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Just what your garden needs– earthworms!

Earthworms, belonging to the phylum Annelida, are tubed-shaped segmented worms. They are found in soils throughout the world. These decomposers (organism that feeds on decomposing organic matter) have over 7,000 species dominating the earth. Earthworms are very beneficial to soil and should be encouraged into your garden.

They feed on plant debris and dead matter which breaks down to nitrogen in their casts (excretion from the earthworms), making it readily available to plants. When they die, their bodies decompose and add to improve the nutrient availability in soil.

With the extensive burrowing by earthworms, the soil is loosened and becomes aerated, improving drainage in the soil which promotes healthy root growth in plants.

Water holding capacity is also increased and research indicates that soils with a high earthworm presence are 70–80 per cent more productive and yields higher vegetation when compared to soils with a low presence of earthworms.

Due to the high importance of earthworms, vermiculture was introduced. Vermiculture is the controlled growing of worms for the process of vermicomposting (using the worms to decompose organic food waste and turn it into nutrient-rich material).

Vermiculture aims to produce organic fertiliser that will provide plants with all the nutrients needed for sustainable plant growth, reducing and eliminating the need for synthetic fertilisers.

Other benefits include significant improvement to the structure of soils and enhanced plant growth (deeper roots systems and tolerance to diseases and droughts). Vermiculture is simply nature’s effective method of recycling.

Other applications of vermicompost include its versatility as potting mix and its use in transplanting seedlings to ensure strong growth.

Vermicomposting can be done in your backyard or commercial scale.

In another article we will discuss a step by step guide to creating your own vermicomposting system.

Vermiculture essentials

To set up a vermicomposting system, you will need five main essentials:

  1. A hospitable living environment, usually called ‘bedding’ which can provide the earthworms with a stable habitat.

Good bedding materials include newspaper, horse manure, peat moss, paper and cardboard

  1. A food source such as cattle manure, rabbit manure, fresh food scraps or poultry manure
  2. Adequate moisture since the worms breathe through their skins and moisture content in the bedding of less than 50 per cent is dangerous. Except for extreme heat or cold, nothing will kill worms faster than a lack of adequate moisture
  3. Adequate aeration since the worms can die if oxygen deprived
  4. Protection from temperature extremes

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