Expand the use of worms to improve agricultural productivity, restore soil health, and reduce food waste.
Vermiculture is the intentional cultivation of worms. In gardens and farms, worms are raised and used to break down organic materials as part of a compost process called vermicomposting. During digestion, beneficial microbes are transferred from worm guts into their manure, called castings. When castings are added to soil or mixed into compost, microbes continue to break down organic matter. Castings are a natural fertilizer, providing essential nutrients. They can be steeped in water to produce compost tea. Vermicompost can prevent plant disease and increase the productivity and carbon content of soils. It can be used to divert food and plant waste from landfills. Certain hazardous wastes can also be treated through vermicomposting. Whether at home, on small-scale farms, or on large commercial vermiculture facilities, composting with worms can reduce methane emissions while regenerating the soil.
Learn about vermiculture and its benefits. Vermiculture has been practiced by many cultures for centuries and remains an important part of Indigenous and traditional agricultural practices. In the United States, it became popular in the 1970s as part of the emerging organic food and gardening movement. It has become integral to permaculture and regenerative agricultural practices. By vermicomposting at home, you can process all organic waste and create a powerful fertilizer for your garden or houseplants (see Compost Nexus for more information). Elements include:
- Types of worms. The best worms for composting vary depending on climate and geography. The species most commonly used are Eisenia fetida, also known as red wiggler, and Lumbricus rubellis, a red earthworm native to Europe.
- Processing waste. Vermicomposting can process all organic waste—food waste and animal manure. There is also increasing interest in processing plant waste. Studies show that hazardous wastes can be processed through vermicomposting as well.
- Multiplying soil nutrients. When organic waste passes through the gut of a worm, nutrients are converted to forms that are easily available for plants and are rich in vitamins, growth hormones, and enzymes.
- Restoring soil microbes. Vermicompost increases the microbe content and diversity and optimizes the fungi-bacteria ratio in soil and compost. It rebuilds soil fungus, bacteria, and enzymes, which further break down organic matter, making it ready for plant uptake.
- Storing soil carbon. Some studies suggest that vermicompost allows soils to store more carbon.
- Reducing pollution. Vermicompost increases plant tolerance to metal contamination and can play a role in the restoration of sites contaminated by mining activity. It can help with processing animal manure, avoiding soil and water pollution.
Set up a worm bin at home. You can process your food and paper waste and make compost for your house and garden plants. To get started:
- Repurpose old bins, buckets, or a bathtub. Alternatively, you may build your own worm bin using plans and instructions from experts. You can find a basic introduction here and instructions on how to get started here and here.
- If you want a ready-to-go worm bin, many companies and worm farms sell worm bins, worm bags, worm huts, worm cafés, worm hotels, and accessories. Use wetted shredded paper as bedding, and cardboard or a cloth as a cover. Consider purchasing the first set of worms from a farm nearby. See Key Players below for worm farms.
- The worms eat a wide variety of organic materials: paper, coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable waste, grains, and ground yard wastes. Citrus, meat, and bones should not be used. It is important not to overfeed the bin, as that will cause waste to rot and attract insects.
- Depending on the setup, you can harvest vermicompost every few months. Some setups have a drainage mechanism, which will keep the worm bin from being too wet and allow you to harvest worm leachate, a by-product of decomposing cells. It can be added to the garden soil.
- You can join a social media group of regional worm enthusiasts. They exchange tips, answer questions, and share equipment and worms, like this group in Singapore, this very large global group, and this UK-based group.
Start or join a community vermiculture project. Community projects can not only recycle food waste into healthy soil additives but also be designed to build local capacity for food production, nutrition, education, and regenerative farming:
- This pilot initiative in Melbourne, Australia, engaged five hundred residents, thirty-two businesses, and three offices in vermicomposting.
- This worm cooperative in Hawaii is jointly collecting data on outputs and impact.
- This community garden starting a worm farm in Tasmania, Australia, is creating connections among people in the time of the pandemic.
- This community garden in Eugene, Oregon, collects food waste from restaurants for their midscale worm bins.
Farmers, Ranchers, and Landowners
Learn about the potential of worms for agriculture. There are many benefits to incorporating vermicompost on your farm:
- Increasing plant health and growth while reducing the use of chemicals. The hormones and enzymes that vermicompost add to the soil can promote plant growth. The improved soil increases crop productivity and quality, eliminating the need for synthetic chemical fertilizers. This study found that the fruit of jalapeño peppers grown in substrate mixed 1:1 with vermicompost were larger and of higher quality than those of the plants grown without it.
- Fewer pesticides. Vermicompost helps suppress plant diseases, allowing a decrease in the use of pesticides.
- Reducing agriculture inputs. Soil structure can be improved with vermicompost, raising water infiltration rates and reducing water use. The application of vermicompost mimics some of the biological processes of natural pastures, where worms decompose manure of grazing animal herds passing through.
Supply a vermiculture project in the area with your farm's manure or other organic farming by-products. If you are unable to invest in vermiculture yourself, consider supplying organic waste to a nearby farm or community vermiculture project.
- Coyne Dairy Farm in New York State partners with Worm Power, a large-scale worm composting facility, by supplying its cow manure.
Integrate vermiculture into your farm operation. Use vermicompost and worm leachate to regenerate your soils and improve plant growth and health.
- A midscale vermiculture operation can process organic waste that is available in excess on your farm.
- Vermicompost and worm tea helped Apricot Lane Farm restore the depleted soil of their land.
- Earthworms have successfully been employed to bioremediate pesticide-contaminated soils.
- Refer to this comprehensive guide for on-farm vermiculture.
- Read this fact sheet about the potential for integrating vermicomposting into dairy farming to address the challenges of managing manure.
Start a worm farm from scratch as a stand-alone business. You can scale operations quickly with low up-front investment.
- Vermiculture farms can serve as a low-entry opportunity for small farm and business entrepreneurs. Up-front cost is low and required technological know-how is minimal and easily accessible.
- Vermicompost retails for between two and twenty euros per liter in Europe (depending on the amount you purchase), and about seven dollars per gallon in the U.S.
- Methods for medium- to large-scale worm farming include beds, windrows, and large, shallow bins. Some farms have well-developed machinery for harvesting vermicompost and producing worm tea.
- Read here about when and how to harvest vermicompost, and here how worm tea is made.
- To sell castings and worm tea on any scale, your worm farm needs processes and products that are reliable and tested. Check out this overview of recommended standards. You also need to comply with state regulations for agricultural and/or composting facilities.
- Arizona Worm Farm engages in educational activities, taking bins to schools and businesses.
- Scale your operations by building partnerships with restaurants.
- Read this business plan from India for starting a worm company.
- Watch how West Mountain Organics is starting their larger scale farm.
- Meet this red-worm farmer from the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, and read about this agricultural engineer’s operation in Rwanda.
- Worms Downunder helps with design and setup of large-scale worm farms in Australia.
- This worm farmer in Pakistan explains how a vermiculture farm is operated (in Urdu).
Schools and Universities
Collect food waste and divert it to vermicomposting. Reduce food waste by engaging students in collection, composting, and vermicomposting.
- Pearl City High School in Hawaii diverted almost 100 percent of its cafeteria food waste in cooperation with Waikiki Worm Company.
- Laytonville School District in California saved water and fossil fuels while providing learning opportunities to its students.
- Here is a school-based vermiculture project in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Get involved in vermiculture as an educational activity. Use worm bins in classrooms and school gardens to show the benefits of healthy soils and demonstrate waste separation.
- North Carolina State University’s Cooperative Extension has been hosting the annual Vermiculture Conference since 2001. The office also provides extensive learning resources on vermicomposting. NCSU runs the Compost Learning Lab, a training site that features a 30 x 40-foot worm barn, including a 40-square-foot continuous-flow-through raised bed. Read more here.
- This article from the UAE provides an easy guide for educational vermicomposting in a school setting.
- This link has resources and curricula for classroom vermiculture.
Start or support a community vermiculture project. Arrange to donate kitchen waste, coffee grounds, paper, and cardboard to a local worm facility. Restaurants and coffee shops can provide food waste and coffee grounds and create community around their business. See Key Players below for a selection of farms.
- This Ohio project reduced food waste in cooperation with restaurants.
- Learn from this worm-composting business’s experience with restaurant partnerships.
- Find out how worms are put to work at the Dog Poo Worm farming initiative in Scarborough, South Africa.
Start a company-based vermiculture operation. If your business generates food waste—restaurant, grocery store, hotel, food processor, nursing home, wholesale food business, farmers’ market, shopping mall, or resort—and there is no composting facility nearby, vermiculture can reduce the cost of waste collection and produce compost for your outdoor areas.
- Access basic information about vermiculture for businesses here.
- Study best practices for on-site vermiculture systems for the commercial and industrial sector.
- Learn how to set up a worm bin at your office here or here.
- A restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico, set up a backyard worm composting system for its food waste.
- This restaurant in Boise began on-site vermicomposting in 2010.
Utilize vermiculture as a municipal solid waste (MSW) solution. In communities with underdeveloped waste treatment infrastructure, vermiculture can be a low-cost way to sustainably address organic solid waste. Under appropriate conditions, it can be treated in thirty-plus days, resulting in around 60 percent volume reduction.
- The City of San Francisco delivers all its residential organic waste to Jepson Prairie Organics, a large-scale composting facility, which produces both thermophilic and vermicompost for sale.
- Read about the potential of vermiculture for solid waste management in Saudi Arabia, this one on vermicomposting for small municipalities, and these experiences from municipal vermicomposting in India.
Use vermicomposting in government facilities, public infrastructure, and state/national parks. It is a clean and faster alternative to thermophilic composting.
- Consider installing urine vermicomposting toilets in parks, saving cost on chemically treating or hauling human waste from remote-area public toilets.
- Two vermicomposting toilets have been placed in the Slovenský raj National Park in Slovenia.
- Nearly 140 parks are undertaking vermicomposting in New Delhi.
- Over twenty cities in the Netherlands are equipped with community worm hotels, making neighborhoods greener and requiring municipalities to process less residual waste.
Create legislation to scale up vermiculture. Assuring waste separation and requiring food producers and wholesalers to arrange for composting organic wastes through regulation and legislation will pave the way for more widespread adoption of vermiculture.
- Some states and communities, such as San Francisco and Boulder, in the U.S. have adopted mandatory recycling and composting laws.
- India issued Solid Waste Management Rules in 2016, which mandates all waste generators to segregate biodegradable waste to be utilized for composting, including vermicomposting.
- By 2024, all EU member states will be required to separately collect biowaste.
Provide clear and easy ways to comply with regulations for composting companies and farms. Innovative projects, farms, and companies are supported by simplifying contradicting regulations.
Make incentives available for community vermiculture projects and vermicomposting business startups. Providing these projects with funding, education, and technical assistance can help close the food-waste loop, reduce organic waste in landfills, build community, and provide opportunities for community gardens addressing food insecurity.
- Read about this vermiculture project working with Indigenous women in Oaxaca, Mexico.
- Los Angeles County Public Works provides webinars, worm bins, and worms to residents at discounted prices.
- Find out how the Agricultural Ministry of Bhutan (click on annual report 2020–21) supports the development of residential, commercial , and agricultural vermicomposting activities.
- Read about this community garden in Hawaii and its vermicomposting success.
Arizona Worm Farm (Phoenix, AZ)
Betulia Cacao (Colombia)
Duncan's Worm Farm (Evansville, IN)
GreenHill Worm Farm ( Rutherfordton, NC)
Hobby Worm Farm (Atlanta, GA)
Kootenay Farms (Baynes Lake, BC)
Meme's Worms (Lakeland, GA)
Old Tom's Wormery (San Jose, CA)
Seattle Worms (Mountlake Terrace, WA)
SJ Organics (India)
Sprout organic farm (Kenya)
Suburban Worms (Troy, MO)
Texas Worm Ranch (Dallas, TX)
Wormpower (Avon, NY)
Worm Wrangler (Kitchener, ON)
The Urban Worm (UK)
Toilet Tech Solutions (Seattle, WA)
Urban Worm Company (Columbus, OH)
Vermicompost: A Living Soil Amendment (9 mins.)
Starting a Worm Farm for Profit (12 mins.)
Black Gold: Vermiculture and Organic Farming (24 mins.)
Wurmfarm (in German, 3 mins.)
Worm Hut (12 mins.)
Apricot Lane Farm’s Journey (1 min.)
Vermiculture (Science Direct)
The Business and Biology of Raising Composting Worms by Duncan Carver
Vermicomposting—Composting with Worms (Cal Recycle)
Red Worm Composting (blog)
Can Soil Microbes Slow Climate Change? (Scientific American)
Kitchen Organic Waste as Material for Vermiculture and Source of Nutrients for Vermicompost Plants(Journal of Ecological Engineering)
Review: Vermicompost, Its Importance and Benefit in Agriculture (Journal of Agricultural Science)
How to Start a Worm Farm (Small Business Trends)
Vermiculture Technology, edited by Clive A. Edwards et al.
Vermiculture: A Viable Solution for Sustainable Agriculture (Heather Staggs, MurraY State University)
Vermicompost Business Plan (AgriFarming)
Bioremediation of Agricultural Soils by Using Earthworms (in Bioremediation of Agricultural Soils by Juan C. Sanchez-Hernandez)
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