The FBI Is Always In Our Business!

 Oh, you were confused about the title were you? Well, yeah the only FBI we are giving time to are the Fungi, Bacteria and Invertebrates! These include all of the tiny micro-organisms in the soil food web responsible for breaking down organic matter and coverting it into nutrients and elements needed for plants and soil to thrive. This time around we want to highlight the special work of one of those very seldom celebrated creatures, the earthworm.
There are more than 9,000 species of earthworms and they can range in size from 1/2 inch to 22 feet long! Some earthworms don't even live underground. Scientists divide earthworms into 3 groups according to where they live and what they eat: Anecic (an-EE-sik) - these are the ones we are most familiar with like the big fat nightcrawlers, endogeic (en-doe-JEE-ik) - smaller earthworms that live in horizontal burrows and consume a lot of soil; and epigeic (ep-i-JEE-ik) - these worms live in and consume litter. These do not want to live in the soil.
You may or may not kow by now how essential earthworms are to our existence, soil health, and healthy food.In ancient Egypt, Queen Cleopatra declared the earthworm sacred and a national treasure not to be removed or messed with.
Offenders could face severe punishment even up to death in some cases!
That was how important to the fertility of the land these little creatures were, and indeeed still are. Aristotle was quoted calling earthworms the "intestines of the soil" taking organic waste and returning to the Earth black gold.
We've been farming red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) for years now. We've gone from one pass through worm bin to multiple large size bins that churn out pounds and pounds of  vermicompost or "black gold" that then goes into our garden beds. 
The returns we've seen in terms of soil health are tremendous. Our loamy, dark, rich soil is always teeming with microbes all of the fun creepy crawly farm hands and we are super grateful for them and the work they do. The supposed ratio is that every red worm can eat half it's weight in food daily! 

Worm Farm Species 

There are 7 species that scientists say are suited to be the best decomposers to use for vermicompost. By the way "vermi" means worm hence their compost or castings being called by that name. These are split into 2 categories: a) Temperate species and b) tropical species. Red worms for the most part, are what you will see and hear when you talk about vermicomposting. 

We focus on the Red Wigglers (E. fetida) which are the most used worm out of the 7 species identified as suitable for worm farming. 

If you plan on starting a worm bin it will be helpful to use the scientific name, as E. fetida has numerous common names and it could get confusing. We call them red wigglers here on our farm. 

The red worms are preferred because they can handle a wider range of environmental conditions such as temperature and pH. Since they are a very efficient breeder species, Eisenia fetida are very popular among worm farmers. 

Earthworms are cold-blooded meaning they cannot regulate their body temperature. They breathe through their skin which requires it to have to stay moist in order to allow dissolved oxygen to pass through their skin to the bloodstream. In addition they are hyper sensitive to light. They prefer to work undercover and not be in the spotlight if you can dig it. 


Why Vermicompost?

First thing we have to do is distinguish vermicomposting from traditional composting. One could be inclined to think they are the same or will give you the same product, the only difference being the worms do most of the work, but that would be a mistake. 

Vermicompost and compost are two very different processes with different considerations that require different environments. Vermicompost relies on worms and other microorganisms to break down organic matter, to transform the physical, biological characteristics into a stable product i.e, a soil amendment. This is such a beautiful thing, for one's waste to turn into something totally different and of high value in the scheme of what goes in to our bodies. 

Vermicast, which is fancy speech for a mixture of worm poop and undigested organic materials, is a rich cocktail of nutrients for the soil which will increase crop yields. Think of it as a natural slow-release fertilizer which is difficult to overdo. Technically speaking, vermicast doubles as a soil amendment and a fertilizer. To clarify the difference between the two, a soil amendment is a substance that improves the physical aspect of the soil. A fertilizer is something that will directly affect and benefit the plant. 

In contrast, traditional composting is a controlled process that entails converting organic material into a soil amendment, but using biologically generated heat in aerobic conditions to do so. Worm bins should not overheat, because too much heat will kill them. Different conditions, diffferent product. 

One benefit quoted for vermicast over traditional compost is the price difference.Worm farmers that sell their vermicast will make 7 to 60 times more for it. However, if you're not interested in the worm business but want to farm them in your garden there are many more such as: 

  • higher nutrient concentration, less soluble salt content
  • you will be participating in a sustainable closed loop system
  • greater CEC (cation exchange capacity) making for easier nutrient uptake for plant roots 
  • bigger healthier plants
  • Helps retain water in soil
  • reduces soil erosion
  • Improves soil structure and fertility
  • Provides macro and micro nutrients
  • Improves plant resistance to pests and disease 

We could probably dig up many more, but this is a good start for you to seek more answers in the soil. I hope I have succesfully inspired you to nerd out on worms, start vermicomposting too,  or at least start having more respect for these wonderful creatures who help us have a healthier Earth.

There are various setups for vermicomposting. The one you choose should best suit your space and intended outcome. Keep in mind however, that it could be as simple as a rubber tote in a cool spot in the house, maybe  a garage or shaded corner of the yard. Whichever you decide on, once you purchase your first bag of worms, if you manage them right it's a one time investment. 


 Do It Yourself 

I couldn't tell you all these amazing things about red wigglers and earthworms and leave you hanging. So now, it's time to use this inspiration to build yourself a worm bin. There's a wide variety of equipment designed for vermicomposting that range from cheap to outright ridiculous in pricing. The most popular and effective method for beginners and some veterans alike however, is using stackable plastic totes. It is functional and easy to transport. 

The size of your tote should be what you thinks suits your situation best, but you could start with something as small as 15 gallons then upgrade if you need to. Location and temperature are always a factor to consider. You will want to make sure it is in an easily accesible place and somewhere sheltered to protect from extreme weather conditions

Bedding is also important for the environment you're creating for your creepy crawler friends. This can consist of shredded newspaper, cut up cardboard, straw, sandy soil, coco coir and similar materials. 

This will be needed to start the worms off until you start to feed them food scraps. Once you're familiar with some basic do's and don'ts  like what to compost or not, you will soon see how easily you can compost in the comfort of your home. 

Click here fors step-by-step instructions on how to construct your worm bin. Enjoy! 

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