When was the last time you went to a seed and fertilizer store and bought vermicompost or someone told you about the benefits of vermicomposting?
I went recently to buy 3kgs for my plants. But do you know why they are costly? I mean 100 rupees per kg. However it was heavily recommended to me by some friends. This made me curious about it. And I did some research on Benefits of vermicomposting. After studying in deep here I’m writing this simplified blog on vermicompost and benefits of vermicomposting for you all.
We will first start by getting to know what vermicompost is.
Vermicompost is similar to compost and can apply in the same way to gardens, lawns, and potted plants. Vermicompost is homogenized, humified, porous and nutrient-rich manure. It is a good quality plant growth promoter. Vermiculture is a suitable answer to ecological agriculture, which is equal to sustainable agriculture. Used as a means for the environment to recover its nutrition from organic wastes. Vermicompost can convert non-toxic solid waste’s organic fraction into precious vermicompost.
Various species of earthworms do vermicompost. It is a cost-effective method with various aids on the environment. Recently, farmers have switched to vermicompost over chemical fertilizers. Most common reasons are increasing demand for organic food products and it’s easy on the pocket as compared to chemical fertilizers. Large-scale vermicomposting is practiced in many countries like India, Canada, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, the USA, and Nepal.
It is clear as day that vermicomposting has been practiced from ancient times but never at this high level. So, what leads us to stumble upon this wonderful technique. So, let’s see the reason why we need this methodology as technology these days as well as benefits of vermicomposting.
Reasons why Vermicomposting Is Important
- Rising Solid Waste:
According to a report by Hoornweg and Bhada Tata, 2012, cities worldwide generate approximately 1.3 billion metric tons of solid waste annually. Report also states that by 2025, solid waste generations will double.
The rate of waste generation in 2025 is predicted to be a 38-67 % increase of the current waste generation rates for the lower to middle-income countries.
Organic waste is the most significant proportion of the total solid waste generated globally, with 46%. The present solid waste management techniques are mainly landfilling, incineration, recycling, reuse, source reduction, and others. While landfilling and incineration are heavily used these are costly. In addition they also have adverse effects on the environment.
- Takes Less Time Compared To Composting
This is where vermicomposting comes as an optimum solution. Vermicomposting can be used to reuse the organic waste. Vermicomposting is a biological decomposition process of organic waste but with earthworms to speed up biodegradation. This makes it faster than traditional composting.
- Provides Organic Manure
The composts and vermicomposts produced from organic waste can be reused as nutrient-rich organic fertilizers or land applications.
Vermicomposting does not need any machinery. This makes it ideal for underdeveloped and developing countries.
- Helps In Managing Heavy Metal Waste
Vermicomposting is done using earthworms. Earthworms are effective in reducing most of the bioavailable fractions of heavy metal waste in organic materials. Earthworms can accumulate heavy metals via skin absorption or in their intestine. This reduces the heavy metal concentration in soil.
This makes vermicomposting a leading and beneficial methodology for waste treatment. But do you want to know how this comes to light? So, let me tell you about the history of vermicompost.
Vermicomposting of Organic matters
Vermicomposting can use organic matter in two ways: As bulking agents
During vermicomposting, organic matter is mixed with bulking agents like dried cow dung, vegetable, and fruit wastes, soybean husk, rice husk, etc. Bulking agents are mixed for the reason of:-
- It reduces the moisture content.
- It makes the organic matter more palatable for earthworms.
Organic matters are given as feedstock to earthworms to feed upon. Earthworms feed on these organic matters for their growth and nutrition. Better nutrition helps in their better and faster reproduction rate.
Process of vermicomposting
Vermicomposting is done on many types of organic solid waste. Vermicomposting is the same as composting but only the addition of earthworms to fasten and stabilize the process.
In vermicomposting, pre-treatment is standard. For example, drying of cow dung and organic matters. Pre-treatment is done for following reasons:
- For the elimination of the volatile gases which are toxic to the earthworms.
- Reduces high moisture content in some organic waste
- Encourages initial microbial degradation.
- Softening of the waste.
Pre-treatment is followed by pre-composting. The reason for pre-composting is
- To remove foul odor from feedstock and,
- Make it more palatable for worms.
(a) Gut-associated process or active phase or direct phase—
During the active phase, the physical properties of waste are changed by various metabolic activities like ingestion, digestion, and assimilation.
(b) Cast-associated process or maturation phase or indirect phase—
Earthworms’ movement is responsible for fresh layers of organic waste. This process is especially taken up by the microorganisms and involves vermicompost preparation.
Later, earthworms are harvested, and vermicompost is packed for further use as organic manure.
Earthworms are the main drivers of this process. Vermicomposting involves interaction between earthworms and microbes for the fast rate degradation of organic waste. In addition, earthworms are responsible for fragmenting and conditioning substrate for microbes. By doing this, earthworms increase the surface area of organic matter for microbial activity, enhancing degradation and microbial activity.
Earthworms are effective in reducing most of the bioavailable fractions of heavy metals in organic materials. Earthworms can accumulate heavy metals via skin absorption or in their intestine.
Studies prove that vermicomposting can reduce pathogens in waste. Theories suggest that pathogens were killed or reduced through the action of intestinal enzymes in the earthworms and the competition between pathogens and microbes for the limited resources that earthworms left behind.
Suitable Species of Earthworm
Earthworms are terrestrial invertebrates and soft-bodied animals. They are involved in many soil-related activities like plowing, nutrient turnover decomposition, and stabilization.
Presently, over 4000 species of earthworms are discovered worldwide. The family of epigeic earthworms are widely used in vermicomposting. E. eugeniae, E. fetida, E. rubellus, E. hortensis and P. excavate species have great decomposing capabilities.
These worms have some special characteristics, so they are more favorable.
Characteristics of Earthworms for Vermicomposting
Desirable characteristics in earthworms that are favored are as follows:-
- Having a higher rate of waste consumption.
- Better digestion and assimilation of organic matter.
- Tolerance against a wide range of environmental factors.
- Having a short life cycle and high reproductive rate
- Endurance and resistance to handling.
- High resistance to pH.
- High resistance to salinity.
- Rapid growth and maturation rate of hatchlings.
Solid waste for vermicomposting
- Food scrape (vegetable and fruits waste)
- Animal and human excreta
- Crop field waste
- Yard waste
- Leaf litter
- Municipal waste ( organic faction)
- Sewage, sludge waste
- Agro-industrial waste
As mentioned earlier, organic waste makes upto 46% of the solid waste. It is the largest faction at the global level. In India, 41% of solid waste is organic waste, and 19% is recyclable. Organic waste mainly include:-
It is evident from above that organic waste is a brilliant feedstock resource for bioenergy and nutrients in agriculture.
A process can get affected by several factors. Similarly, Vermicomposting gets affected by several abiotic factors and biotic factors (species of earthworm used). Abiotic factors that affect vermicomposting are mentioned below:-
Vermicomposting process greatly depends upon the physiochemical nature of waste that is used as feedstock. Many types of waste are used as feedstock like animal dung, fruit and vegetable waste, sewage sludge, paper waste, agro-waste. But suitable feedstock is crucial for the good efficiency of worms.
- Bedding material:
Material that has preferable habitat for earthworms is the bedding materials. Suitable bedding materials have god bulking potential and have high absorbency and C/N ratio. Bedding materials mostly used are animal dung, wood chips, crop residues, paper waste, sawdust.
- Rate of feeding:
Many factors affect feeding rates like organic content moisture, feedstock particle size, type of feed, pre-treatment, and preparation method.
Acceptable pH lies between 5-9, but optimum pH is 7.7-8.0.
60% – 80% is the moisture range required for vermicomposting. Excess moisture can lead to aeration problems ultimately can lead to an anaerobic process. In addition, less moisture delays sexual reproductivity.
- Stocking density:
Ndgewa et al. reported that stocking density of 1.60 kg worms/m2 is optimum.
- C/N Density:
Optimum C/N density of feedstock is considered 30. Studies show that feedstock having a higher C/N ratio can also be used.
Benefits of Vermicomposting
There are many proven benefits of vermicompost and vermicomposting. Some of the some benefits
- It is a natural organic fertilizer.
- Do not involve chemicals or man-made factors.
- Heavy metals are removed.
- Parasites are absent by the gut enzymes of earthworms.
- Improve soil quality, texture, porosity, water holding capacity, drainage, and aeration and reduce erosion.
- Increase microbe’s growth in soil that is favorable for crops.
- Makes soil porous and increases the oxygen level in the soil.
- Decrease the C/N ratio from the soil.
- Manure formed is the ideal form of natural manure, thus called black gold.
- Easy on pocket.
- Neutralize the pH of soil.
- Vermicasting can be done on a small as well as large scale.
- Easy to make and handle.
- Worms can be used as fish fodder after the process.
- Does not have a foul odor.
- Have many plants beneficial complexes vitamins, enzymes, hormones, and macronutrients.
- Vermicomposting increases the number of nitrogen-fixing bacteria and actinomycetes in the soil.
Disadvantages of Vermicomposting
Some of the disadvantages of vermicompost i’m mentioning below:
It is a time taking process. It usually takes upto 2-3 months.
If the bin is not covered properly, it releases a bad odor. Also, plants and organic matter release ammonia on microbial action that produces a foul smell. Adding carbon sources can reduce the odor.
Observation, and maintenance of temperature is necessary for the smooth process. It would be best to cover the bin properly, or the odor will attract flies and insects.
Cost Ratio/ Economics for Vermicomposting Enterprises
In a study, it is found that vermicomposting is a beneficial enterprise. Production of vermicomposting is highly feasible, and producers can gain a considerable amount of economic benefits.
The total production cost was Rs. 15.68 per kg compost and Rs.0.40 per earthworm. This leads to the net profit of Rs. 9.32 per kg. The undiscounted benefit-cost ratio considering total variable cost and the gross cost was 4.30 and 2.55 rupees. Financial viability of average size vermicomposting firm for five years of economic life was found feasible and the concerning Net Present Value (NPV) Rs. 73997.92, discounted Benefit Cost Ratio (B: C) 1.55, Internal Rate of Return (IRR) 65 %, and Payback period 1.72 years.
Directly selling the vermicompost to the local consumers by producers, observed as the well built marketing channel. However, few instances of marketing through cooperatives and traders are also found. Producers’ share for vermicompost marketing through cooperatives was higher, i.e., 88 %, than marketing through traders, i.e., 71 %.
We all have read in our science textbooks in schools that ” Earthworms are farmers’ best friends’ ‘. Vermicomposting proves this thoroughly. Not only is this technique easy and economical, but it also has many benefits. Being 100% natural makes it a safe and healthier option. It also helps in tackling one of the most concerning issues, i.e., waste reduction and management.
Having so many benefits, it is an economic business also. It can give you money. If your loved ones love plants, remember to give them vermicompost as a gift next time instead of a flower. It will help their garden bloom.
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