Do you want to start contributing to a greener and more sustainable environment? Getting involved in everyday waste disposal and sustainable living has never been easier, using organic waste, worms and vermicompost. Join the new recycling revolution today!
What is vermicomposting?
Vermicomposting is the process of feeding worms organic waste (fruits, vegetables, kitchen scraps, manure, and dead plant matter) that turns it into a usable product known as vermicompost. This process of waste disposal is done in a sustainable manner that results in the best quality compost produced and recycled by nature with no added chemicals.
Worm composting does not mean stinking out the neighbourhood or attracting all the fruit flies from around the block. When done correctly, it is an easy and odourless process, by the end of this article, you will be able to produce your very own vermicompost.
The benefits of using vermicompost
Apart from producing those luscious rose beds or flourishing vegetables gardens you always dreamed of, vermicompost can help the environment on a larger scale. In South Africa alone 10 million tonnes of food goes to waste each year, while making its way from our farms to people’s kitchens. 90% of that food ends up in our landfills with 70% comprising of fruits, vegetables, and cereals. Luckily for the worms, fruits and vegetables are their favourite foods! In landfills the food decomposes and produces methane, and carbon dioxide which are both unpleasant greenhouse gases.
There are multiple benefits of using vermicompost both indoors and outdoors, that improve the biological, chemical, and physical properties of soil:
Increased soil aeration and microbial activity which are important for plants root growth.
Enhanced plant growth due to the abundance of nutrients such as:
Nitrogen which is vital for green leafy growth;
Phosphorus needed for strong root development;
Potassium that ensures beautiful fruits and flowers; and
Other macro and micro nutrients.
Higher water retention due to the castings incredible moisture holding ability – cutting down on the amount of water your plants need.
Suppressed diseases in plants as the worms reduce pathogens present in vermicompost.
It is a slow-release fertiliser that will not burn your plants.
Understanding the worms
Although, there are many worm species to choose from one should take care in selecting the correct worms, as some species burrow deep into the compost heaps or require more specific environmental conditions. Red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida) are used at The Compost Kitchen as they are the most efficient at breaking down organic matter – they can consumer their own weight in as little as a day, imagine how much midnight snacking they can do!
The worms feed on organic matter that travels through their mouths and into the gizzard where tiny stones mash the food into small particles. Chemical secretions and enzymes aid in digestion of organic matter which continues through the long digestive track and is excreted as mucus coated castings better known as worm poop. Only 5 – 10% of the food eaten by the worm is absorbed which is why they have such a large appetite.
Aside from having an extremely large appetite, they breed extremely fast and can double their population every 90 days!
The worms are hermaphrodites (possessing both male and female sex organs).
A worm can produce 3 cocoons per week, yielding 3 worms each that results in 9 young worms every week!
The baby worms take 4 weeks to mature
They can live for 4 – 5 years.
Getting the best quality vermicompost can be created by keeping your worms happy. Try focusing on the following aspects:
They have a wide temperature range (15 – 25 degrees) and can even tolerate temperatures as low as 4 degrees. Be careful not to leave worm bins in direct sunlight as they are generally a couple degrees warmer than outside.
Their ideal soil moisture content is between 60 – 90%, take care to create a moist environment by spraying the bin every other day but you do not want wet, muddy vermicompost as it becomes messy and smelly. As a rule of thumb if water is pouring out of our worm farm, you are overwatering. The worms get water from the food they eat, so they do not need drinking water like many other animals require but rather create a wet worm bin, dry soil will kill them.
If you are worried about your worm farm becoming muddy, add bedding in the following forms that will soak up excess moisture and create an environment for mould to grow that helps breakdown organic waste faster:
Shredded cardboard, newspaper (not glossy), paper and egg cartons.
Coco coir or peat moss.
Straw and hay.
Dried leaves and garden waste free of pesticides.
To prevent fruit flies in your worm bin, bury fruits such as apples and bananas.
Remember to fluff up your compost bed every week or so to keep the organic matter from compacting and becoming anaerobic at the bottom of the bed.
Keeping your worm bin covered with a breathable cover or small holes in the lid, sides and bottom will provide air circulation, keep them safe from birds, and ensure rats and fruit flies are not attracted to the organic matter.
When to use vermicompost
Vermicompost creates an environment that caters for all your plants growing needs. Another perk is that vermicompost is not limited by seasons, you can produce it and purchase it from The Compost Kitchen all your round making sure your plants are never left with unhealthy soil.
Here are a few ways you can use vermicompost in your home or garden:
For indoor use add the vermicompost to some potting soil before adding it into the pot.
For outdoor use add the vermicompost to the surface of the soil around the plants or into holes before adding new plants, the nutrients will be readily available to the growing plants. When using it to grow seedlings mix the vermicompost with the germination mix (coco peat, germination mix or potting soil) of your choice or use it as is for the best results.
Vermicompost can also be used to create a liquid fertilizer by soaking the compost in warm water, but this method requires more effort than using the ready-made product.
Two students at the University of Wits did a small study to show how effective The Compost Kitchens vermicompost is at improving soils water holding capacity. Using vermicompost compared to normal compost yielded much better seedling germination and growth. On a larger scale we hope to improve South Africa’s soil quality by improving its water holding capacity and nutrient levels.
How we make vermicompost at The Compost Kitchen
At The Compost Kitchen, we have thousands of red wiggler worms housed in worm bins. The worms are fed organic waste collected from around Johannesburg, thanks to our wonderful community who subscribe to our weekly bin collections.
The vermicompost is pulled out from the bottom of the bins, a sieve is then used to remove any worms from the vermicompost. The vermicompost is then bagged and sent to customers across the country!