Vermiculture: Rearing Earthworms for Profit

Vermiculture is the cultivation of earthworms, especially in order to use them to convert organic waste into fertilizer.

Its mid-morning when we step foot on Joe’s Redworms Organic Farm at the outskirts of Ruaka town, Nairobi environs. The farm belongs to Peter Kanyagia who is busy sifting heaps of compost to check on his red worms; and this has become his daily norm.

Rearing earth worms might sound odd, but Kanyagia is doing it to cut on the use of fertilizer and to improve soil structure. He stumbled upon this unique farming technique of using red worms to produce organic compost 10 years ago.

At first, he did it as a hobby for 4 years. But after learning what the little earth moving creatures can do to boost yields and their economic benefits to farmers, he turned it into a commercial business.

“I attended a course on red-worm farming at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) where I upped my knowledge in rearing earthworms. After training, I started with five kilos of red worms, which I bought at Ksh. 2,500 per kilogram,” he stated.’’

What is Vermiculture?

Vermiculture is the process of multiplying red worms to a level they are able to produce compost while vermi-composting is the process of making vermicompost and vermiliquid. Wikipedia


Vermiculture Tunnel

Red worms convert waste into humus. A farmer needs to feed the worms any kind of organic waste such as leaves, rotten fruits and vegetables. The worms feed on the organic matter together with microorganisms in the green waste – the ingested material is ground to produce manure.

The microorganisms decompose the organic matter and stimulate mineralization of complex compounds into simple nutrients, easily absorbed by plants. It’s advisable to feed the worms for at least four months. This allows composting to take place. On average, the worms are able to feed on organic waste equivalent to their own weight per day.

How does it differ from regular compost?

Kanyangia cites that vermi-composting is different from traditional composting as it uses selected species of earthworms called red wrigger worms; heavy feeders and multiply very quickly. Traditional composting; the piles are mixed and aerated mechanically. Vermin-composting; earthworms mix and aerate the waste by digging themselves inside.

“I always advise farmers who purchase worms to first let them multiply rapidly by feeding them for three to four months because they double every two months 15kg of red worms will grow into 60kg in four months,” he continued.

He has many different types of beds well covered to prevent sunlight from striking the pits. These beds are made of blue plastic drums, timber beds and concrete beds depending the level of your composting.

What Are Vermiculture beds?

The vermiculture bed can be thick plastic or fibre containers placed on raised timber. The bed should be 10 feet long, three feet wide and two feet high. The containers are put into soil at the bottom, some manure where the worms breed and covered with grass. Before introducing the red worms, the bed should be watered adequately so that the moisture content is about 70%.

“Worms prefer to live in darkness because extended exposure to sunlight kills them. The best way to keep the worms in darkness is to provide dry grass on top of the bedding. They breathe through their skin; therefore, they must have a moist environment to live in. It is important to water but not drench the waste matter they feed on,” he advises.

Before harvesting the vermi-compost, a farmer should stop feeding for two weeks to allow them time to process unfinished feeding material. “After this period, you know how deep the worms are and you can remove or scoop all the worms with their bedding on top and transfer them to new bed.” he explained.

Source: Article originally published on HortFresh Journal


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