What Is Vermiculture?

By Je' Czaja

Vermiculture, or worm farming, is a simple way of turning table scraps into compost while producing fish bait. Vermiculure operations can range from a small bin maintained by apartment dwellers to large-scale worm farms. Worm castings, or the products of worm's digestion, are so highly prized as a soil amendment and fertilizer that some worm farms are run primarily for the castings and not for the worms themselves. This process is called vermicomposting and interest in this is increasing along with the interest in recycling and organic fertilizers.

What Worms Need

Earthworms are living creatures and can only survive within certain conditions, though they are considered to be rather hardy. There are thousands of species of earthworms, but only a few are used in vermicutlure and these can be purchased from breeders. Earthworms die in freezing temperatures, so in the wild worms move deeper underground when temperatures drop. They will survive in temperatures from 40 to 90 degrees F, but do best in temperatures from 60 to 80 degrees F.

Mositure and Aereation

Worms need a moist but not wet environment. They do not like direct sunshine and reproduce best when the top two inches of bedding are allowed to dry slightly and then sprinkled to re-moisten. Worms need some oxygen to survive, though they can tolerate fairly high levels of carbon dioxide. If their bed is soggy wet, anaerobic bacteria multiply, producing toxins that kill the worms. pH, or the level of acidity-alkalinity in the bed, is best if maintained at 7.0. This is checked with a pH kit and adjusted with limestone if becoming too acidic.

Worm Beds

Beds can be simple plastic storage containers for home production or wood or concrete for larger operations. Partially buried beds can help moderate temperature extremes. An eight-foot by three-foot bed, one foot deep, will hold 100,000 smaller earthworms or about 25,000 mature breeders. Worms should be harvested about every month.

Worm Bedding

A good bedding material will hold moisture, not pack down, and should not contain too much high-protein or organic nitrogen compounds. These compounds will degrade quickly and release ammonia, which will raise the pH of the bedding material. Shredded paper, organic material including plant wastes, bulky animal manure or combinations of these are suitable. Horse and rabbit manure are often used.

Considerations

Worm farming can be a simple home project or a large-scale operation. For those considering commercial vermiculture, consider that moving large amounts of bedding, compost, and packaging worms is a labor-intensive process. While worms are hardy, pH, temperature and moisture must be monitored and adjusted to prevent losses.

About the Author

Je' Czaja has been writing and illustrating curricula, workbooks, newspaper articles and weekly columns for over 20 years. Her articles have been published in the "St. Augustine Record," the "Valdosta Daily Times," the "Sarasota Herald Tribune" and other regional newspapers. She attended Ringling School of Art, Charter Oak State College, and has a master's degree from the University of Metaphysics.