Most of the earthworms can survive during the freezing weather. The temperature below the soil surface is always several degrees warmer than the air temperature or ambient temperature. The large size (21 – 30 cm) deep-burrowing earthworm species (anecic earthworms) and medium size (11 – 20 cm) upper-soil earthworm species (endogeic earthworms), burrow deeper during the winter because they cannot survive at the temperature below -1 °C. Amazingly, their compound eggs or cocoons are able to survive at -5 °C.

During Winter most anecic and endogeic earthworms stay in their burrows. They are coiled into a slime-coated ball and go into a sleep state or hibernation (like in large mammals) called estivation. The mucus or slime on the surface of the earthworm body in coil position, keeps the earthworms from drying up. The adult earthworms will survive in frozen and dry soils by estivation until conditions improve. Some species of earthworms lay their cocoons before the peak of the winter as their cocoons are more resistant to freezing temperatures than the adult earthworms

The small size (8 – 10 cm) epigeic earthworms or compost worms have different mechanisms against the freezing winter. They are called surface-soil litter or near the compost heap of green and brown wastes compost worm species, which cannot penetrate the soil. So, they have a special mechanism to pass the cold hardiness in freezing temperatures below -5 °C. It was reported by the scientific research that compost worms or red wigglers, mostly Eisenia fetida and Eisenia andrei, produce antifreeze agent during the peak of the Winter.

The studies of the cold hardiness in relation to the supercooling point (SCP) of the compost worms have been reported recently. The average of the SCP of the adult compost worms was -2.8 °C, while the SCP of the worm cocoons was -6.1 °C. The resistance to cold in red wiggler cocoons was not revealed under the preserved attributes of the mechanism of protective dehydration. The water content decreased in cocoons under cooling and was accompanied by the formation of the ice cover on the thick cell walls of the cocoons.

It is found that the antifreeze agent produced by juvenile and adult red wigglers, can stay longer in their bedding until the end of Spring or early Summer. It means the temperature of the bedding of the red wigglers population from Winter has a lower temperature of about 5 up to 8 °C compared to the bedding of the red wigglers from the warmer temperature in late spring or early summer. This phenomenon of the cooler temperature of the bedding with the high density of the red wigglers in the worm containers or wormeries in warmer weather, will also help the reproduction of the red wigglers in warmer climates.

It is reported that red wigglers produce lumbrokinase as an anti-blood clot enzyme to prevent their blood from being frozen. Moreover, the high density of red wigglers in the herds will keep them warmer rather than as an individual. Antifreeze agent outside the body of the compost worms, anti-blood clot lumbrokinase inside their body, heat created by the herd touching and some carbon-rich organic waste can make the compost worms population safe and thrive during the freezing winter at an ambient temperature of -15 °C or bedding temperature of above -5 °C.

Perhaps we can learn from the red wigglers to stay warm by huddling together in this Winter season in Northern Hemisphere with our loved ones. Happy Prosperous New Year 2022!

The photo of the red wigglers above was taken during the peak of winter.

PS. The cloud-like background of the image of a handful of the red wigglers in my hand is actually snow.

-Bintoro Gunadi

Physalis or ground cherry is the member of the family Solanaceae or nightshades including tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, bell and chili peppers that mostly are used for food. There are about fifty species of Physalis, most of the species are sensitive to frost, but others, such as the Physalis alkekengi, Chinese- or Japanese-lanterns, tolerate severe cold when dormant in winter. So, the plant is also called winter cherry.

The origin name of Physalis is from Ancient Greek phusallis, it means bladder because of the inflated calyx. Physalis alkekengi is native to the regions covering Southern Europe to South Asia and Northeast Asia. It is a popular ornamental plant, widely cultivated in temperate regions of the world, and very hardy to below minus 20 degrees Celsius.

This plant can be invasive with its wide-spreading root system to new shoots some distance from where it was originally planted. Physalis alkekengi seed fossils are known from the Miocene from about 23 to 5 million years ago (Ma) of Siberia and the Pliocene from about 5 to 2.5 Ma of Europe. Their pollen grains have been found in early Pleistocene sediments from about 2.5 Ma to 11,700 years ago in Norfolk (East of England) and Germany.

As a natural preservation, winter cherry fruit and seeds are inside “the cage” of calyx or sepals of a flower. It is a brilliant strategy of the plant to preserve the seeds during the winter, until the inflated calyx will open naturally in spring.

No wonder in later life Charles R. Darwin said he wished he had called his theory natural preservation, rather than natural selection, as a driving force of evolution. Recently, Edward O. Wilson in his book The Meaning of Human Existence (2014) proposed the use of term volitional selection in order to direct human evolution. Humans are about to abandon natural selection, the process that created us, in order to direct our own evolution (volitional evolution).

Every stage of natural preservation may have different meanings: bright red calyx as a warning color, early decomposition of the skin to show-off the best taste of the fruit, clean-up the vein for the purity, and finally seeds maturity/fertility for the next generation. All parts of the plant from the root, stems, leaves, and petals are poisonous, only the fruit is edible and healthy. That is why medicine is often made.

The taste of the ripe bladder cherry fruit, especially the seed, is bitter like the gall bladder of animals. According to Eastern culture, bitterness is associated with bold behaviour, prominent or outstanding.

The traditional use of the dried fruit of Physalis alkekengi is called the golden flower in the Unani or Greek system of medicine. It is a Perso-Arabic traditional medicine as practiced in Muslim culture in South Asia and in modern day Central Asia. It can be used as diuretic, antiseptic, liver corrective, and sedative.

Like the other species members in the genus Physalis, the chemical constituents of the winter cherry contain a wide variety of physalins, a steroid is a biological active of organic compounds. Physalins can be isolated from plants and have antibacterial and antiprotozoal agents.

The photo of bladder cherries above is taken by the author. Permission is needed for the publication.

-Bintoro Gunadi

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Shakespeare.

The origin of the rose plant, which is famous for being beautiful and elegant, is from a wild rose plant that can reach tens of meters in height, the color is simple pink, the thorns are many and large, the age can reach hundreds of years. Wild rose flowers usually fall off easily, smell very soft, and can produce rose hips which are used for refreshing and healthy herbal tea drinks with a sweet-sour taste.

Pollination of wild roses by nature (insects and wind) is the key to success so that these plants survive as they are today. Wild roses are different from modern roses. Modern roses can be crossed and colored from genetic material of other flowers so that they can be colorful until some are blue, the flowers are thick and even have layers of petals, and deliberately short stems without thorns to make it easier for humans to enjoy. Most of the modern roses cannot produce rose hips.

Nature seems to have another purpose; hybrid roses never bear fruit even though the flowers are more durable and reproduce by stem cuttings that cannot produce roots deep in the ground. Not a seasonal dream, everything that is good for humans is not necessarily good for all creatures.

Wild rose, Rosa rubiginosa is the ancestor of all roses in the world. So simple beauty (5 heart petals), smell pure perfume (rose absolute), produce healthy fruits (rose hips). The facts about wild rose plants remind us that nature gives humans a chance to explore the benefits of the rose absolute perfume and rose hip tea; rather than enjoy the beauty and elegance of the rose flowers only.

Rose hip tea is packed with vitamins and antioxidants that may strengthen our immune system and help with weight loss. Rose hip has hard and sticky seeds inside, thorns that prick you when you go to forage them at the highest location of the plant. These are just small obstacles to stop foraging them as their medicinal benefits, as well as taste and smell, are fully worth it.

A meta-analysis of human studies examining the potential for rose hip extracts to reduce inflammation and pain. It was reported that rose hips may fight skin aging (e.g., cell longevity, skin wrinkles, moisture, and elasticity), and may protect against type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

According to FoodData Central, the nutrition facts of the rose hips per serving size 16 g or 2 tablespoons: Calories 26, carbohydrate 6 g, fiber 4 g, vitamin A 4% of the Daily Value (DV), vitamin B5 3% DV, vitamin C 76% DV, vitamin E 6% DV. According to the database from the National Institutes of Health, rose hips get their red-orange color from carotenoid pigments known as beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene. These pigments have been shown to promote skin and eye health. They are also rich in disease-fighting antioxidants, such as catechin, quercetin, and ellagic acid. A diet rich in these compounds can help lower inflammation and oxidative stress. Moreover, rose hip tea is rich in calcium, iron. magnesium, potassium, and zinc.

Prepare a rose hip tea drink as you prepare the regular tea drink. Please consult your physician if you have an allergic reaction with herbs. Special precautions and warning: There isn’t enough reliable information to know if rose hip is safe to use as medicine when pregnant or breast-feeding. Drinking the large dose of rose hip might increase the chance of getting kidney stones due to the too much vitamin C.

-Bintoro Gunadi

Red clover is one of the oldest medicines of the native American that can be found in five contingents. The scientific name of red clover is Trifolium pratense; it is native to Europe, Western Asia, Northwest Africa, and North America. The seeds were introduced to Australia, New Zealand, and South America and the plants are well developed to improve the soil fertility with the seeds sowing rates 1 – 4 kg per hectare.

From the name Trifolium, the leaves are alternate with three leaflets, green color with a characteristic pale crescent on the outer half of the leaf. The flowers are dark pink or magenta-hued blossoms comprise numerous florets with a paler base. Red clover flowers are mostly visited and pollinated by bumblebees. The plant is herbaceous, short-lived perennial plant. It is widely grown as fodder crop to feed domesticated livestock and valued for its nitrogen fixation to increase the soil fertility. For these reasons red clovers are used as “a green manure crop”.

As the member of Leguminosae or pea family or Fabaceae with the total number of about 250 species plants, red clover grows best in slightly acidic to neutral soils that are rich in calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. The plants are drought tolerant and suited to high rainfall. Although red clovers are strong against the harsh climate, the plant is subject to fungal, bacterial, and virus diseases. The common names for this sweet herb include wild clover, meadow trefoil, bee bread, cow grass and three-leafed grass.

In traditional medicine, red clover blossom tea is used for muscle relaxation, sedative or antidepressant, and expectorant. In alternative medicine, red clover is promoted as a treatment for hormonal imbalance including symptoms of menopause. Red clover blossom contains isoflavones, plant-based chemicals that produce estrogen-like effects in the body. Recently, red clover has been studied as an alternative remedy for hot flashes in menopausal women as well as hot flashes in men following surgery for prostate cancer.

Red clover contains coumestrol, a phytoestrogen and coumarin, an anticoagulant as blood thinner. Scientific tests have shown that red clover has potential in improving cardiovascular health and reducing osteoporosis.

Preparing the infusion or red clover tea. Bring fresh non chlorinated water to the boiling point and add to the dried red clover blossoms in the teapot. Five to eight dried blossoms can be used to make tea. Second or third brewing can be done using the same batch. Drink while warm or cold. Please consult your physician if you have an allergic reaction with herbs, taking the blood-thinning medicine and estrogen treatment.

Although no side effects in humans have been reported for non-fermented red clover, it may cause bleeding and have adverse interaction with certain blood thinners, particularly heparin, ticlopidine, and warfarin. Red clover also reduces the body’s absorption of combined estrogens.  

-Bintoro Gunadi 

Dogwoods are among the most beautiful trees found in North American landscapes. There are about 15 native species of dogwoods in Canada and the United States. Two species Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas) and Kousa dogwood (Cornus kausa) are introduced from Europe and East Asia and have earned a place in North American gardens because they are more disease resistant than the native species. Both Cornelian cherry and Kousa dogwoods produce edible fruits.

The Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) was adopted in 1956 as British Columbia’s floral emblem. The Pacific dogwood is a tree that grows six to eight meters high, and flowers in April and May. In Autumn, it is known for its cluster of bright, edible but bitter red berries and brilliant foliage. It is illegal to pick dogwood flowers in British Columbia.

There is an unusual hybrid or a cross between native Pacific or western dogwood, Cornus nuttallii and the eastern North American species, Cornus florida. The name of the breed is “Eddie White Wonder”; it was bred by H.M. Eddie in the early 1950s. This hybrid plant has beautiful white flowers and magnificent red fall foliage and grows about ten meters high and fifteen meters wide. This plant is resistant to dogwood disease anthracnose. “Eddie’s White Wonder” is Vancouver’s centennial tree.

There are 2 hybrids between Pacific dogwood and Kousa dogwood which have resulted in exceptional varieties: “Starlight” and “Venus”. Both are resistant to anthracnose and mildew diseases. “Starlight” grows about ten meters tall and 5 meters wide, producing a mass of white blooms. “Venus” is a little smaller at six meters tall and five meters wide. Both have stunning fall colours. All the dogwood hybrids cannot produce fruits.

In general the nutritional facts of the dogwood berries per 100 gram serving size has 44 calories with 10 gram carbs (with dietary fiber up to 15%), 0 gram fat, 1 gram protein, minerals (calcium and iron each 1%, potassium 2%), vitamins (A 1%, C 13%), and rich in tannin (tannic acid). In addition, dogwood bark is used as a substitute for quinine as an antimalarial.   

Not many people have ever tasted the dogwood berries. The meaty texture and unique taste of the dogwood berry, particularly Kousa berry, reminds me of the taste of soursop or sugar-apple, persimmon, and papaya; the bitter quinine taste can also be tasted in the dogwood berry.

Information from the clockwise (from the top left) dogwood berries photograph: European dogwood or Cornelian cherry dogwood berries (Cornus mas), Asian dogwood or Kousa dogwood berries (Cornus kousa), eastern dogwood or American dogwood berries (Cornus florida), and western dogwood or Pacific dogwood berries (Cornus nuttallii).

-Bintoro Gunadi

If we are still not comfortable to go outside at this hard time, instead go inside. Reset, refresh, and keep peace of mind with exercising yoga and meditation. Yoga is part of meditation. According to researchers, meditation is very difficult to define because of the different ways, there are elements of tradition and involve the power of the mind. To put it simply, meditation is an individual practice of mindfulness training to achieve a clear mental state and stable emotion. All religions and faiths involve meditation.

In general, what is meant by yoga is the practice of movement (asana), energy circulation (mudra), and breathing (pranayama). Meanwhile, the basic method of meditation uses a technique of focusing the mind on a certain invisible object. This means we can also practice concentrating on the coronavirus and trying to control it, much like a vaccine.

When it comes to this new normal, extracurricular activities like yoga and meditation are suitable for all ages at home. Practical because it can be done in a limited space, without complicated equipment, supports distance movement, and is said to improve the fitness and immune system. Unlike before the pandemic, yoga activities were carried out in large groups, wearing trendy, sexy and expensive clothes. How can we concentrate when there are too many temptations?

There are countless positions for practicing yoga. One that is most important and is always mentioned in the literature is the shirshasana or the headstand position. Both babies who are born normally and who are not normal (breech, cesarean) must have experienced this position while in their mother’s womb before birth. This natural position is proven to be the healthiest and safest way to start a new life. Breathe air for the first time in nature.

Sigmund Freud in one of his psychoanalytic theories relates this position to the fetus floating in the amniotic fluid of the mother’s womb to launch the baby’s birth process. Even Freud once wrote that if someone dreams of swimming or playing water, it is a sign that the person, in his or her unconscious mind, remembers his or her mother who was pregnant with him or her. The scientific explanation of this dream, there is a difference in body temperature, a sign that the body is not in healthy conditions and the immune system is weak.

If we practice shirshasana or upside-down position properly, relax without weight, breathe regularly, like floating in water, it will have a positive effect on rejuvenation, body health, and calm the mind. For young children who see adults in this position it is sure to make them happy and amazed. It was as if there was a fresh memory that they had been doing this not that long ago, while in their mother’s womb. It is interesting to observe how the children imitate this position.

For those who like yoga and meditation, feel free to try this shirshasana position with upside-down padmasana (lotus posture). Practicing step by step starts from shirshasana; beginners can do shirshasana against the wall for safety. Normal or not upside down padmasana can be done separately; either full lotus or half lotus with alternate left and/or right palm of feet or foot facing up. Concentrate on taking care of the body, the earth and everything in it. It is also hoped that it can comfort, calm the mind, and give awareness that the current pandemic and hot wave recently are due to natural imbalances, one of the causes is because of human activities. Please consult your physician before doing shirshasana.

Our life can be upside-down due to this pandemic, environmental degradation, and global warming. By practicing the real upside-down posture, I hope that our body and mind can be healthy and stay positive during this new normal.

Meditation activities, among others, through yoga, whatever their religion or belief, even for non-believers (agnostics, atheists) will reduce stress, boredom, depression, and pain. Many have reported in scientific research that meditation can control the production of “joy” hormones: the dopamine hormone associated with pleasure due to motor exercise. Serotonin, the pleasure hormone, because someone can sleep and taste the food well, is also associated with memory. The hormone oxytocin is associated with sensuality. Hormonal endorphins to reduce pain. In a healthy body and mind, it is proven that the immune system will increase and be useful in dealing with a pandemic.

Namaste, “I bow to the divine in you”.

-Bintoro Gunadi

I have compared the different small-scale worm containers or wormeries around the world when I worked at the Soil Ecology Laboratory at the Ohio State University (OSU), Columbus in this early millennium (1998 – 2002). Most of them have rather different aesthetic models and performances, but basically their systems are the same with some holes for aeration and leachate water collection, without agitation and aeration to collect the finished worm castings at the bottom of the container regularly.

After some time, the condition of the unfinished organic waste and worm castings are getting too wet, anaerobic, smelly, will invite flies. The compost worms are not happy, and they will not multiply, but they will try to escape by climbing the sides of the container. In this wet and anaerobic (less oxygen) conditions it will be difficult to harvest the excess of worms and worm castings separately. Most of the squeamish people will give up at this point with their vermiculture-vermicomposting activities.

The healthy worms will move up to the new feedstock and will be easy to collect on the surface. The finished worm castings or vermicompost will move down and be easy to collect from the bottom of the container. Some wormeries are designed in stalks expecting that the compost worms will move from the first container to the second container. This idea can happen if there is no problem as mentioned above and the bedding inside the container is in optimum conditions.

Any container can be used for culturing worms (vermiculture) and worm composting (vermicomposting) such as unused bathtub, broken refrigerator, and directly using compost pile outdoors. Handy people can make themselves even better and cool with wooden containers. It is like a master chef, the wok is not the utmost important, but the feeling doing with your heart, the content of the mixture of the ingredients, recipes, and the optimum conditions for cooking are more important than the wok itself. In vermiculture-vermicomposting, the right species and density of the compost worms or red wigglers are the utmost important together with the mixture of the feedstock and optimum conditions.

After becoming familiar with the biology and life cycle of the red wigglers, the development of the wormery is getting urgent to save the time, labor, and cost using the right designed wormery. One of the wormeries in the market with innovation is called Worm Wigwam with the input of organic waste 10 – 15 pounds per day. This wormery or worm container is equipped with a crank to operate a continuous-flow system for harvesting the worm castings, enough ventilation in a spacious space at the bottom of the container for summer, and heater for winter operations.

It was a great pleasure to visit Bruce Elliot of Sustainable Agricultural Technologies, Cottage Grove, Oregon a few years ago. He makes the Worm Wigwam based on the continuous-flow system found at the Rothamsted Experimental Station (RES), United Kingdom. My former supervisor, prof. Clive Edwards was the director of the RES before he moved to the OSU, Columbus to develop the Soil Ecology Laboratory and implement the large-scale automated continuous-flow worm composter together with our team and Dan Holcombe of Oregon Soil Corporation at Philomath, Oregon that I also visited several times before the pandemic.

Any progress and problem with the continuous-flow worm composters around the globe to be shared is appreciated. Thank you.

We provide the red wigglers or compost worms inoculum as a starter package (2 X 1 X 1 feet) to start the medium- and large-scale vermiculture vermicomposting. Compost worms inoculum is the whole system of beneficial soil microbes, worm castings, and adults, juveniles, baby worms also worm cocoons (compound eggs) in one package. We used to provide the worm composting workshop of creating a living soil before the pandemic. In the new normal, we still provide consultations and offer the green business opportunities. Please visit our website to see our products and services.

-Bintoro Gunadi

Living soil is growing method centered on the biodiversity of the beneficial soil microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, archaea, algae) and soil animals (mostly compost worms, earthworms, rove beetles, springtails, mites, nematodes, protozoans) as the soil biota that help the plants to be healthy and productive for human purposes.

Soil is alive, so soil can also die. Basically, we should feed the soil first before the plant. Living soil can support the growth of the plants and a reasonable life-support system together with water and climate in our planet, the only one living earth in our galaxy so far. The first idea of feeding the mother earth has been developed by James Lovelock through the Gaia hypothesis since the late 1970s.

The Gaia hypothesis or principle (pronounced gai-uh, mother nature deity in Greek mythology) suggests that earth is alive. It is similar to the other living organisms and interacts with the surrounding inorganic environment to form a synergetic and self-regulating system that created, and now maintains, the climate and biochemical conditions that make life on earth possible. It is because earth or soil is alive, we should feed them to keep alive.

According to The Ecologist (February 2012), the journal for the post-industrial age, the ancient Egyptians valued mother nature. Cleopatra VII in the first century established laws protecting the earthworm for its useful toil of the fertile Nile Valley. A death penalty to the people who break the laws by killing earthworms during that time. It was reported by the National Geographic magazine (November 2009) that earthworm is the most influential species of all evolution on earth.

Creating living soil in the small scale for example in the pots, garden beds, greenhouses to support the growth of cultivated plants can be started by introducing the compost worms and fresh worm castings or vermicompost in situ or on site in the closed system. Vermicompost is rich in beneficial soil microbes, including plant growth regulators, plant hormones, fulvic and humic acids, and available slow-release nutrients.

The basic mix of creating living soil: One part fertile, friable or crumble soil, peat moss, coco coir, leaf-mold, etc. One part of aeration: lava rock, pumice, perlite, rice hulls, etc. One part of the high quality of compost or fresh worm castings or vermicompost. In addition, the application of the vermicompost tea on the aboveground plants for a special treatment regularly will speed up the plant growth and productivity and will reduce the plant diseases. 

The feeding to the system regularly is necessary to keep the soil and compost worms alive. Selected organic resources and vermicompost can be used to support the natural way of farming or organic farming. Organic mulching with minimum tilling may support the growth of the beneficial soil organisms and the healthy plants with less weeds and pests. Moreover, the application of the vermicompost will invite the native earthworms and other beneficial organisms to support the natural way of farming.

A living soil is a loving soil for the sake of the young generation. It is more than just dirt. The drawings are courtesy of Elise of the 3rd grade and Sophie of the kindergarten. The drawings can be zoomed to see details.

-Bintoro Gunadi

During the fight against the pandemic coronavirus, almost all of the public sauna places around the world are closed. Learning to do sauna in nature from the squirrel.

The photo was taken in early Spring 2021. A squirrel having “sauna” in the morning at the temperature slightly below zero Celsius. The steam comes from the heat produced by the composting process of the dead trunk; it gets warmer under the direct sunshine.

The early decomposition of the plant debris (mostly carbon, nitrogen, and lignin) can produce heat which is used by squirrels as well as other living creatures in the forest. In the past processes, the fossil fuels formed from the fossilized remains of dead plants by exposure to heat and pressure in the earth’s crust over millions of years are then used by humans and increase global warming.

That squirrel, when it is a sauna while sunbathing, can straighten its hair in the cool weather. This is so that the heat and steam become easier to penetrate the body. The squirrel can do it, but the human cannot.

The inventors of the sauna are the Nordic or Scandinavian people, especially the Finns who are famous for their Finnish saunas. The temperature of the sauna can be up to 100 degrees Celsius. In this condition, it can even make them addicted and healthy.

It is recorded in World War 2 the Nordic army made a place for a sauna. During the war, they continued to do a sauna to be more energized and relaxed.

In the native or origin of the sauna country, a sauna without even clothes, often mixed between the opposite sex, several times in and out of the sauna room to swim in the freezing lake, while occasionally drinking some soft alcoholic drinks, so as not to freeze.

My most memorable experience of having a sauna indoor and outdoor was at the northern of Jyvaskyla in Finland near the Lapland areas about a quarter of a century ago. This practice continued until the coronavirus hit the world.

Humans should still have a speck of the squirrel gene, if they are afraid, then the hair on their nape of neck will stand up. Human’s sixth sense is still very sensitive to microscopic creatures such as the coronavirus. Sauna and sunbathing are good for health during this pandemic.

Nothing to lose, natural decomposition of the plant debris or “natural sauna” can make the forest warmer and keep the planet cooler.

We hope this year the Covid-19 will be under control soon after we change our bad habits in disturbing nature, applying the basic coronavirus response program (using masks, washing hands, wearing gloves, social distancing), and having the vaccination.

Expecting the public sauna to open normally during the new normal. Although in the new normal it is difficult for people to do sauna together again in the public recreation areas.  

-Bintoro Gunadi

Earthworms including compost worms or red wigglers are soil or compost dwelling detritivores. Detritivores obtain nutrients by consuming detritus or decomposing plant and animal parts. Detritivores and decomposers such as bacteria, microscopic fungi, and mushrooms are often used interchangeably because in the food web or food cycle detritivores generally play the roles of decomposers.

Decomposers mostly saprotroph are organisms that breakdown dead or decaying organisms. Basically, earthworms eat microscopic decomposers and the mechanism to obtain the nutrients and energy are different with the saprotrophs, herbivores, and carnivores.

The process of decomposition of the organic matter is one of the most common senses and important processes in the planet to support the new generation of life. As organic matter decomposes within a medium or substrate in which saprotroph organisms is residing, the saprotroph breaks such matter down into its composites and gives more spaces to all living creatures to thrive.

Proteins are broken down into amino acids by enzyme proteases. Lipids are broken down into fatty acids and glycerol by enzyme lipases. Starch is broken down into pieces of simple sugar by enzyme amylases. Cellulose, a major portion of plant cells, and therefore a major constituent of decaying matter is broken down into sugar by enzyme cellulases produced by bacteria, fungi, and protozoans. Earthworms eat the bacteria (bacterivores), fungi (fungivores), and protozoans that growth on the decomposing materials not directly the proteins, fatty acids, and sugars from the waste.

There is a symbiotic mutualism between the earthworm as decomposer and saprotrophic organism. In order saprotrophic organisms and decomposers to facilitate optimal growth and repair, favorable conditions and nutrients must be present. Optimal conditions are the utmost important, refer to several conditions which optimize the growth of bacteria, fungi and earthworms including compost worms.

The presence of water (75 – 80%), presence of oxygen (aerobic), neutral-acidic pH (6 – 6.5), low-medium temperature (0 – 25 degrees Celsius), and majority of nutrients are also important for the growth of the saprotroph and decomposer organisms. Dead and organic matter provide rich source of carbon, nitrogen, protein, carbohydrate, minerals, and vitamins. Waste selection and smaller particle size of the waste are important to give more surface areas of the microorganisms to grow and will support the growth and reproduction of the earthworms especially the compost worms.

Naturally, several macroscopic saprotroph organisms or soil critters are involved during the decomposition processes of the organic waste. In the closed or self-contained vermiculture-vermicomposting in small systems, people are trying to avoid those organisms including flies, ants and other bugs for the aesthetic purposes and sanitation or cleanliness of the household habitat. In most of cases, the right species and high density of the compost worms will be dominance and the bugs cannot compete with the worms.

During the decomposition of the garden waste, farm waste, and kitchen waste in the semi natural compost pile, the presence of the bugs can be neglected but then the new problem will arise because some of worm predators such as amphibians, reptiles, birds, mice even racoons will dig the piles and eat the worms before the freezing Winter coming. Tarps and chicken wires are good protectors for the red wigglers or compost worms against the worm predators and the harsh weathers in the compost pile.

The illustration above is the food web of the compost pile courtesy from the book: Ecology of Compost by Daniel L. Dindal (1971), Sunny CESF, Syracuse NY. The bottom levels are the organic residues or renewable feedstocks of the compost worms. The first levels are the actinomycetes, molds, bacteria, rotifers, protozoans, and microscopic nematodes. According to the recent findings in soil biology, they are regularly ingested by the compost worms.

The second levels of the illustration on compost food web are the others decomposers as close friends of the compost worms such as pot worms, springtails, mold mites, woodlice or sowbugs, millipedes, some beetles, and slugs. The third levels are the most common predators of the compost worms. They are predatory mites, ground beetles, pseudoscorpions, centipedes, rove beetles, ants, and soil flatworms. The highest level of the larger predators of the red wigglers in the compost piles such as mice and birds, are not presented in this illustration.

-Bintoro Gunadi