Also known as worm composting, vermicomposting transforms food scrapes and other types of green waste into a dark, rich soil amendment. Made of worm cast, vermicompost is abundant in nutrients and full of microorganisms that help create and sustain healthy, fertile soil.
If you’re considering enriching your soil with vermicompost, you’re at the right place. This article explores vermicompost, how it compares to regular compost, its benefits, and its uses. Keep reading to discover more so you can start your own vermicomposting journey.
What Is Vermicompost?
Vermicompost refers to the product left after worms eat and digest organic matter like kitchen scraps. Simply put, vermicompost is an old worm stool, also known as worm castings.
Also known as worm composting, vermicomposting is the biological decomposition of organic waste through the joint effort of specific microorganisms and worms. It starts with worms eating and digesting organic waste. However, the actual decomposition starts once the worm ejects the stool – the stool sits for some time while microorganisms continue to break it down, resulting in a black substance similar to hummus.
What’s the Difference Between Vermicomposting and Traditional Composting?
Both composting and vermicomposting break down organic waste into soil amendments rich in nutrients. However, vermicompost typically has a higher nutrient content than regular compost. Moreover, traditional composting takes more physical activity as you have to layer it and turn it regularly. Regular composting typically has to be done outdoors, which is tricky when temperatures drop.
On the other hand, vermicomposting can be done both indoors and outdoors. You just have to make sure it stays away from extreme temperatures.
What Are the Benefits of Vermicompost?
Worms don’t need much attention as you won’t have to feed them daily and will only need to clean their bin every two to five months. Besides offering many benefits to plants, vermicompost is also eco-friendly as it reduces landfill utilization by keeping organic waste out of garbage. So, it’s no surprise that states, counties, and city municipalities that manage waste encourage it. That said, here are some of the incredible benefits of worm composting:
- Environment-friendly: Vermicomposting is a great way to reuse food waste, which would emit damaging greenhouse gases if sent to a landfill.
- Quality soil: When you return food waste to the ground, you create a natural vermicompost fertilizer that benefits plants.
- Chemical-free: Pesticides can damage both the soil and wildlife. On the other hand, vermicompost is a safe, chemical-free way to restore the overused soil low in nutrients.
Vermicomposting: What Occurs Inside the Worm?
The worm eats food scraps and other organic waste that moves down its digestive tube, which has a number of vital sections. The esophagus part provides calcium carbonate to eliminate excess calcium. Then, the food travels through the crop into the gizzard.
Using swallowed stones, gizzard mashes organic waste into tiny particles, and enzymes aid digestion. Then, the food travels to the intestine, where it’s further digested with the help of fluids.
This may seem like normal digestion. However, worms also control pH and moisture levels to benefit the good bacteria that play a pivotal role when it comes to organic matter digestion. Besides the organic waste and soil, worms also eat microbes, which are their main food source.
Note that the worm absorbs only 5% to 10% of the ingested food. The leftovers are discharged as worm castings that contain nutrients, undigested plant material, significant amounts of microbes, and soil. The good news is that the microbial activity in worm castings is significantly higher than in the soil and other types of organic matter.
What Happens Outside The Worm?
Although worms don’t do much composting, they do a part of the digestion, break down organic waste, and mix it with beneficial bacteria. However, a large portion of the composting happens once the worm discharges the castings.
What Are the Properties of Vermicompost?
People are increasingly using vermicompost due to the many benefits it provides to the soil and plants. Let’s discover some of its remarkable properties.
- Quality vermicompost is well-decomposed, toxin-free, and eco-friendly.
- You can use any type of green waste to make it.
- When soil turns the right way, it smells normal. However, if done incorrectly, it will stink.
- The final product has a fine, granular form.
- Vermicompost improves soil drainage, porosity, and water-holding ability.
- This type of compost is rich in nearly all essential micro and macro plant nutrients, with the average nutrient content greater than other types of compost.
- Vermicompost is high in calcium.
- Worm mucus found in vermicompost prevents nutrients from washing away.
- Vermicompost has a reduced heavy metal content thanks to vermi-conversion, making it more eco-friendly and less contaminant.
- Several microorganisms inhabit the by-product of worm cast, releasing a number of phytohormones and enzymes that help improve plant growth.
- Vermicompost contains beneficial nitrogen-fixer and other bacteria.
- It’s also rich in vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhiza propagules, which help boost microbial activity to make phosphorus and nitrogen in a readily-available form to the plants.
How Does Vermicompost Impact the Soil’s Physiochemical Properties?
Vermicompost enhances the soil’s physiochemical properties, including water-holding capability, soil structure, penetration resistance, organic carbon, bulk density, nutrient content, aggregation, and more.
Vermicompost reduces the soil’s bulk density and boosts its water-holding capability, significantly increasing air permeability and reducing penetration resistance. Microbes found in this type of compost help develop aggregates and increase soil porosity, reducing bulk density.
Moreover, vermicompost helps improve soil’s physicochemical properties like electrical conductivity, pH, moisture content, etc., and chemical characteristics like potassium, nitrogen, phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium. That’s because it contains abundant amounts of both bioavailable and total phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium, and micronutrients. It also has a considerable concentration of enzyme and microbial activity as well as growth regulators.
Moreover, it’s abundant in polysaccharides, which help cause aggregate stability. This helps set and sustain the structure of the soil, improving water retention, aeration, and drainage. A good structure of the soil is vital for nutrient uptake and root extension. And mucus and microorganisms from the worm’s gut also enhance the soil’s structure.
Moreover, vermicompost is abundant in humic acid and different plant growth regulators that help enhance nutrient accumulation in nutrient-scarce soil.
How Does Vermicompost Impact the Soil’s Biological Properties?
By introducing vermicompost, you can improve the soil’s biological properties, including the soil’s organic carbon, microbial biomass, amount of beneficial bacteria, and more. It also increases the nitrogen content, ultimately improving the nitrogenase activity in the soil and supporting plant growth.
Can Vermicompost Improve Soil Fertility?
The short answer is yes. Using inorganic fertilizers can damage the soil. For this reason, people are increasingly shifting toward organic amendments for sustainable plant growth.
Inorganic fertilizers reduce the bulk density of the soil, improve its porosity, increase its water-holding ability, and encourage the aggregation of the soil.
However, organic compost, such as vermicompost, does all that, plus it offers considerably higher levels of organic carbon and different plant nutrients that inorganic fertilizers lack. That said, vermicompost does a great job of improving the overall fertility of the soil by enhancing its various biological, chemical, and physical properties.
Is Vermicompost Good for Plant Development?
Worm compost encourages the growth of different plants. That’s especially true for horticulture crops like tomato, sweet corn, strawberry, wheat, pineapple, etc. Moreover, using vermicompost can significantly boost plant height, leaf numbers, yield per plant, stem diameter, and total biomass.
This boost in plant growth is thanks to the beneficial effects of vermicompost on the soil’s chemical, biological, and physical qualities that essentially enhance the fertility of the soil, boosting plant development.
What Is Vermicompost Tea?
Also known as worm tea, worm compost tea, leachate, and castings tea, vermicompost tea refers to the excess liquid collected at the bottom of the vermicompost bin. While this liquid can have more nutrients than the vermicompost itself, it can also have animal and plant pathogens along with other toxins. That said, it’s likely beneficial for the soil. However, it may damage your plants if applied directly to them.
How to Make Your Own Vermicompost
Making your own vermicompost may sound complicated. But, with the right information and guidance, you shouldn’t have a hard time doing it.
To start, you will need:
- Two plastic bins that are dark colored and deep 12 inches or more
- A lid
- Bedding (straw, shredded paper, cardboard, hay, wood chips, dirt, dry leaves)
Set Up Your Worm Bin
Using a drill of 3.32” to 3/16”, drill around 18 holes around the upper part of the first bin to provide your worms with air. Next, drill 18 holes at the bottom of the same bin to drain the extra moisture.
Put a brick at the bottom of the other bin and place your first bin inside this one to make sure there’s enough room for the waste to accumulate. Note that you shouldn’t leave too much room between the sides of these two bins to prevent your worms from escaping.
Now, put around 5” of bedding of your choice in the upper bin and add the worms. The bedding helps manage moisture and adds essential air for the worms. Once done, you can start feeding your worms.
But Which Worms to Choose?
There are various species of worms, and some of them aren’t appropriate for composting. For this reason, it’s essential to choose a suitable species of worms instead of collecting them randomly from your garden. Your safest bet is to buy your worms from a worm supplier in your location.
The worm species you’ll find mostly depend on the climate you are living in, but these are some of the most common earthworms used for vermicomposting you can find on the market.
- Red wigglers: They are some of the most popular species of worm for composting. Since they can survive in many climates, red wigglers are an excellent choice for most parts of the US.
- European nightcrawler worms: These worms enjoy colder climates, so if you live in a cooler region, these might be for you. European nightcrawler worms reproduce more slowly than their red counterparts. However, they generate more finished material.
- African nightcrawlers and Indian blue worms: These worm species enjoy tropical climates, so if you live in a warm and wet environment, these worms may suit you.
Final Steps: Feed Your Worms and Maintain the Bin
To feed your warms, fill the bin with organic waste like food scraps and bedding. Since feeding is one of the vital parts of the process, you’ll want to be attentive to what food and how much you’re giving them.
While worms can eat various organic wastes, such as vegetable and fruit scraps, tea bags, and coffee grounds, you’ll want to bypass citric fruits because worms can’t properly digest them. You will also want to avoid animal and dairy products. Note that the bedding is also food for your worms, and there should be more bedding than food scrapes in your worm bin.
When buying worms, make sure to ask your supplier how much food you should give them and follow the instructions you hear. You need to ensure they always have the proper amount of food because if you overfeed them, the excess will decompose, resulting in an unpleasant odor or even the death of your worms.
Overfeeding can also cause moisture build-up due to the high water content of fruits and vegetables. So, if you see that your worms aren’t eating their food or their bin has an unpleasant smell, avoid adding more food scraps.
Worm Compost for a Healthy Soil
Vermicompost makes a great addition to your soil as it provides the essential nutrients and microorganisms that help grow healthy plants. Besides offering numerous benefits to the soil and plants that grow on it, worm compost is also beneficial for our environment. By making your organic vermicompost, you protect our Earth from harmful gas emissions that would otherwise occur in a landfill.
And the best part is – you can make your own vermicompost at home in several easy steps explained in this article. Just remember to choose your worms wisely and feed them appropriately, and your vermicompost will be ready in as little as four to six months.
If you’re looking for the best worms and other supplies you may need for making worm compost, check what Uncle Jim has on the menu – you won’t be disappointed!