Watch the Earthworms, Miss the Eclipse

What a wonderful world it is for the first thing we heard about earthworms! There are two things appear in our mind with a common sense. First is about earthworms for fish bait that fish love much. Second is about earthworms as long-life creature, as a symbol for the sustainability of the fertile soil that most of gardeners and farmers knew it. Aristotle in his book, Historia Animālium or ‘The History of Animals’ in 350 B.C., called earthworms as earth’s guts because earthworms act like our intestines by processing the soil’s organic matter and turning it into food for the plants.

There is old sage says: ‘Watch the earthworms, missed the eclipse’. Implying that there are better things to observe and to do something to support the zero-waste program, the natural way of farming, and the bioremediation of contaminated soils rather than just looking, weighing, and counting the worms. Otherwise we will miss the point, and the worms couldn’t thrive anymore to help us facing the environmental degradation.

The photo above is the reflection of the solar eclipse exposed on the water at the black lid of the worm castings or ‘black gold’ container. The image can be clicked and zoomed to see the detail. Permission of using this photo is needed by the author.

Charles Darwin in his best selling last book The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms (1881) in the last paragraph at Conclusion wrote: The plough is one of the most ancient and most valuable man’s inventions; but long before he existed the land was in fact regularly ploughed, and still continues to be those ploughed by earth-worms. Let us continue to honor the earthworms as a good partner in bioturbation of making fertile soil for our food and let the compost worms do their job.

Worm composting or vermicomposting is getting more popular because worms in association with the beneficial soil microbes increase the speed of composting. Worm composting produces worm biomass which is an excellent source of protein (also for pharmaceuticals) and high-quality worm castings or vermicompost rich in plant nutrients. Worm composting can be used as any resource organic waste management for the sustainability of our planet. The basic steps of the worm composting are how to find the right species and the right density of the worms.

The most common compost worms around the world are named, Eisenia fetida, Eisenia andrei, and Eisenia hortensis or red wigglers or Eisenia compost worms. They can be mixed species two in one or even three in one package. The red wigglers have been studied extensively, particularly for its potential in vermicomposting because it is easy to be cultured and its life cycle is relatively short with a fast growth rate. Their life span can be up to 4 years. It takes 1.5 until 2 months for the compost worms to grow from compound eggs (cocoon) to adults in optimal conditions. And their reproduction rate is high.

Concerning the compost worms ready to start for vermiculture and vermicomposting, there is no standardization of the quantity in number or weight in many countries. Some people use weight such as pound and kilogram even gram for the pure worm protein for pharmaceuticals use; and they are like noodles weighted lean and clean. Some worm growers use number and raise problem because too much works to count. Recently, professional worm farmers use dimension of 2 handfuls, 2 bowls, or bags of compost worms to start with small-scale or household vermicomposting which is equal to about 500 worms or a pound of worms including bedding. The most important thing that the worms are healthy and ready to thrive in their new home and the users are happy with generous portion of the worm starter.

Weight loss is the most important problem in the worm business as worm body contain nearly 100% of water. Most of the beginners in vermiculture vermicomposting are looking for the clean worms. That is impossible because as soon as the worm growers stop feeding the worms, the weight loss of the worms happen; the healthy worms always produce more worm castings from their gut. Moreover, the clean worms with no bedding will suffer and will die fast in hot or cold weather. Weighing the worms as noodles will torture the worms. Even when we weighed the worms, the scale number is always moving down due to the loss of weight caused by respiration, excretion and water evaporation. And then the worms will produce bubbles, suffering, and not healthy anymore to thrive.

For a larger-scale vermicomposting needs a starter package or inoculum like growing mushrooms or making beers and wines instead of the worms only. The inoculum package contains adult worms, juveniles (babies) worms, cocoons (compounds eggs), beneficial soil microbes, and bedding (initial worm castings) to create a favorable condition for compost worms or red wigglers to grow and thrive in the new environment.

– Bintoro Gunadi

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