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Vermicomposting is a bio-oxidative, non-thermophilic process in which earthworms and soil microbes are employed to decompose the organic waste to yield the biofertilizer named vermicompost. Vermicomposting is a non-zero, non-toxic, eco-friendly, and sustainable source of organic fertilizers. Okay, so I don’t know about you, but I am no scientist, and that sounds really complex. I will try to simplify this concept a bit in the following article.

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What is Vermicompost?

Earthworms eat the organic matter, partially digest it and egest it in the form of small, round balls called worm castings. These worm castings are further decomposed by the soil microbes converting them into the product named vermicompost. A well-prepared Vermicompost possesses soil reclamation, fertility enhancement, plant growth, protection from diseases, insect pests, nematodes, and agricultural sustainability characteristics. (Chaoui, Edwards, Brickner, Lee, & Arancon, 2002).

Put simply; the earthworms are breaking down and improving our soils. This is an entirely natural process that is happening all day, every day, whether we know it or not. Vermicomposting is simply us humans putting the worms into our compost to help speed up the process.

What is Needed to Vermicompost?

Composting, in general, is a very natural process that happens all around us without our help, but we can use it to help create better soils and as a way to keep yard waste in our yard and out of landfills.

Any type of composting requires the following:

  • Green organic material – Grass clippings, live tree leaves, flower trimmings, manure, food scraps, etc. Anything that contains a bunch of nitrogen and will break down over time.
  • Brown organic material – Twigs, dead leaves, mulch, cardboard, paper, etc. Anything that contains a bunch of carbon but very little nitrogen.

Mixing these two materials together and turning them every so often is the basis of composting. Even if we do nothing, the above-listed materials will turn into dirt eventually. Getting the amounts of each type of matter in the correct proportions and having them in the right environment will determine how quickly the composting process happens.

What else does composting require?

The actual process of breaking down these materials into nutrient-rich soils is accomplished by many different types of macro and microorganisms that are at work tirelessly maintaining our earth. Exactly which of these are in your compost is not important; what is important is that you treat them well and give them an environment that they can thrive in.

Macro-organisms such as worms, beetles, centipedes, and any other creepy crawlies work in conjunction with the microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and other tiny things we can’t see.

To make our composting as efficient as possible will take some experimenting and practice on our part. We need the correct levels of the brown and green materials and the proper oxygen, water, and heat levels.

If our compost is too dry or too wet, too hot or too cold, it will not compost as efficiently as it could. Also, if there is not enough air getting into our compost pile, it will not decompose as efficiently as it could.

This is where the experimentation comes in. We need to experiment in our yard to figure out what we can do to encourage this efficient decomposition process. Each environment will be a bit different; there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

One thing that we can do that will definitely increase the speed at which our compost is breaking down is to add more worms. Their only job is to eat through our pile of compost and poop out their casting. This process will speed up any composting operation, but we need to be nice to the worms.

Large scale Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting is successfully practiced in Canada, Japan, Italy, India, the US, and the Philippines at a commercial scale for farming, compost tea making (this isn’t the kind of tea that you are thinking about), and export purposes.

Two methods are currently being used for the commercial production of vermicompost:

  • The Windrow Method – The worms and compost are piled into long and tall windrows, which are periodically turned to improve the composting process. Specially designed windrow turning machines are used to manufacture vermicompost. This system is cost-efficient and easy to maintain for farmers to manage animal manure at the farm or for large-scape compost manufacturers. While this method is considered large-scale, it can be accomplished at home, given you have a bit of land and a strong back.
  • The Raised Bed or Flow-Through system: The earthworms are introduced from the top of the bed, eat the litter, continuously burrow the waste layers and reach the bottom where they are harvested to reuse. This system is indoor, therefore, preferred in cooler climates. This is a nicely contained way to compost that just about anyone can accomplish with a bit of ingenuity.

Small Scale Vermicomposting – Container Method

Small scale vermicomposting is well-suited to best utilize the kitchen waste, lawn waste (grass clippings, pruned stems, fallen leaves, etc.), newspaper, wooden pieces, and any kind of waste that the tiny soldiers can decompose. The example below uses a small bin which helps to keep the entire process neatly contained.

Red Wigglers and associated symbiotic microbes such as Rhizobium, Azospirillum, Clostridium, etc., are the best combos for small-scale vermicomposting.

How to Prepare Vermicompost at Home?

  1. Select a Suitable Worm Bin: You can reuse any old container such as a drawer, fish tank, bucket, drum, etc. It must not contain any hazardous materials that may harm the worms. Depending on your home and your ambition, starting in the 10-gallon size might be good.
  2. Prepare the Bedding: Earthworms like to live on strips of newspapers to provide air, water, and food, just as the soil provides all these to plants. Add 2-3 handfuls of rich garden soil to your container. This will contain soil microbes and create a favorable environment for the worms.
  3. Add the Worms: Some folks who have this down to a science weigh out their worms to determine precisely how many worms are needed to compost how much material. Weighing out your worms also helps when it comes time to harvest them at the end of the process.
  4. Add the Worm Food: Add your compost blend to the container and keep an eye on it to ensure that the worms have enough to eat. Typically, Red Wigglers caneat three times their weight in a week.
  5. Aerate the bin Periodically: This process needs air to work. Make sure that your container doesn’t get too wet, and turn over the compost every so often to increase airflow and efficiency. This step is why many people use the commercially available composting bins, which allow you to crank a handle to turn the bin.
  6. Harvesting the Worms or Compost: Once your compost is mostly all broken down with no large pieces of uncomposted material and the remaining soil is rich and black, you can either pull out all of the worms to use again in another bin, or you can scoop out the soil, being careful not to hurt the worms,  and start a new batch of compost. By leaving some of the existing compost and the worms, it will be easy to get a new batch started. The average life span of an earthworm is 5-7 years, so you can easily get rid of a whole lot of waste and create a whole lot of rich soil in that amount of time.

Small Scale Vermicomposting – Ground Method

Above, we talked about the very small-scale process of vermicomposting in a container. If you have more space and more waste, you will likely want to try this on a larger scale.

Vermicomposting can be done almost anywhere as long as your environment is conducive to the process. In the more extreme regions, this gets more challenging.

Remember, we are not only composting anymore, but we are also keeping live animals, so we need to care for them and the process.

If your area is very dry, you may need to add moisture to your compost to get the worms to thrive and the composting process to work.

If you are in a very wet area, you may need to vermicompost on a high spot and protect the pile from rain.

If you are in a very hot location, the compost pile might need a bit of shade,

If you are in the colder regions where the ground freezes, you will struggle to keep your worms alive for the winter. Some people will bring a small-scale version of their vermicomposting operation into the basement for the winter. Other folks have had good luck keeping their vermicomposting in trenches dug into the ground or in big thick piles, which can retain heat in the center even when the outer crust is frozen.

In any event, once you have figured out the requirements of your area, you can begin your vermicomposting. In general, this will mean a pile or windrow of compost that gets turned regularly to increase oxygen levels and move some of the drier materials low and wet materials higher.

Having some organization to your method is important, as eventually, you will want to harvest the nutrition-rich soil. If you begin your pile in one area and then, over time, only add more compost to one side of the pile, the worms will tend to follow the food source. So, over time, the original pile will be all composted material ready to harvest, and the leading edge of the pile will be the actively composting side with the vast majority of the worms.

Suitable Species of Earthworms for Vermicomposting

Some earthworm species speed up the composting process and make your operation more efficient. The most commonly used earthworm species are:

  • Red Wiggler (Eisenia Andrei)
  • European Night-Crawlers (E. hortensis)
  • African Night-Crawlers (Eudrilus eugeniae)
  • Blue-worms (Perionyx excavates)

Advantages of Using Vermicompost

Restores Soil Fertility

  • Earthworms are often referred to as “Ecosystem Engineers” and “Nature’s Plowman.” They reduce soil erosion by binding the soil particles with their damp, mucus-containing particles. They can convert organic waste into useable compost much more rapidly than traditional composting.                              
  • Vermicompost is a partially decomposed product, i.e., the earthworms do not absorb all of the nutrients from the food they eat; instead, they egest the partially eaten food in the form of worm castings. This is useful because the nutrients are now available in the soil for our plants to absorb. Vermicompost prepared from food and animal manure is a rich source of all the macronutrients and micronutrients needed for plant growth.
  • When added to soil, vermicompost improves its buffering capacity, water, and nutrient holding capacity and aeration. It also enhances the soil pH through mineralization.
  • It improves the biological fertility of the soil. Mucus, secreted by the earthworm’s digestive system, speeds up the decomposition of organic matter and stimulates competition among the soil microbes to further perform decomposing, and the process continues.

Nutrient Status of Vermicompost:

  • Organic Carbon: 9.15 to 17.98 %
  • Total Nitrogen: 0.5 to 1.5 %
  • Available Phosphorus: 0.1 to 0.3 %
  • Available Potassium: 0.15 %
  • Available Sulphur: 128 to 548 ppm
  • Calcium and Magnesium: 22-70 mg/ 100g
  • Copper: 2-9.3 ppm
  • Zinc: 5.6-11.5 ppm

Control of Solid Waste/Biosolids:

  • Uncontrollable waste production is a serious challenge that every country is facing. An average family in the US creates almost 18 pounds of waste daily. This is 6570 pounds of waste annually! If we seriously want to control this mass waste production, Vermicomposting is the best way. The earthworms not only decompose almost every kind of waste (except solids like glass, plastic, etc.), but they also add long-lasting benefits to the soil.
  • Earthworms are capable of converting “Garbage into Gold.” Sewage sludge, biomedical waste, and biosolids could be managed and converted into Biofertilizers through vermicomposting. Earthworms surprisingly remove Salmonella spp. from 3MNP to <1 MNP/g and coliforms (39,000 MNP/g to 0 MNP/g) from the fecal matter.
  • Vermicomposting municipal waste with Lampoti Mauritii removes Escherichia coli and Salmonella spp. from the sludge, making it safe to use as an organic fertilizer. (Pathma & Sakthivel, 2012)

Control of Plant Diseases:

Healthy soil produces a healthy plant. Whenever soils or plants are deficient in a required substance, nutrient, or growth condition, this opens the door for disease. Earthworms release phenolic compounds that keep the pathogens and most of the insect pests away from the soil and even from the plants.

  • Vermicompost slowly releases the nutrients into the soil, balancing the amount of N-fixation, P, and K availability, keeping enough for the plant itself but not enough for pathogen regeneration.
  • Earthworms’ biochemical activities reduce the plant pathogens, especially Verticillium dahliae and Fusarium spp. These are responsible for most fungal diseases in food crops.
  • Earthworm’s presence decreases the root diseases of cereals and stimulates immunity in Grapes against the diseases caused by Rhizoctonia spp.
  • Vermicompost discourages the growth and attack of tomato fungus, i.e., F. oxysporum and P. nicotianae.
  • Potato and cabbage treated with a mixture of vermicompost and clay do not remain susceptible to P. infestans and P. brassicae, respectively.

Alternate Potting Material

Vermicompost has become a very popular potting material due to its all-in-one properties, containing everything required for optimum growth and development. It releases nutrients gradually, is porous, well-aerated, and possesses excellent water holding capacity. It can be used for indoor and outdoor pots, planters, and containers with garden soil or clay.

  • Significant suppression in the fungal disease Verticillium wilt in strawberries has been noticed by applying 10 t/ha food and 5 t/ha paper Vermicompost. {Chaoui, 2002 #357}
  • The addition of vermicompost during soil preparation has been noticed to enhance the growth, disease resistance, and nitrogen fixation in Cucumber and Tomatoes. {Gutiérrez-Miceli, 2007 #362}
  • The addition of vermicompost (5% and 10% v/v as soil amendment and three doses of 40 mL in drench after 14, 21, and 28 days of transplant) in spinach enhanced the leaf production, delayed senescence, improved the leaf succulence, carotenoid, protein production, and reduce flavonoid content in soil balanced the antioxidant capacity. {Xu, 2016 #359}
  •  Vermicompost addition at the rate of 20% during soil reparation enhanced the Ca and Mg concentration in leaf prompted flower production in Petunia Hybrid “Dream Neon Rose.” {Chamani, 2008 #363}


If there is one thing that I know about humans, it is that they typically won’t continue doing something if it isn’t in one way or another somewhat rewarding to them. If you are getting into vermicomposting, I commend you; this is an excellent step to helping balance the damage done by humans.

When you are planning out your vermicomposting operation, no matter how big or small, be sure that it is in some way rewarding to you and not overly challenging to do. It doesn’t need to be perfect; the breakdown of compost will occur any time that different materials are together outside in the dirt, whether we work at it or not.

Create your vermicomposting area so that it is easy and practically takes care of itself. This way, even if you don’t find the time to work it as often as you should, it will still function, and the worms will still be alive. In general, a larger operation is less susceptible to small changes, but on the other hand, a large operation might just be too overwhelming for you.

Build your vermicomposting operation to fit your personality and your lifestyle.

Q: What does Vermicompost mean?

A: Vermicompost means an organic product prepared by the earthworms by feeding upon the organic waste.

Q: Are worm castings organic?

A: Yes. Earthworms are provided with a controlled diet of organic substances. However, the readymade Vermicompost or worm castings may be organic or inorganic.

Q: Are worm castings or vermicompost safe to touch?

A: Unlike the chemical fertilizers, worm castings or vermicompost are non-flammable safe to touch, handle, and use. It is the safest soil supplement available in the market.

Q: Can I use too many worm castings or vermicompost at once?

A: No, unlike chemical fertilizers, you can’t add too much vermicompost to your garden. You can grow directly into the vermicompost since it is essentially just rich soil.

Q: What is the difference between worm castings and vermicompost?

A: Worm castings are the tiny round balls excreted by the earthworms, i.e., earthworm’s poops, while vermicompost is a decomposed organic fertilizer prepared by earthworms by feeding upon the organic matter. Castings are part of the vermicompost.

Q: Can I use Vermicompost on Flowers?

A: Of course, vermicompost is a nutrient-rich and safe product for growing any kind of plant.


Chaoui, H., Edwards, C., Brickner, A., Lee, S., & Arancon, N. (2002). Suppression of the plant diseases, Pythium (damping-off), Rhizoctonia (root rot), and Verticillium (wilt) by vermicomposts. Paper presented at the Brighton crop protection conference pests and diseases.

Pathma, J., & Sakthivel, N. (2012). Microbial diversity of vermicompost bacteria that exhibit useful agricultural traits and waste management potential. SpringerPlus, 1(1), 1-19.

Xu, C., & Mou, B. (2016). Vermicompost affects soil properties and spinach growth, physiology, and nutritional value. HortScience51(7), 847-855.

Gutiérrez-Miceli, F. A., Santiago-Borraz, J., Molina, J. A. M., Nafate, C. C., Abud-Archila, M., Llaven, M. A. O., … & Dendooven, L. (2007). Vermicompost as a soil supplement to improve growth, yield, and fruit quality of tomato (Lycopersicum esculentum). Bioresource Technology98(15), 2781-2786.

 Chamani, E., Joyce, D. C., & Reihanytabar, A. (2008). Vermicompost effects on the growth and flowering of Petunia hybrida’ Dream Neon Rose’. American-Eurasian Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences3(3), 506-512.