There are more than 350 species of earthworms in India. Species, which are usually used in Vermicomposting are, Elsenia-foetida, Eudrilus-euginiae, Dravida-Willsil and Perionyx-Excavatus.
In the past 50 years, mankind has destroyed the worm habitat in an effort to “improve” agricultural efficiency. The use of chemical fertilizers has increased the salinity of the soil, making it unpalatable to our worm friends. Pesticides, in turn, kill indiscriminately, destroying “the good” with “the bad”. As if that wasn’t enough, over-tillage of the soil destroys the worm tunnels that are vital to their efforts.
Recycling the organic waste of a household into compost allows us to return badly needed organic matter to the soil. In this way, we participate in nature’s cycle, and cut down on garbage going into burgeoning landfills.
Meanwhile, worms across the planet continue to faithfully fertilize and aerate the soil despite our ungrateful attitude. They even offer to help us out of our problem with organic waste…and yet, the world turns its back. Rotting organic waste in our dumps is polluting our underground water supply. Worms are ready to eat that organic waste and give us fertilizer in return. Its a deal that humanity cannot afford to pass up.
Now, you can help the worms and our planet by using the Swarup Vermicomposting System to provide shelter and food for thousands of our trustworthy friends. Growing worms is a meditative activity that will not only save the environment, but will also help decrease stress. Besides that, they will help you grow a wonderful garden.
Worms are so wonderful… they live with this simple purpose in mind – to eat compost, excrete worm castings, and reproduce themselves by the thousands.
Vermiculture is now recognized as legitimate and thriving industry. New technology and business practices have recreated extremely efficient home and industrial worm growing operations. The increased knowledge of the soil food web and the need for new, safer fertilizers and pesticides have made the raising of worms and production of vermicompost and related products, commercially feasible.
The earthworm has been mentioned in history as far back as Aristotle who dubbed the earthworm as “the intestines of the earth”, and Cleopatra who had protective laws. Charles Darwin demonstrated that earthworms improve soil conditions and enhance plant productivity.
Humus is the product of biological action on organic matter. Earthworms which form a major component of the soil system have been silently ploughing the land for millions of years and assisting in the recycling of organic nutrients for the efficient growth of plants. Advent of chemicals and their large scale application in the name of fertilizers and biocides have changed the structure of soils and have, in most cases, eliminated soil.
The soils are drying! Only soils with their faunal components constitute living soils.
Earthworms can be called as biological indicators of soil fertility, for soils with earthworms shall most definitely support healthy populations of bacterial, fungi, actinomycetes, protozoans, insects, spiders, millipedes and a host of others that are essential for sustaining a healthy soil.
Earthworms not only inhabit the soil, but by virtue of their activity contribute physical and chemical alterations in the soil leading to soil fertility and plant growth. Soils inhabited by earthworms have casts which are in turn richly inhabited by micro-organisms. For millions of years before the green revolution these silent machines have been performing a marvelous function of ploughing the soils and fertilizing them.
Earthworms are classified into epigeics, anecics and endogeics laying stress on ecological strategies.
The epigeics are efficient agents of communication and fragmentation of leaf litter and are phytophagous. They generally have not effect on the soil structure as they cannot dig.
The anecics feed on the leaf litter mixed with the soil of the upper horizons and are geophytophagous. They may also produce surface casts generally depending on the bulk density of the soil.
The endogeic earthworms are geophagous earthworms which live within the soil deriving nutrition from the organically rich soil they ingest.
Of the three ecological varieties of earthworms, the epigeics in particular and the anecics in general have largely been harnessed for use in the vermicomposting process.
Epigeics like Eisenia foetida and Eudrilus euginiae have been used in converting organic wastes (agro wastes and domestic refuse) into vermicompost. Though these surface dwellers are capable of working hard on the litter layer and converting all the organic waste into manure they are of no significant value in modifying the structure of the soil. The anecics however are capable of both organic waste consumption as well as in modifying the structure of the soil. Such burrowing species, that are widely used in soil management like the earth worm Lampito mauritii effectively also create a drilosphere apart from helping in compost production.
Earthworms range from a few millimeters long to over 3 feet, but most common species are a few inches in length. Only a few types are of interest to the commercial earthworm grower, and of these only two are raised on a large-scale commercial basis.
The first section of the earthworm, the anterior end or head, consists of the mouth and the prostomium, a lobe which serves as a covering for the mouth and as a wedge to force open cracks in the soil into which the earthworm may crawl. Small hair-like structures, called setae (bristles), are located on each segment. These can be extended or retracted and a principal function is for movement. The worm’s lack of protruding structures other than setae facilitates efficient burrowing; in addition, various skin glands secrete a lubricating mucus which aids movement through the earth and helps to stabilize burrows and casts.
The earthworm’s digestive tract is highly adapted to its burrowing and feeding activities. The worm swallows soil (including decomposing organic residues in the soil) or residues and plant litter on the soil surface. Strong muscles mix the swallowed material and pass it through the digestive tract as digestive fluids containing enzymes are secreted and mixed with the materials. The digestive fluids release amino acids, sugars, and other smaller organic molecules from the organic residues (which include living protozoa, nematodes, bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms as well as partially decomposed plant and animal materials). The simpler molecules are absorbed through intestinal membranes and are utilized for energy and cell synthesis.
Earthworms lack specialized breathing devices. Respiratory exchange occurs through the body surface.
Worms are hermaphrodites, which means they are both male and female at the same time. In order to mate, they still require two worms. The worms line up in opposite directions near their band (or clitellum), which contains some of the sexual organs. The worms are attached for about 15 minutes while they exchange sperm cells. A mutual exchange of sperm occurs between two worms during mating. Mature sperm and egg cells and nutritive fluid are deposited in cocoons produced by the clitellum, a conspicuous, girdle-like structure near the anterior end of the body. The ova (eggs) are fertilized by the sperm cells within the cocoon, which then slips off the worm and is deposited in or on the soil. The eggs hatch after about 3 weeks, each cocoon producing from two to twenty baby worms with an average of four.
The baby worms live in the egg case for at least 3 weeks, sometimes longer depending on the surrounding conditions. For example, in the winter time, baby worms may stay in the cocoon for many weeks until the temperature worms up again. When the baby worms eventually crawl out, they are the thickness of a piece of thread and possibly 1 cm 1/4″ long. Usually the worms appear white, as they have not yet developed pigmentation, or do not have enough pigmentation (or blood) to be seen.
Earthworms will grow over a pH range of about 4.2 (acid) to 8.0 (alkaline) or higher. For commercial production, however, it is considered best to maintain the pH of beds around neutrality (pH 7.0). pH levels should be checked regularly with litmus paper or a pH kit, which is available in most feed stores. Lime (calcium carbonate) may be mixed with bedding material to correct acidity or to maintain a more favorable pH.
Earthworms improve the soil texture, soil aeration, enrich the soil with nutrients and promote useful soil micro flora required for plant growth. Earthworms eat and mix a large amount of soil and organic matter, then deposit their castings (vermicompost) either on the surface of the soil or in burrow, depending on species.
One mature pair of worms under the ideal conditions can multiply to 1500 in a year.
Worms can consume their own body weight in a combination of food, water and soil in a day.
Worms pass waste thru their bodies every 24hrs in the form of vermicastings.
Worms live best when they are kept in a dark moist environment between the temperatures of 18C and 26C. So in summer place in a shady spot out of direct sunlight and in winter if possible place inside a garden shed or garage. If this isn’t possible that’s OK all you need to do is to insulate the top working layer of the instrument, this can be done by covering it with a couple of old hessian bags.
1kg of earthworms represents 600 to 1000 worms. These can convert 45 kg of wet biomass (40% moisture) in a week’s time yielding about 25 kg of vermicompost.
The worms feed on the biomass, assimilating 5%-10% for their growth and excreting the rest in the form of nutrient rich casts.
As pointed out earlier our worms like to live in moist bedding but not soaking wet. So be careful never to over water them. In the summer months as the weather heats up you should always check that the bedding is moist because it will dry out but of course during the colder months watering will not need to be done as often but never forget to check them.
Earthworm enemies are: ants, springtails, centipedes, slugs, mites, certain beetle larvae, birds, rats, snakes, moles, mice, gophers, toads, and other insects or animals which feed on worms or molest them. The earthworm also has quite a number of internal parasites including numerous protozoa, some nematodes, and the larvae of certain flies.
Worms will eat almost anything, these include:
- Vegetable scraps and peelings
- Tea bags and tea leaves
- Aged animal manures
- Egg shells
There are also some things we shouldn’t feed them:
- Citrus fruits
- Onion and garlic
- Meat & Chicken
- Dairy foods
- Dog & cat manure
Now that we know what to feed them and how much to there are just a few other simple steps we should follow to keep our worms happy. When feeding the scraps if at all possible chop or break them into small pieces as it will be easier for the worms to process. Leave the scraps in a container for a few days so bacteria will start forming because worms love bacteria. Worms love composted (not fresh) cow (their favorite), horse, donkey, llama, and sheep manure.