Vermicomposting

English: Freshly harvested worm castings Categ...

Vermicomposting is a type of composting in which certain species of earthworms are used to enhance the process of organic waste conversion and produce a better end-product. Vermicomposting is a mesophilic process utilizing microorganisms and earthworms. Earthworms feeds the organic waste materials and passes it through their digestive system and gives out in a granular form (cocoons) which is known as vermicompost. Like regular compost, vermicompost also benefits the environment by reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and decreasing the amount of waste going to landfills/dumpsites.

Vermicompost is primarily earthworm excrement, called castings, which can improve biological, chemical, and physical properties of the soil. The chemical secretions in the earthworm’s digestive tract help break down soil and organic matter, so the castings contain more nutrients that are immediately available to plants.

Earthworms consume various organic wastes and reduce the volume by 40–60 percent. Each earthworm weighs about 0.5 to 0.6 gram, eats waste equivalent to its body weight and produces cast equivalent to about 50 percent of the waste it consumes in a day. The moisture content of castings ranges between 32 and 66 percent and the pH is around 7.0. The worm castings contain higher percentage (almost twice) of both macro and micronutrients than the garden compost. About 2-3 kg of earthworms is required for 1000 kg of biomass, whereas about 1100 number earthworms are required for 1 m2 area.

There are nearly 3600 types of earthworms and they are mainly divided into two types: (1) burrowing; and (2) non-burrowing. Red earthworm species like Eisenia foetida and

Compost

 are most efficient in compost making. The non-burrowing earthworms eat 10 percent soil and 90 percent organic waste materials; these convert the organic waste into vermicompost faster than the burrowing earthworms. They can tolerate temperatures ranging from 0 to 40°C but the regeneration capacity is more at 25 to 30°C and 40–45% moisture level in the pile. The burrowing types of earthworms come onto the soil surface only at night. These make holes in the soil up to a depth of 3.5 m and produce 5.6 kg casts by ingesting 90 percent soil and 10 percent organic waste.

A wide range of agricultural residues, all dry wastes, for example, straw, husk, dry leaves of crops and trees, stalks, vegetable wastes, weeds etc can be converted into vermicompost. In addition, animal manures, dairy and poultry wastes, food industry wastes, municipal solid wastes, biogas sludge and bagasse from sugarcane factories also serve as good raw materials for vermicomposting.

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Different Strategies in Composting

Compost Pile

The methodology of composting can be categorized into three major segments—anaerobic composting, aerobic composting, and vermicomposting. In anaerobic composting, the organic matter is decomposed in the absence of air. Organic matter may be collected in pits and covered with a thick layer of soil and left undisturbed six to eight months. The compost so formed may not be completely converted and may include aggregated masses.

Aerobic compostingis the process by which organic wastes are converted into compost or manure in presence of air and can be of different types. The most common is the Heap Method, where organic matter needs to be divided into three different types and to be placed in a heap one over the other, covered by a thin layer of soil or dry leaves. This heap needs to be mixed every week, and it takes about three weeks for conversion to take place. The process is same in the Pit Method, but carried out specially constructed pits. Mixing has to be done every 15 days, and there is no fixed time in which the compost may be ready. Berkley Method uses a labor-intensive technique and has precise requirements of the material to be composted. Easily biodegradable materials, such as grass, vegetable matter, etc., are mixed with animal matter in the ratio of 2:1. Compost is usually ready in 15 days.

Vermicomposting involves use of earthworms as natural and versatile bioreactors for the process of conversion. It is carried out in specially designed pits where earthworm culture also needs to be done. Vermicomposting is a precision-based option and requires overseeing of work by an expert. It is also a more expensive option (O&M costs especially are high). However, unlike the above two options, it is a completely odorless process making it a preferred solution in residential areas. It also has an extremely high rate of conversion, so quality of the end product is very high with rich macro and micronutrients. The end product also has the advantage that it can be dried and stored safely for a longer period of time.

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