Rearing red worms to generate organic fertilizer

Red worms

In a small village in Siaya County, a group of farmers have embraced a venture many who do not understand it, see as odd. Akonya Farmers Group embraced vermiculture ten months ago and are cashing in on it.

“We first learnt the importance of red worms after training by Welf hunger hilfe, a German NGO. This was a turning point for our agribusiness venture,” says Alex Omwanda, the group’s secretary.

Before this, members were still doing farming on a small scale and but were enriching their soils using traditionally decomposing manure. From the training, the farmers learnt vermiculture and its benefits. Vermiculture is the process of garden composting using worms.

Overtime, all organic material naturally goes through the process of decomposition but with vermiculture, the process is significantly hastened. The worms consume the decaying organic material and then flush it out of their system in what is referred to as ‘castings’ or ‘worm manure.’ These matter is nutrient-rich.

Mr Omwanda says the advantage of rearing earthworms (Eisenia Fetida) is that thousands of them can occupy only a tiny space.

One of the major lessons they picked from the training was the adverse effects of conventional fertilisers on soil fertility.

After equipping themselves with pre-requisite knowledge, members set out to put the theory into practice, taking up organic farming.

“We were given about a kilo of red worms and we set the ball rolling,” Omwanda tells Smart Harvest.

Vermiculture involves the use of a species of worms called red wiggler to feed on household or farm waste and convert it into an affordable fertiliser.

The advantage of rearing earthworms (Eisenia Fetida) is that thousands of them can occupy only a tiny space.

In urban areas, they convert into a valuable commodity waste that would end up in garbage heaps. A litre of foliar fertiliser from the worms sells at Sh100, while a 50kg bag of the dried compost (granules) retails at Sh2, 500.

A farmer can predetermine the content of the manure in terms of the nutritional value. If the worms are, for instance, fed on coffee pulp, the fertiliser they produce will be rich in phosphorus and potassium. Feeding them on egg shells will give an end product rich in calcium. Adding ordinary manure to the worms habitat increases the quality of manure. The worms are heavy feeders and the nutrient-rich fertiliser comes from their excretion.

“We advise farmers to do a mixture of the worm feeds to ensure that the end product has a variety of nutrients needed by the crops,” says Omwanda.

Omwanda says nearly all the organic waste generated from homesteads can provide a suitable medium for rearing red worms. Their habitat doubles as the food source and one has to keep replenishing the stock.

Food for red worms includes grains and cereals, all fruits apart from citrus, tea bags, bread, egg shells, vegetables and coffee pulp. He however advises worm farmers to avoid fats and oils, plastics, dairy products, meats and cigarette butts.
The worms can be kept in trenches, trays, raised benches, or perforated basins. Rearing worms does not require a piece of land. The trays or basins can be placed on a balcony or store, away from direct sunlight, he says.

“You must always ensure that the worms habitat is kept moist. A litre of water is put every week at the worm house, preferably a cup every day. But depending on the prevailing temperature, this amount can be increased slightly,” explains Omwanda.
The group says many farmers prefer the foliar fertiliser as it is easy to harvest and apply to crops directly.

“When water is applied to the benches or basin, it drips through the worms habitat carrying the liquidised waste matter. The darker the collected liquid, the higher the quality, explains Boniface Ochieng’, a member of the group.

Ochieng’ says the worms should be reared in a structure that makes it easy for the liquid fertiliser to be harvested. The fertiliser is odourless and does not cause any harm on human skin. Equally, it does not affect the crop even when applied in excess unlike chemical fertiliser.