The Power of Vermicomposting
Earthworms play a vital role in the soil ecosystem, and their presence is often considered one of the best indicators of overall soil health. They are able to digest a wide range of materials, including both organic matter and inorganic particles of sand, silt, and clay, and the resulting discharge, called “worm castings” or “vermicast”, contains a plethora of amazing benefits.
Earthworm digestion converts mineral nutrients into plant-available substances, including humic and fulvic acids, phenolic compounds, and growth regulating hormones, influencing plant vitality, disease and pest resistance, and crop nutrition. Sticky mucus secreted in vermicast helps to form soil into aggregated particles, promoting greater oxygen flow and water retention within the root zone. Vermicast also contains a host of beneficial bacteria and fungi inoculated by the worm’s digestive tract, while suppressing salmonella, e. coli, and many common plant pathogens.
In degraded soil ecosystems, these benefits are lacking and need to be restored in order for the soil to reach its full health and potential. One extremely promising, practical, and economical means to do so is through the practice of vermicomposting. In a vermicomposting system, bulk organic materials are fed to a densely concentrated population of worms, producing a highly nutrient- and microbially-rich form of vermicast, known as vermicompost. Inherently simple and manageable, vermicomposting systems take many forms and can be scaled to any size of operation.
Vermicompost can be introduced to soil ecosystems in a variety of ways – added to the surface as a top dressing, placed at the root zone at planting, mixed with potting soil, or diluted in liquid form as a liquid biological amendment. These practices have been successful in amplifying the benefits that earthworms provide to soil systems and the plants they support. Vermicomposting trials around the world have shown that the application of vermicompost has directly resulted in an increase in soil microbial density and diversity, improved plant health, higher crop yields with superior nutrient content, detoxification of contaminated soil, and increased water holding capacity.
Moreover, especially in contrast to the rising costs of many synthetic inputs, vermicomposting is remarkably economically viable. While it is recommendable that pre-composted material is used for vermicomposting, much of that material can be sourced locally and inexpensively from organic waste such as wood chips, grass cuttings, dead leaves, manure, and food scraps, and may be available through local municipal programs. Local organic material provides the additional benefit of regional microbiology which is more compatible with existing soil organisms.
Global economic studies and trials have indicated that vermicompost can be produced at a sufficiently large volume to significantly reduce input costs within regional agricultural sectors. In addition to internal cost savings and the promise of higher yields of more nutrient-dense food, vermicomposting offers a significant income channel in external sales as well. Global recognition of the human health, environmental and economic benefits of vermicomposting is growing, and it is predicted that this practice will increase in the coming decades.
While many aspects of vermicomposting benefit agriculture in particular, there are many other potential applications as well. These include landscaping and lawn care, municipal parks and recreation facilities, and athletic fields, to name a few. Vermicomposting has proven to be useful in environmental reclamation and remediation projects, as well as in the processing of municipal solid wastes.
Whatever the application, degraded soil systems around the world desperately need the contributions that earthworms and their phenomenal vermicast can provide. With its ability to simultaneously promote the recycling of organic wastes, stimulation of plant immunity and crop nutrition, re-establishment of soil microbial communities, improvement of soil porosity and water retention, and cultivation of human, environmental, and economic health, the power of vermicomposting is truly awe-inspiring.
For a recommended source on vermicomposting, please refer to the work of Dr. Rhonda Sherman at North Carolina State University: https://composting.ces.ncsu.edu/vermicomposting-2/
And check out her book, The Worm Farmer’s Handbook: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1603587799/ref=ox_sc_act_image_1?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1