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.

 

 

 

 

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