Anna de la Vega is the Founder & Director of The Urban Worm CIC. Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travel Fellow and Panelist. Anna researched vermiculture in the USA & Cuba under the fellowship and has an academic background in food security and urban agriculture.
It is well known amongst farmers and gardeners that earthworms are an indicator of soil health, but their role in organic waste management is often overlooked, despite their vivacious appetites!
Worm farming is otherwise known as vermicomposting, with the vermi derived from the Latin for worm provides great promise for addressing both organic waste management and climate change. From a domestic point of view, having a worm farm at home can play a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gases (GHG). Methane and nitrous oxide are 31 and 310 times stronger than carbon dioxide, and they are both emitted from rotting food waste. Albeit not everyone has outdoor space to compost, worm farming is the solution, and can be practised on a very small scale, a mini worm farm will be very happy living under the kitchen sink.
The species used for worm farming are not deep burrowing garden worms (see the Anecic Worms on our Earthworm Ecology webpage), we use surface dwelling epigeic worms that thrive in rotting vegetation (see the Compost Worms on our Earthworm Ecology webpage), and can be found inhabiting your compost bin or in manure piles. In the UK the most common species used for worm farming is the Tiger worm (Eisenia fetida), which has been gifted the name because they are red and stripy. Tiger worms will happily consume up to half their body weight a day in organic waste if conditions are favourable and they reduce the volume by up to 90%. There are seven species of epigeic worms that are suitable for worm farming, with epigeic meaning above the earth in Greek.
The by product of worm farming (worm poop) is the most nutritionally dense fertiliser and compost in the world, teeming with beneficial microorganisms, nutrients and minerals essential for healthy plant growth and disease suppression. One tablespoon of worm poop will feed a plant for three months, slowing releasing the nutrients as and when the plant needs it.
Despite the practice of worm farming being underdeveloped as a method of organic waste management and fertiliser in the UK, it is being harnessed throughout the world from the USA to Cuba to India, and beyond. From managing organic waste in prisons to generating livelihoods for rural communities in India worm farming is gaining momentum and the humble but mighty earthworm is recognised for its potential for eliminating the need for waste to be send to landfill, and even more importantly for its potential to eliminate the need for harmful agricultural chemicals, which consequently kill earthworm populations in the soil.
Keeping a worm farm at home is a simple but powerful form of direct action, plus they are quite easily the lowest maintenance of pets. To keep your worms happy don’t feed them acidic and oily foods, and chop food waste up in tiny pieces, they only have very small mouths after all. In truth, worms are not actually eating your food waste, they are eating the microorganisms that are breaking down the waste, it is the tiniest of creatures that keep the world moving.
Worms & Peace
Except where otherwise indicated, this work was created by Anna de la Vega on behalf of the Earthworm Society of Britain and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Check out Anna's talk from the 2020 World Earhworm Day Super Composters UK Virtual MeetUp event.