Use earthworms to improve soil fertility

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Compost making is important in any organic farm. Farmers can improve the quality of the compost they make using earthworms which help produce high quality compost that has more nutrients than ordinary compost to nourish crops and enable them to grow well.

The process of using earthworms to make compost is called vermicomposting.

Special earthworms called red wigglers or African night crawlers are used in the composting process. Earthworms enrich the soil by speeding up decomposition of organic matter. As earthworms eat and digest plant material they mix organic and mineral soil particles. The organic matter is enriched and then passed out of the worm’s body in the form of casts, which are the richest and finest quality of humus. In this way, they help build and maintain the soil structure. Their casts contain nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Earthworms also improve drainage and prevent soil erosion and water logging.

Farmers can use earthworms to make high quality organic fertilizer that can be used to grow any crop and cut the cost of buying organic and chemical fertilizers.
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For vermicomposting, the earthworms convert the nutrients in the soil into plant available form. As they deposit their castings, their mucous is deposited into the soil. It helps to slow the release of nutrients and prevents them from being washed away with the first watering. Earthworm manure or casts are richer in minerals than the soil in which the earthworms work to breakdown their organic matter.

An earthworm produces casts equal to its own weight in a day. In open fields, earthworms improve the soil structure and aeration. They also help control nematodes by up to 60 per cent, therefore reducing their damage to crops. Red earthworms compared to others are most commonly used in vermicomposting as they can feed and convert organic matter into compost faster than other earthworms. They also adapt to new environment much faster.

How to prepare earthworm compost pit

Step 1: Prepare the worm bedding and add water to make it moist
Step 2: Add covering materials on top of the sand and ballast in the worm bin and introduce the earthworms.
Step 3: Add food waste and
other organic material as earthworm feed.
Step 4: After about 3 months earthworm compost is ready for use.

1. Get a 200-litre plastic drum or wooden trays. Cut it lengthwise into two halves and place it under a shade. On one end of the drum put a ½ inch drainage pipe.

2. Put a layer of ballast at the bottom of the drum but leave about 1½ feet or enough space at the top for your compost material. Put a liner (sack) for filtration purposes. Add a thin layer of sand on top of the ballast.

3. Place a layer of organic matter such as potato peelings, vegetable remains, grasses, crop residue and other composting remains on top of the grass layer. You can add any material that can break down easily like fruit and vegetable peels to ensure the earthworms have enough organic matter to feed on. Sprinkle some farmyard manure on the pile.

4. Apply some water on the compost to make it moist, not wet. Use a sisal gunny sack or banana leaves to cover the material because the earthworms do not like light. Get 3-4kg of red earthworms and introduce (put) into the waste material. It is possible to get worm juice after 1 month; and compost after 3 to 6 months, farmers can harvest worms casts (high quality earthworm compost). If you have more organic material for composting and you want to increase your compost, pile the material in a polyethylene sheet. Put material for compost and introduce the earthworms. The compost will be ready after about 3 months although this depends on the temperature of the area and size of the pit.

Farmers get training and buy earthworms from JKUAT Enterprises Ltd Tel 0722 728 815, 067 524 20, Juja Nairobi.

Farmer uses earthworms to make fertilizer

Martha Kihara, a Nairobi city resident was concerned about the quality of vegetables she was buying from grocers. She suspected they were grown using chemicals that have negative effect on human health. So she started growing her own vegetables using pots in her house in South B Estate.

Over a year ago, Martha bought a ½ acre plot in Garden estate, where she continued growing vegetables such as amaranth, kales (sukumawiki) spinach, and spring onions and spices for her own use. Since she wanted natural fertilizer for her vegetables, she decided to make organic fertilizer using earthworms. To do it successfully, she did a lot of research on earthworms composting from the internet and individual farmers who were already doing it.

Today, Ms Kihara makes earthworm compost and even worm juice in her vermiculture shed which she uses in the garden. The surplus is sold to farmers who collect it in jerricans and use it in their kitchen gardens as foliar feed. She has teamed up with 17 organic farmers in other parts of Nairobi to form the Innovative Organic Group of Farms, which intends to produce various organic products for sale in the local market outlets in Nairobi. The group will also train other farmers on organic farming, marketing and the benefits of vermicomposting.

Her group also intends to help other farmers put up their own earthworm composting sheds. Martha also plans to do integrated farming whereby fish from a fish pond she is preparing will be fed with algae grown using the vermicompost and worm juice.

Martha Kihara sells earthworms and trains farmers interested in vermicomposting. Interested farmers can call her on Tel. 0737 640 143


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