High in nutrients, cheaper than traditional waste management methods, and much better for the environment, vermiculture definitely has many benefits over traditional fertilisers. In this guide by the department of environment, forestry, and fisheries, vermiculture is listed as a climate-smart agriculture practice.
The guide describes vermiculture, or vermicomposting, as a method “where compost is prepared using specially introduced earthworms as agents for decomposition” and explains that it is a good way to recycle food waste and create highly nutrient-rich compost.
Davidzo Chizhengeni, an animal scientist and farmer from Harare, Zimbabwe, says that by practicing vermiculture, farmers put good nutrients back into the farming process. Chizhengeni has been in agriculture since he was in high school, in 2010, and he graduated with a degree in animal science in 2019.
He explains that organic waste often ends up in a dumping area when, through the use of vermiculture, farmers can limit or even eradicate their use of other fertilisers or manures.
“I don’t look for external fertiliser or external organic manure because I’m using my compost. I’m able to recycle [my] waste. Some people say waste is gold, [and it is true in] that waste is good nutrients. I make sure that I recycle those nutrients.”
What you need to practice small-scale vermiculture
Chizhengeni breaks vermiculture down to three elements. “Number one, you have basic knowledge of composting. Number two, you have to have a space in which you’re going to do your vermicompost. And number three, you need to have the waste which you are going to be degrading or the waste which is going to be degraded by the worms.”
As vermiculture is a method of composting, it is often compared to traditional composting. The obvious difference between the methods is that vermiculture includes the use of worms, whereas traditional composting does not. Vermiculture also requires a tank as well, but does not require aeration, unlike traditional composting.
Depending on the size of your farming operation, using vermiculture to create nutrients for your plants need not take up a lot of space. This illustration by Rhodes University details how you set up your worm farm using a standard black bin suspended over bricks.
The components of the at-home worm farm bin includes the following:
- Worm bedding: Worm bedding can be made up of damp leaves, dead plants, kraal manure, shredded newspaper, sawdust, and non-glossy cardboard, among other organic elements.
- Filter: The filter is made up of support rings and is covered with shade cloth. It is fitted to the bottom of the bin.
- A tap: The tap is fitted to the bottom of the bin so it can be used to drain out the liquid compost.
- Worms: Don’t forget to add your worms. You can add them to the top layer of the bedding.
- Organic waste: Of course, the farm cannot work without the organic waste. Add your organic waste periodically, and don’t forget to harvest the worm tea!
Make sure to add holes to the bin lid for air, and make sure the bin is placed in an area where it is protected from the elements.
Chizhengeni recommends that aspiring worm farmers use red worms for their vermiculture operations. “These worms have voracious appetites. They are able to consume three-quarters of their body length in a day. So, if someone wants to get into vermiculture, the best worms to use are red worms.”
The bin method is great for gardeners or for farmers with small operations. However, if you have a bigger operation, you probably would need more space for a bigger worm farm. Chizhengeni says that the amount of compost harvested through worm farming is one of the biggest challenges he faces.
“One of the biggest challenges to do with vermicomposting is to do with the amount which you are able to harvest at any given time. This is directly linked to the size of the bin, to the number of worms, and also to the amount of waste which you can have. So, if you are doing it in a small area or in a backyard, it means after six months, your harvest is directly linked to the size of the bin. If your bin is one metre [tall], you might have just 50 kg. [And] this is over six months of doing composting.”
For Chizhengeni, practicing vermiculture is the way he keeps his operation from losing important nutrients. “The biggest reward [when] practicing vermicompost is that you’re able to own the cycle of the nutrients and make sure that you’re always recycling them and reducing the amount of waste or the amount of nutrients that go out of your house.”
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