The earthworm compost, Vermicompost, vermicomposting or worm manure humus, is a method that uses worms and microorganisms to transform organic matter into a compost very similar to humus or compost. Generally, crop residues or waste, herbivore manure, among others are used.
There are many species of worms, both aquatic and terrestrial. However, only a small portion of terrestrial species is used for the production of the compost worm, which is also the name given to the final product of the method..
One of the species most used to produce vermicompost is the Californian red worm (Eisenia foetida). This species has a series of characteristics that make it ideal for such activity.
It has a high reproductive rate and adaptability. It is between 6 and 12 cm in size. Its weight can reach up to 1.5 gr. It tolerates high population densities, being able to exceed 200 thousand worms per cubic meter of land.
Their diet is very varied and includes organic matter, bacteria, algae, fungus and protozoa. And, unlike other worms, this one stays on the surface.
The compost worm is a simple method that can be developed in an artisanal or industrial way. It is mainly characterized by using earthworms with very particular biological and ecological characteristics..
These worms will be responsible for transforming organic matter and / or organic waste, grinding and mixing nutrients and minerals. In this way they turn them into simpler forms so that plants can obtain them with minimal effort..
The characteristics of the method vary depending on whether it is an artisan (or low-scale) or industrial (high-scale) system:
It is considered an artisan or homemade compost worm. Use small homemade, commercial or adapted containers. They are made primarily from materials such as wood or plastic, and rarely from metal. Holes are drilled in these containers for optimal aeration.
This method, being handmade, is adapted to convert kitchen waste without much human physical effort. The worms, being in confined spaces, convert these wastes into high quality organic fertilizers.
The large scale, semi or industrial method has different economic objectives. It is mainly used to produce compost worms to be marketed to small, medium or large industrial farms..
But it also generates profits from the sale of worms as bait for fishing with hooks. Even the production can be used to supply these organisms to small and medium entrepreneurs who grow worms or produce compost worms..
At least two methods of large-scale compost are known:
The method generally consists of using earthworms, in an open-air process (wind) to stabilize organic matter. Through this process, insoluble substances or minerals are transformed into soluble compounds available to plants..
There are several basic steps for the elaboration of earthworms and they are the following.
Although the earthworm is not the same as the cultivation of worms, it is necessary to create the conditions so that these organisms can survive, feed and process the organic matter to convert it into vermicompost or compost vermicompost..
For this, it is recommended to select containers or beds that are open to facilitate the feeding of the worms, as well as the visual control of the process..
The material selected for making the beds will depend on availability, as well as on whether it is a low-scale or high-scale process. But in general, materials such as: wood, plastics or metal are used.
Some prefer wood because of the availability in agricultural areas. However, plastic is the most widely used, since it does not absorb as much liquid as wood and it is possible to harvest more material. On the other hand, metal is very little used in low-scale processes and more used in high-scale ones..
For best performance, it is considered that the container should have a depth of between 50 to 60 cm and its length will depend on the available space. The container must always be protected from the elements such as rain, sun and extreme temperatures.
To select a species of earthworm that does the job, it must have several characteristics. First, you must be able to live with large groups of individuals in confined spaces..
Furthermore, their capacity or instinct for migration must be reduced. It must also have a wide tolerance to thermal and humidity variations. It must be long-lived and have a high reproductive rate.
Currently, 7 or more species of worms are used worldwide for these purposes, however the most used are Lombricus robelus, Eudrilus eugenia Y Eisenia foetida. These worms can be available in online stores, agricultural or fishing stores.
The most frequently used substrates and ratios in the compost method are fresh organic materials such as cattle feces (manure) and vegetable remains in a 3: 1 ratio, or composted (organic) and fresh materials in a 2: 1 ratio respectively..
Once the container, the worm species and the substrate have been selected, it is necessary to select the raw material that will later become the compost worm. This selection will depend on whether the method is high or low scale:
This method uses a lot of material from household waste such as fruits, vegetables, peel or shells of vegetables and fruits, coffee residues, tea residues, cereals, bread, eggshells, paper and even cut grass.
Being a more industrial method, it seeks to have a higher production than the low-scale one. The amounts of raw material used are much higher and domestic waste is not enough.
That is why materials such as cattle or pig manure, swamp or eutrophic water sludge (with many nutrients), cereal residues from the brewing industry, agricultural residues, among many others, are used in this method..
Obtaining or harvesting the final compound or compost is carried out depending on the scale of the method. But usually the first step is to stop feeding the worms for a period of no more than 10 days..
Then food must be placed again in one place of the bed, so that they move towards that area and clear the rest of the bed. Once these are displaced, the compost worm is harvested..
As mentioned before, there are 2 types of compost worms, the low-scale and the high-scale. However, there are three types of compost worm systems that are used by both scales..
This system does not allow the worms to move to other layers, so they are kept in the same and only container.
The vertical system allows the worms to move to upper or lower layers or containers, and continuously, to new feeding areas.
It is a system similar to the vertical continuous flow, but in this the worms migrate horizontally to new feeding areas along the containers or beds continuously..
These last two types, unlike the first, allow the compost worms to be harvested continuously..
The benefits of vermicompost production are very numerous. These benefits go beyond the merely economic, and can also be biological, even environmental..
From a biological point of view, compost worms improve the quality of soils. Improves aeration, increases beneficial microbial biota and increases water retention capacity.
Additionally, it provides plants with phytohormones, which are substances that promote their development and growth..
Economically, it reduces the volume of organic waste deposited in landfills. Reduces contamination by biodegradable organic materials, saving the public administration large amounts of the budget.
It also generates a large number of jobs and the low technology applied makes it very practical to use the methods in underdeveloped agricultural areas, as well as in any type of housing..
From the environmental point of view, the compost worm is widely used to recover soils for the purposes of repopulating trees, both in urban areas and in other areas..
It also reduces the requirements for chemical fertilizers that can be highly polluting. It is a very important element to maintain the quality of the soils and the development of forests, and urban gardens that act as lungs of large cities.