The Difference between Vermiculture and Vermicomposting

Vermiculture is the culture of earthworms. The goal is to continually increase the number of worms in order to obtain a sustainable harvest. The worms are either used to expand a vermicomposting operation or sold to customers who use them for the same or other purposes (see “On-Farm Vermiculture” later in this manual).

Vermicomposting is the process by which worms are used to convert organic materials (usually wastes) into a humus-like material known as vermicompost. The goal is to process the material as quickly and efficiently as possible.

These two processes are similar but different. If your goal is to produce vermicompost, you will want to have your maximum worm population density all of the time. If your goal is to produce worms, you will want to keep the population density low enough that reproductive rates are optimized. Both of these processes will be described in some detail in this manual.

The Compost Worm
There are an estimated 1800 species of earthworm worldwide (Edwards & Lofty, 1972). This manual will focus on just one. Eisenia fetida (Savigny) is commonly known as (partial list only): the “compost worm”, “manure worm”, “redworm”, and “red wiggler” (see Figure 1). This extremely tough and adaptable worm is indigenous to most parts of the world and can be found on most Canadian farms wherever piles of manure have been left to age for more than a few months.

Commercially raised worms are usually of the epigeic type. E. fetida is certainly not the only epigeic worm, but it is the one most often used for composting purposes in Northern climates. It can handle a wide temperature range (between 0 and 35o C) and can actually survive for some time almost completely encased in frozen organic material (as long as it can continue to take in nourishment). Its cocoons (eggs) have been shown to remain viable after having been frozen for several weeks. In addition, it can take a lot of handling and rough treatment. Perhaps most importantly, like most if not all litter-dwelling worms, the compost worm has the capacity for very rapid reproduction. This is an evolutionary necessity for a creature whose natural environment is extremely changeable and hazardous and whose natural supplies of food are of the “boom or bust” variety. All of these characteristics make E. fetida the natural choice for those who wish to do their vermicomposting outdoors, year-round, in climates with harsh winter conditions.
The Difference between Vermiculture and Vermicomposting

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