Under our feet: The Earthworm


Firstly worms are classified as either epigeics, anecics or endogeics where;
Epigeics are agents of comminution and fragmentation of leaf litter and are phytophagous, not having an effect on the soil structure as they do not dig.
Anecics feed on leaf litter mixed with the soil of the upper horizons and are geophytophagous.
Endogeics live within the soil and drive nutrition from organically rich soil and are geophagous.

Of the three types of Earthworms the epigeics and anecics are utilized for worm farming. That is; contained, protected (from rain and rodents) and fed to produce rich castings (vermicompost) and urine (vermiwash) which are continually harvested. Earthworms that miss the shovel and evade the early bird live on average for 15 years.

Utilising Earthworms for composting
Earthworms derive nutrition from organic matter in the form of plant matter, living protozoa, rotifers, nematodes, bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms, as well as decomposing remains of small and large animals.
Most of their nutrition is derived from large amounts of soil that pass through their gut before ejecting rich castings. The earthworm ‘burrows’ through the soil by eating it’s way through the soil or pushing through crevices leaving these burrows cemented with mucous secretions and ejected castings, yes…ready for the organic plant.
Upon feeding contained worms there needs to be no acidic foods and in this, no meat added to the container. The indicative most popular vinegar fly indicates a level of acidity. The vermiculture needs to be always kept relatively moist and not wet.
A chemical analysis of ejected castings show two times as much available magnesium, five times as much available nitrogen, seven times as much available phosphorous and eleven times as much available potassium. Furthermore, the number of bacteria and actinomycetes in ingested material increased up to 1000 fold while passing through the gut of the earthworm and casts contain enzymes which help break down organic matter even after they are excreted.

Regeneration
Earthworms can regenerate their posterior or anterior segments of their bodies, the posterior part of mature worms and younger worms regenerating quicker. If too many segments are lost they will die.

Reproduction
Two mating individuals copulate and exchange sperm before laying cocoons that contain eggs with the number (3+) depending on the species. Cocoons are formed in the clitellum (the swollen ‘neck’ of the anterior segment that differs in size, shape and colour depending on the species) and thus indicates maturity of the ‘not so little’ worm.

Saha Astitvas utilization of worm farming
Initially we sewed together a piece of plastic (sourced from Mumbai) 2m x 3m into a rectangular container supported with bamboo stakes with an inserted tap (to drain the vermiwash) at one end. We choose a position under a remnant thorn tree which provided shade and relatively flat ground.
Lining the bottom of the container with a bedding of soil and hay we preceded to introduce the 1.5kg of worms bought from a not too distant farm. With a covering of newspaper and hessian we maintained the moisture in the compost everyday with a bucket or watering cans to keep it relatively moist and not wet.
As the worms proceeded to eat at work we had one infestation of red ants which we controlled with cashew oil and a hungry rat which we kept out by providing extensive covering. Continual feed and water heralded success when we came to harvest nearly the entire container full with vermicompost before the monsoonal rains.
As the clouds blessed the soil with rain time was short and the worms have found themselves in a split barrel placed together horizontally, covered with chicken wire and a plastic roofing (the plastic still allowing aeration).

I say a glass of organic existence to the worms!

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