Friends with Great Benefits

The work of the humble earthworm is not possible without the hands of many friends! 

Whether you are actively composting or you are just allowing your materials to rot in that special pile somewhere in your backyard, the presence of these moldy, and sometimes spore-like structures might have caught your attention. Their role in the decomposition process is undoubtedly very important.

Organic matter is naturally complex and this complexity cannot be fully unraveled alone by the earthworm, given its lack of teeth or similar functioning appendages.

The rate of organic matter degradation is also dependent in part, on the type and amount of cellulose and lignin which comprise the material. In layman terms the Carbon: Nitrogen ratio.

Saprophytic organisms thrive on dead and decaying organic matter (where would the world be without them?) by solubilizing complex organic compounds into simple sugars, amino acids and nutrients. They ( bacteria and fungi) offer that extra hand which the earthworms need to initiate the decomposition process.

Microorganisms, though small, express themselves in a variety of distinct ways.

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These microbes are able to induce decomposition at the cellular level however without the intervention of macro-organisms to fragment these organic materials decomposition would have been slower. Therefore fragmenting increases the contact surface for microbes and the rate of decomposition.

The grazing activity of earthworms also perpetuates the presence of these beneficial organisms as they are ingested and redeposited throughout the soil or compost via their castings.

All of these beneficial interactions contribute to a healthier soil environment. Furthermore, good soil management practices such as organic mulching will encourage a rich diversity of micro and macro-organisms; whereas bad soil management practices, such as land burning will interfere with these natural processes.

In our subsequent articles, we will take a closer look at how farmers can maintain and promote a mutually beneficial relationship with the soil environment.

 

We believe in holistic students

 

Meet Teacher Carina

The ability to produce holistic students is what most schools dream of, however, achieving this reality requires action. Waiting for that grand opportunity to get started often amounts to naught because they very rarely present themselves.

Holy Faith Convent Couva recently introduced Agriculture to its curriculum with the goal of producing a more versatile individual. Convincing the students to adopt this new subject area, however, will require the support of people who believe in it. That’s where teacher Carina comes in!

While Agriculture is not her field she understands its value and has decided to show her support by getting involved and encouraging the students to adopt the subject. She supports the vision of the school of developing holistic students.

We are able to sell all of our produce right here on the compound and the nearby supermarkets are willing to take whatever we have,” these are the sentiments of teacher Carina.

But what if she could grow her produce organically? What if her students could have the opportunity to learn about sustainable farming and reduce wastage?

What if those students could see waste as an unexplored opportunity?

What if there’s an opportunity to help create future farmers?

Well, that’s where we come in! Holy Faith Convent has embraced vermicomposting and it is our mission to help answer these burning questions as we continue to help secure food producers for the future.

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Meet Brent!

Meet Brent!

A firm believer in agriculture! An innovator and also a teacher at Tabaquite RC.

The level of agriculture displayed at this primary school is commendable. The students are exposed to a variety of livestock, crops and agricultural techniques which set the tone for a technology-based agriculture program. The addition of vermicomposting has further diversified and expanded the technological experience for the students.

All of this lovely work is maintained by Mr. Bent and his loyal ‘Future Farmers’! He is continually in search of new ideas to optimize his operations and reduce the cost of production. His ability to recreate and tweak ideas that he often finds online saves time and money.

Enjoy the slide show which highlights ongoing work at the school.

Empowering More Future Farmers

Empowering More Future Farmers

We are currently expanding the number of schools that we have introduced to the practice of worm farming. Our core mission is to raise future farmers with a greater appreciation for human health and the environment.

People are becoming more conscious of what they eat today and this naturally creates a demand for healthier food. Likewise, bad agricultural practices stemming from poor soil management and over dependence on synthetic agrochemicals can over time erode the natural ability of the environment to sustain itself.

Vermicomposting can reverse this by returning valuable nutrients and organic matter to rejuvenate and revitalize our soil. Furthermore, we believe our future farmers can help us challenge the issue of poor organic waste management which is plaguing this beautiful paradise. Through a variety of educational activities, we will increase their awareness in order to make more informed decisions about waste disposal at home and school.

During the rest of the year, we will be constantly updating our page with the progress of future farmers of the various schools we are working with.

We are now taking this opportunity to introduce you to the students of Brasso RC Primary School and their teacher Mr. Dave Marcus, a very enthusiastic group with a teacher who believes that everyone must eat! He ensures that it’s a positive learning experience by teaching his group how to do things the right way. Their agro-plot is beautifully laid out and has a variety of fruits and vegetables. It’s more than just growing food for this club as they also sell their produce to raise needed funds.

Our Brasso Future Farmers are not shy to worms at all! They could not wait to get their hands wormy! Enjoy the slide show which is a synopsis of our visit to the school.

Just in case you might be wondering where this place is located? Well, the school is in Brasso which is a small village nestled in the central area of Trinidad. It is on the way to Tabaquite if you are passing through Chaguanas or Gran Couva, along the Brasso Caparo Valley Road.

If you would like to adopt a school in your area then feel free get in touch with us and we’ll work with you.

Applications are invited for suitably qualified earthworms.

Applications are invited for suitably qualified earthworms.

 

What makes a good composting worm?

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In one of our earlier articles about “all earthworms not being created equal”, we highlighted the role of epigeic type earthworms and their importance in managing high volumes of organic waste. Without them, our health and the environment would have been under serious threat.

Occasionally, however, we are often asked by the general public “why can’t I just use the earthworms in my backyard?” We would like to take this opportunity to share some knowledge on the ideal composting worm.  As we indicated earlier epigeic earthworms are preferred for vermicomposting because of their habitat and diet preference. However, not all epigeic species are a qualified for vermicomposting. Suitably qualified earthworms should, therefore, possess the following characteristics:

1. The selected earthworm should be able to survive the vermicomposting environment. This is a controlled environment which is mainly characterized by high levels of organic matter. The suitable applicant should, therefore, be able to acclimatize very quickly to slight variations in humidity,  temperature, salinity, and pH.

2. The selected earthworm must be able to efficiently bio-convert varying types of organic wastes. Candidates will be exposed to a wide variety of waste streams and are therefore expected to recycle these wastes in the shortest time possible, producing a finished product that is environmentally safe.

3. The selected earthworm must also display adaptive survival strategies such as rapid breeding without the use of any artificial enhancing stimulants. The success and growth of the vermicomposting system are solely reliant on the rapid development of successive generations. It is therefore imperative that the suitable applicant is able to reproduce exponentially. Please note that more rooms will be built to mitigate overcrowding. Applicants who display a slow-growth and low waste-conversion rate will not be considered.

4. The suitable applicant should also demonstrate a high resistance to pests and pathogens that would tend to affect earthworms.

5. The selected earthworm must be culturable, the behavioral traits of selected applicants in response to handling by hand or any form of mechanization is also very important. The selected earthworm should, therefore, allow for easy sorting and separation of worms from castings. Earthworms are also expected to remain at their place of work at all times as mass departures could be an indication of unfitness for the job.

Please be mindful that, it is based on the aforementioned characteristics that three known epigeic species (Eisenia fetida, Perionyx excavatus, and Eudrilus eugeniae) have been reported as most suitable for vermicomposting. 

 

M. Martin 

Can an industry be built on farming worms?

It has been a month since the UWI Tech-Agri Expo and admittedly it has had a positive impact on business for us at the worm farm. The demand for vermicompost, compost tea, and soil amendments has tripled. There has also been a sharp increase in demand for earthworms as well as numerous requests for the next date for our beginner’s course. Furthermore, many of our past students have felt a sense of motivation after seeing worm farming being promoted as a viable agribusiness.

There was also a general sense of curiosity amongst many of our visitors as it relates to the practicality of this ‘worm farming thing’.

It is understandable why many may have some doubt as there is a general lack of knowledge on the practice locally. Moreover, we have also met persons who have tried and yielded minimal success. It also seems like a dirty, yucky job to many.

The deep underlying question is will this survive? Is this another boom and bust type of business? Can you really build an industry on worm farming?

Worm farming is not novel!

It has been in practice for at least 50 years. Thanks to the pioneers who promoted it during the booming years of the ‘green revolution’. Worm Farming and its by-products are very popular in the developed world. Countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia and the UK have some of the most commercialized worm farms in the industry. Some of these popular farms are Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm USA, Worm Composting Canada, M&B Williams UK and The Worm Shed Australia. Several developing countries such as the Philippines and certain parts of India are also deeply involved in this practice. It is also important to mention that Cuba is considered a leader in Research and Development (R&D) in the vermicomposting industry.

 Worm farming – a linkage industry.

 An effective R&D program has earned Cuba its global status as a model for earthworm farming. Despite its economic constraints, Cuba was able to implement a national policy that would engage every household and other stakeholders who generate organic waste to recycle and reuse. Vermicomposting was no longer a hobby but rather an effective tool to sustainably manage organic waste. Worm Castings were now a value-added product for sale. This also created opportunities for middlemen (agro garden-shops) to earn their share of the market as they increased its accessibility on the local market to home gardeners and organic farmers. The earthworms derived also created a new opportunity as there was a need for protein in the livestock industry. Earthworm flour was then created to combine with local feed-rations. This well-structured and scientific approach created a solid foundation for the upward growth of the worm farming industry. This also attracted foreign revenue as several other countries consulted with Cuba to implement a similar program.

In other countries such as the USA, the enormous demand on the industry has led to specialized production systems which focused only on culturing earthworms in order to supply vermicomposting farms, fish and chicken farmers, pet shops and similar interests. Some businesses have also evolved to supply earthworm eggs in a clay capsule to be used as an inoculum for soil and new compost systems.

Research into the pharmaceutical importance of earthworms is also further dissecting the industry as preliminary studies are indicating that certain human health challenges could be addressed using extracts derived from earthworms.

While this is not an exhaustive description of the diversity of the industry, it is important to note the pivotal role  R&D played in strengthening and sustaining the future of worm farming.

Prospects for the Caribbean community (CARICOM)

Agricultural diversification and sustainable agriculture are two terms which have gained political popularity within CARICOM, however, the exact method of implementation is still unclear. Nevertheless, their implications are quite realistic. We see worm farming as a tool that will practically demonstrate its ability to create new entrepreneurs with diverse interests. It will also simultaneously address the issue of sustainable farming as it closes the loop in most farming operations by creating a zero waste system.

The UWI is leading the way in research by identifying suitable local species for earthworm farming in Trinidad and Tobago. Meanwhile, we are also leading the way in developing the industry through education, training and developing suitable value-added products for the agri-sector. The Caribbean community is at a key advantage position where it could learn from the challenges faced by developing countries and therefore take more informed decisions to facilitate growth.

 The green impact of worm farming on our local economies will attract special funding from non-governmental sources to local farmers. The growing interest in organic farming will be strengthened with vermicompost as a reliable source of organic fertilizer.

 If we appreciate the history of the industry, then we will accept its growth and success. It is, therefore, the responsibility of our innovative entrepreneurs to evaluate the two primary products (earthworms and vermicompost) and decide what’s next?

M. Martin

Happy Earth Day!

We join the rest of the world in celebrating Earth Day. The value of our precious environment should never be compromised for the benefit of Man. More and more we are realizing the need for harmonizing our actions with the natural systems that exist around us. At Boissierre Worm Farm our love for the earth is enshrined in or Motto “Our Earth Gives Your Soil Worth

 

All earthworms are not created equal

All earthworms are not the same! Really? Yes really! 🙂 I often find myself clarifying this notion during my encounters with different people but don’t worry, I once held the same view.

There are currently over 3600 species of earthworms reported and they also vary in colour and size. These are further subdivided based on their distribution in the soil profile and how they feed. Epigeic earthworms live in the uppermost 5-10 cm of the soil surface and are considered as phytophagous because they feed primarily on decaying organic matter. They are typically found in areas with high organic matter deposits and good soil cover. They are usually dark pigmented and sensitive to light and touch. They are not considered as the burrowing type because they have minimal direct influence on soil structure. Epigeic earthworms are however highly suitable for vermicomposting.  Endogeic earthworms live beneath the soil surface in lateral burrows as deep as 30-40 cm and a are considered as geophagous because they primarily thrive on humus rich soil.  They play an important role in detoxing the soil of contaminants and excreting pH balanced soil which helps improve soil fertility. Anecic earthworms live in vertical burrows which go deep (90cm) into the soil profile. They consume both soil and organic matter and are therefore regarded as geo-phytophagous. Their feeding behavior greatly contributes to soil fertility as they continuously pull organic matter to lower soil horizons. Some studies have mentioned their use in the field of vermicomposting, however, the most suitable are epigeic. It is important to note however that not all epigeics are suitable for vermicomposting. I guess you may be asking, “Which ones are the best for vermicomposting?” Well, look out for our subsequent article which will characterize these worms.

M. Martin

OASATT Embraces Worm Farming

Worm farming opens the door to many possibilities. Two immediate products derived are earthworms and vermicompost. Earthworms can be used as fishing bait, fish food, chicken food or it can be processed into a powder as a source of livestock protein (value-added). Vermicompost can be used as a soil amendment and an organic fertilizer. It could also be used for making a liquid plant supplement commonly known as compost tea. This is a great way to start if you are thinking organic food production.

This concept has been embraced by a group of farmers who have something in common, organic farming. OASATT, the Organic Agriculture Stakeholders Association of Trinidad and Tobago are involved in a variety of production activities such as livestock production, bee keeping, herb and vegetable production and composting. They all share the view that foods can be produced without the use of synthetic agricultural inputs. Is that really possible? Can we really grow food without synthetic inputs? Well OASATT believes that if you are serious about your health and the environment, then you should start working with nature.

A key ecosystem service of earthworms in our environment is that of organic waste recycling. The concept of vermicomposting is based on this fundamental service. Our vermiculture course at Boissierre Greens Earthworm Farm has pushed OASATT one step closer to sustainable farming. They will soon be able to transform their crop and livestock waste into vermicompost, which is a natural source of essential plant nutrients, growth regulating compounds and beneficial microbes. They will also have earthworms for protein and to help maintain their soils. Lastly, they will have our support in becoming successful worm farmers 😉

 

M. Martin

 

 

 

…Perfect for the home gardener!

Home gardening tips and tricks are in no short supply these days. Whether you are doing a simple google search for ‘how to grow vegetables successfully’ or you visit the garden shop for a packet of seeds and you end up leaving with a variety of stuff (soil mix, soil treatment, plant booster and fertilizer) and so much advice that you wish you had a notebook! Then you are ready to plant but the odour of the soil treatment causes you to ponder on that advice your friend gave you the other day “…you are what you eat”. We must understand that agro-shops are businesses and increased sales is good business for them.  The main challenge, however, is  the variety of inputs you need to achieve a healthy growing plant. It  is very difficult to find any product out there that would supply an all-in-one effect to your garden.

Vermicompost, however, seems to be just perfect for the home gardener. Vermicompost is essentially recycled organic waste, derived through the actions of earthworms and beneficial microbes. Through this symbiotic relationship between these organisms, essential plant nutrients, plant growth regulating compounds and beneficial microorganisms are returned to your soil. Vermicompost also has the ability to inhibit the effect of certain soil-borne pathogens that are commonly associated with root rot and dieback. Vermicompost when used as a foliar drench, supplies soluble nutrients and help retard certain pests and diseases that often affect plant foliage. As a home gardener you have total control over the quality of your vermicompost and how you dispose of your organic waste, therefore your trips to the garden-shop may be fewer and more specific. If you are considering growing your food organically then vermicomposting is one of your best options. It is important to note that compost richness  is dependent on what you put in.

If you are not religiously organic but still want to use vermicompost, then your nutrient application rates should be reduced. Vermicompost is also an excellent source of organic matter for your soil. Organic matter improves water and nutrient retention, soil structure and porosity. It is also a rich source of food for soil microbes. Vermicompost can be easily incorporated into your potting mixtures or even your garden beds. It is highly effective at low concentrations, thereby allowing it to be very ‘elastic’ economically speaking.

In the cover photo, we have on display a few commonly consumed crops that we have grown using vermicompost and vermicompost tea. These plants responded very positively and what is most notable is that the only additional agro-input used was Epsom salt for improved magnesium and sulphur.

 

M. Martin

 

 

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