can also be used as bait.
What can be fed to the worms?
Worms will eat most organic waste. This includes: fruit and vegetable peelings, tea bags, ground coffee, egg shells and most meal leftovers. Pretty much anything you would put in a normal compost pile; you can feed to the worms.
It is worth remembering that, just like a conventional compost pile, meat leftovers, dairy products and other similar foods attract flies and are more difficult for the worms to eat. Worms do not have teeth so they appreciate softer, easier to swallow foods.
What by products come out of Vermiculture?
The three main nutrients that plants need to be able to grow and stay healthy are Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium. This is the N-P-K ratio. These can be found naturally in soil but plants need such large quantities of these that a fertiliser is normally needed.
A lot of the time these nutrients will be in the soil in a form that cannot be readily used by plants. If you know which nutrient is lacking in your natural soil you can feed your worm’s different food waste to increase that nutrient in the castings.
To produce castings with high nitrogen content then foods like tea grounds, coffee grounds and greens should be fed to your worms.
To produce castings with high phosphorous content, feed your worms’ oats, tea leaves and similar.
If high Potassium content is needed then the ideal foods for worms are things like banana and potato peels.
Worm castings have higher nutrient levels than normal soil. Nitrogen levels can be as much as nine times higher.
Normally in worm castings, the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium is 2:1:1 although as mentioned, the worms’ diet can affect this ratio.
How can the fertiliser be used?
Vermiculture fertiliser is most effective when added to plants at root level. Once the plants have established, dig down to root level and add the fertiliser. You can also use it for seed planting. Dig down and place it at root taking level ready for when the plant grows.
You can also make “worm tea”. Simply place 1 part fertiliser in 3 parts water and allow it to soak for 12 – 24 hours. Give it a stir and then use this to water plants as normal.