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VERMICOMPOSTING USING LOCAL VARIETIES OF EARTHWORMS
About two thousand five hundred species of earthworms have been identified in the world of which more than five hundred species of earthworms have been identified in India. These earthworms can be cultured or used in composting applying simple procedures either in pits, crates, tanks, concrete rings or any containers. Organic material to be used is recommended only after pre-processing or pre-digestion of respective material through partial anaerobic phase (done under black polythene cover or with a clay seal layer). The biodung composting technology standardised by Dr Priti Joshi is highly recommended as a pre-digestion mechanism.

Diversity of earthworm species varies with different types of soils and hence choosing a local or native species of earthworm for the local soil and for vermicomposting is an important step. There is no need to import earthworms from elsewhere. Local species of earthworms that are generally used in India are Perionyx excavatus and Lampito mauritii.

Compost pit of any convenient dimension can be dug in the backyard or garden or in a field. The most convenient pit of easily manageable size is 2m x 1m x 0.75m. [A tank may be constructed with brick and mortar with proper water outlets, or a plastic crate (600 mm x 300 mm x 300 mm) with holes drilled at the bottom or empty wooden crates (deal wood boxes/apple cases) or well rings made of cement or clay of 750 mm diameter and 300 to 450 mm height can also be used with slight modifications in the thickness of layers used. If nothing is available then four worn out car-tyres be placed one above the other and composting started in it. To make it simpler it can also be done in a 25-litre bucket] 

Vermibed (vermes= earthworms; bed= bedding) is the actual layer of good moist loamy soil placed at the bottom, about 150 to 200 mm thick above a thin layer (50 mm) of broken bricks and coarse sand. Earthworms are introduced into the loamy soil, which the worms will inhabit as their home. About 100 earthworms (a combination of epigeics and anecics) may be introduced into a compost pit of about 2m x 1m x 0.75m, with a vermibed of about 15 to 20 cm thick. The vermibed should always be kept moist, but should never be flooded.

Handful? lumps of fresh cattle dung are then placed at random over the vermibed. The compost pit is then layered to about 50 mm with dry leaves or preferably chopped hay/straw. For the next 30 days the pit is kept moist by watering it whenever necessary. The bed should neither be dry nor soggy. The pit may then be covered with coconut or Palmyra leaves or an old jute (gunny) bag to discourage birds. Plastic sheets on the bed are to be avoided as they trap heat. After the first 30 days, as above, wet organic waste of animal and/or plant origin from the kitchen or hotel or hostel or farm that has been pre-digested is spread over it to a thickness of about 50 mm. This can be repeated twice a week. All these organic wastes can be turned over or mixed periodically with a pickaxe or a spade. Care should be taken not to disturb the vermibed in which the worms live. Keep adding garbage till the compost pit is nearly full. Continue to keep the pit moist for another 30 to 45 days, turning over the material in the pit with care avoiding injury to the worms. Turning over can be done on every fifth or seventh day with the help of a forked spade. 

Regular watering should be done to keep the right amount of moisture in the pits. In 60 to 90 days the compost should be ready as indicated by the presence of earthworm castings (vermicompost) on the top of the bed.

The compost should be turned occasionally since this allows for aeration. If the weather is very dry it should be dampened periodically. The pile should be moist not wet and soggy. 

Vermicompost can now be harvested from the bin/pit. The material should be placed in a heap in the sun so that most of the worms move down to the cool base of the heap. The compost is then sieved before being packed. . The earthworms and the thicker material, which remains on top of the sieve, goes back in the bin and the process starts again. Compost works best with a mixture of coarse and fine materials, layered together. 

An interesting fact is that it was Charles Darwin who was one of the first persons who noted the importance of earthworms, more than a century ago. These "creepy-crawly" creatures are the most useful gardeners. They break down dead plant material and other organic wastes, recycle the nutrients, and turn over the soil. You can collect earthworms from your neighbourhood or get earthworms from nurseries. One can also contact the local agricultural department, municipalities, and nurseries of the forest departments for earthworms. Since earthworms are now becoming big business one can also check in the firms/horticultures/nurseries, which deal in earthworms, but is always desirable to collect them yourselves.

FOUR-TANK SYSTEM

FOUR-TANK SYSTEM To simplify the loading procedure for composting in rural sectors where the availability of organic material is not in bulk, a four-tank system can be set up based on a combination of biodung composting method and vermitech technique that enables continuous compost production using cattle dung produced daily at cattle sheds, weeds, leaf litter and other farm waste. A tank 4m x 4m x 1m (l x b x h) is preferably made under shade of tree. This is then divided into four equal parts with 22.5cm brick walls that have vents to facilitate aeration as well as migration of earthworms from one tank to another. This unit is designed especially for the small farmer who approximately collects 20 to 30 kg of cattle or farm waste per day. The schedule of loading the unit is described in the Table.

In the same manner two-tank system for household garbage or less quantity of farm waste is recommended. This is a smaller tank 1m x 1m x 1m made above ground under shade. The tank is divided into two equal halved units vertically by a wall containing vents. An average family produces 250 to 500 gm of garbage that is added daily into one of the tanks. After a few days when a layer is formed 15 to 20 cm dry/green leaves and a thin layer of soil are made to cover it.
Period Tank Process
000 - 030 01 Collection of biomass and cattle dung
030 - 060 01 Soaking of biomass with water, cattle dung slurry, and covering it with black polythene sheet. This could be called as Biodung preparation.
02 Collection of biomass
060 - 090 01 Inoculation of earthworms
02 Biodung preparation
03 Biomass collection
090 - 120 01 Vermicompost ready and migration of earthworms from pit 1 to pit 2.
02 Vermicomposting
03 Biodung preparation
04 Biomass collection
120 - 140 01 Harvesting of compost and collection of biomass
02 Vermicompost ready and migration of earthworms from pit 2 to pit 3.
03 Vermicomposting
04 Biodung preparation

TWO-TANK SYSTEM

TWO-TANK SYSTEM Another layering of waste over a period of time follows this and it takes about two months for the tank to be filled. This is then covered with a black polythene sheet. The waste is now added to the second tank. The polythene sheet is removed after 15 to 20 days, allowed to cool for a day and about 150 to 200 locally collected earthworms are released into the biomass. It takes approximately 45 to 60 days for the biomass to be now converted into vermicompost. In the mean time the second tank gets filled and starts decomposing. The earthworms from the first tank by now start migrating into the second tank through the vents. The vermicompost is harvested from the first tank, which is now again ready for being filled. 

The tank may be kept closed with a steel mesh cover to keep other animals away from damaging the set up. Out door plan requires about 10-20% more worms than the indoor method, as there are more predators and other climatic variables in open cage system.

Related Articles
About a Friend of the Earth
Vermicomposting Using Exotic Species Of Earthworms
General Composting
Waste is a Resource
Waste that could be used for Vermicomposting
Do not waste waste, waste is precious
Waste Water Treatment
Botanicals
Foliar Sprays
Vermiwash
How to collect native earthworms?
Identify worm-inhabited soils marked by visible earthworm castings on the soil surface. Dissolve about 500gm jaggery (native sugar) and 500gm fresh cattle dung in 20 litres of water. Sprinkle on an area 1m x 1m. Cover with straw, leave cattle dung lumps and cover with an old gunny bag. Keep watering for about 20 to 30 days. A combination of epigeic and anecic native worms will aggregate here that could be collected and used.
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