-Spreading the word about vermicompost
-What is Vermiculture?
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Rodale Research Institute
Spreading the word about vermicompost
In the past ten years a group in India has prompted many farmers and
institutions to switch from conventional chemicals to an organic fertilizer
known as vermicompost.
Vermicompost is produced by certain breeds of earthworms which have become
valuable friends to farmers in India. By processing organic wastes, these
worms produce vermicompost. Noted for its ability to increase organic matter
and trace minerals, vermiculture has been a primary focus at Maharashtra
Agricultural Bioteks in India, an organization which has initiated both
commercial and educational ventures to promote vermiculture.
In 1985 Maharashtra Agricultural Bioteks formed a company and set up a small
plant to manufacture vermicompost from agricultural waste Those involved
believed that moving people towards sustainable agriculture might be best
achieved by successfully operating a commercial venture based on regenerative
Over the years, the organization has grown and produces 5,000 tons of
vermicompost annually. Its real achievement, however, has been in raising an
awareness among farmers, research workers and policy makers in India about
regenerative food production methods.
The group has been directly responsible for 2,000 farmers and
horticulturalists adopting vermicomposting. These "converted" farmers and
horticulturalists have now started secondary dissemination of vermicompost
principles to their neighbors.
In 1991-92 Maharashtra Bioteks working with the India Department of Science
and Technology promoted the adoption of vermicompost technology throughout 13
states in India. The group has also established a vermicompost unit with
Chitrakoot Gramodaya University at Chitrakoot, Madhya Pradesh which produces
five tons of compost per month.
Research, Education and Demonstration
The research agenda includes a program for the reduction of chemical
fertilizer use on grapes, pomegranates and bananas. Nearly 1,000 farmers are
using vermicompost as a soil amendment in their orchards, reducing the use of
chemical fertilizers by 90%. Similar work is underway on mangoes, cashews,
coconuts, oranges, limes, strawberries and various vegetable crops.
The organization has devised methods to convert some biodegradable industrial
waste (pulp waste from paper mills, filter cake and liquid effluent from sugar
factories, fruit and vegetable processing units, cafeteria waste and assorted
city waste) into vermicompost. These wastes are commonly regarded as
pollutants. Three facilities are already producing thirty tons of vermicompost
The organization has created a program which trains housewives and home
gardeners to produce their own vermicompost from household and garden waste.
The principle aim of this work is to increase awareness about regenerative
practices. To this end, vermicompost units have been developed and distributed
and in one year 100 housewives were trained to use them.
Dr. Henamgee Jambhekar
Maharashtra Agricultural Bioteks
B/9 Shivai Housing Society
Near Sane Guruji Smarak
Pune: 411 030. INDIA
What is Vermiculture?
Through their simple act of eating, earthworms promote bacterial growth,
enhance soil structure and hasten decomposition of organic matter. However, not
all earthworms are suitable for vermiculture.
Earthworms are divided into two groups: humus formers and humus feeders. The
first group dwell on the surface and feed on nearly 90% fresh organic materials
and 10% soil. They are generally red in color, have a flat tail and are also
called epegic or detritivorous worms. It is these worms that are harnessed for
vermicomposting. The second group, i.e. the humus feeders, are deep burrowing
worms which are useful in making the soil porous and mixing and distributing
humus through the soil.
Preparing your Vermicompost
% Materials- You will need a supply of breeder worms and a wooden bed in
which to keep them and the organic wastes. The bed should be 2 1/2 ft. high x 4
ft. wide x any length that is possible. You will also need a hose with which to
water the beds periodically and bags for packing the vermicompost.
% Sieving and shredding- Decomposition can be accelerated if raw materials
are shredded into small pieces.
% Blending- Substances lacking in nitrogen (N) like sawdust, paper and straw
can be mixed with nitrogen rich materials such as sewage sludge, biogas slurry
and fish scraps to obtain a near optimum C/N ratio of 30:1/40:1. A varied
mixture of substances provides a good quality compost, rich in both major and
% Half digestion- Before feeding to the worms, the raw materials should be
kept in piles where the temperature is allowed to reach 50-55 degrees C
(122-131 degrees F). The piles should remain at this temperature for 7 to 10
% Moisture, temperature and pH- The optimum moisture level for maintaining
aerobic conditions is 40-45%. Proper moisture and aeration can be maintained
by mixing fibrous with nitrogen rich materials. The temperature of the piles
should be within 28-30 degrees C (83-86 degrees F). Higher or lower
temperatures will reduce the activity of microflora and earthworms. The height
of the earthworms' bed can help control the rise in temperature. The pH of
the raw material should not exceed 6.5 to 7.
After about a month the compost is ready. It will be black, granular,
lightweight and humus-rich. To facilitate separating the worms from the
compost, stop watering two to three days before emptying the beds. This will
force about 80% of the worms to head to the bottom of the bed. The rest of the
worms can be removed by hand. The vermicompost can then be packed in bags is
and ready for application.
Jambhhekar, Hemangee. Maharashtra Agricultural Bioteks training material.