An Introduction

by Anna de la Vega

Worm farms in adapted bins in Nottingham, UK

Worm farming, otherwise known as vermiculture (vermis from the Latin for worm) is the process of harnessing earthworms to convert organic waste into the world’s most nutrient-rich fertiliser; worm manure. Worm manure – also worm castings or vermicompost – is teeming with minerals, nutrients and beneficial micro-organisms essential for healthy plant growth, root development and disease suppression. Due to the nutritional superiority of worm manure, farmers and gardeners often refer to it as ‘Black Gold’, with one tablespoon enough to feed a small plant for three months.

Among the 4000 known species of earthworm seven are suitable for use in worm farming, all belonging to the epigeic category. Epigeic earthworms are red in colour and are surface dwellers, thriving in fresh rotting organic waste. Throughout the world the most commonly employed species is the Tiger Worm, sometimes referred to as the Red Wiggler or Californian Red (Eisenia Fetida). Native to Europe, the Tiger Worm has exceptional adaptability and tolerance to a range of food sources, temperature variation (10—30°) and moisture content (60—90%). Possessing both male and female sexual organs their hermaphroditic biological nature enables earthworms to reproduce very quickly. The Tiger Worm in particular has the capacity to double its population every 60 days and consume up to half its body weight a day, making them exceptionally suitable for managing our organic waste. From food waste to cow manure, the Tiger Worm can culture and adapt to a range of sources of organic material.

A squirm of Nottingham worms

Exhausted farmland in Nottinghamshire

Why Worm Farm?

The reality of climate change, natural resource depletion and mass urbanization present unprecedented threats to global food security and the survival of humanity. Worm farming provides solutions to help us meet and address these challenges, as individuals, communities, institutions and businesses. The process particularly lends itself to the urban environment with small scale indoor, low tech and low cost systems. With 83 % of the UK living in cities an urban worm farming movement is essential for future food security and provides easy solutions for our kitchen waste.

Food waste emits the green house gases (GHG) methane and nitrous oxide that are 31 and 310 times stronger than carbon dioxide, respectively. On an individual and grassroots level, worm farming has the potential to reduce GHG emissions by significantly reducing the volume of food waste directed to landfill, and in turn alleviates the necessity for fossil fuel-powered collection vehicles.

Worm farming enables us to regenerate the earth, producing nutritionally rich fertiliser and compost from our waste to support the production of nutritionally rich food. With less than 40 years of topsoil left in the UK and less than 60 years globally we must act accordingly if we wish to thrive in the face of adversity and avoid mass famine. Worm farming offers the opportunity to rebuild the earth in our homes, within our communities and on our farms. The paradigm of industrial chemical-dependent agriculture has taken precedent over farming for more than a century, with disregard for the health and life of the soil and for those who work the land. Consequently the health of humanity and the earth has suffered beyond measure and we are now faced with feeding the world when our source of food production is diminishing rapidly. Investing in advanced agrotech is not the answer, investing in the earth, and the earthworm, is.