What is Vermiponics?
Vermiponics is a combination of two techniques, “Hydroponics or Aquaponics” and “Vermiculture or Vermicomposting.” It involves the utilization of diluted worm tea (water run through the worm poop), which is a nutrient-rich material as the source of nutrients for growing plants. The difference between aquaculture and vermiponics is that the vermiponics technique utilizes vermicompost as a nutrient source instead of using fish waste as they do in aquaponics.
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Vermiponic Garden Establishment
A vermiponic garden is a great idea for anyone who doesn’t have the space or the soil quality to grow a conventional vegetable garden. By creating a somewhat closed system of water circulation and worm composting, we can create a system that can grow vegetables for the family, regardless of local rainfall, soil fertility, and water restrictions.
Most folks who hear the term worm tea get a bit turned off at first, but once they realize the growth potential and environmental benefits of this system, they understand the value.
There isn’t much information out there about creating your own vermiponics setup, so we will do our best to get you the essential information you need to get started. The beauty of a system like this is that it doesn’t need to be built in any particular way; you can use whatever resources you can get your hands on, as long as they serve their purpose.
The Advantages of Vermiponics
- Use yard and kitchen waste to create nutrients for your vegetable garden.
- The water used in the system is recycled over and over again.
- As long as you don’t add anything weird to your compost, the” worm tea” will be organic.
- The system is contained, so it can function almost anywhere that it can get sun.
- The system is contained, so it won’t make a big mess and can sit in a driveway or on a patio.
- The system can help collect rainwater to be even more efficient.
- The worm tea is very rich and beneficial for plant health and growth.
- The entire system can be run on solar energy if you would like.
- The system can be built using salvaged parts if you are clever and creative.
The Basic Concept
- One tank up high – Water from the bottom tank (worm tea) is slowly pumped into this upper tank. When the tank fills, a bell siphon is used to draw the nutritious water from this tank and sprinkle it on the mid-level tank.
- One tank down low – This bottom tank collects and holds the worm tea (mix of water and worm poop). A small pump in this tank (can be solar if you like) slowly pumps the tea into the top tank to fill it.
- Middle tank or tanks – There are three ways to approach the middle. You can use one tank with a perforated bottom, fill it with compost and worms, and plant right into it. When the water from the upper tank gets sprinkled on this tank, it will drain through and fall back into the bottom tank. Or, you can use two or three middle tanks. In addition to the compost and plant tank, an upper middle tank with gravel or some other fast-draining material that you plant into and a lower-middle that holds only compost and worms.
The one middle tank setup is the quick and dirty approach which may not be ideal. With this approach, compost, worms, and plants are in the same tank, so adding and stirring compost will be tricky when it is full of plants.
The two or three middle tank setups separate the plants from the worms and compost, making it easier to manage the vermicomposting activities without disturbing the plants.
This entire system is very experimental, so if you are going to attempt this, you should do so with the understanding that it will take a bit of trial and error before you get it right.
- Having the tanks stacked makes it easy to have water draining from one tank to the next using gravity and very little plumbing but makes tending the plants and compost more difficult as stacked tanks are hard to work with.
- Having each tank separate will take up more room and require more elaborate plumbing but will make planting, harvesting, and working the compost much more manageable.
- Realize that any time that you have plumbing fittings entering and leaving tanks, you have the potential for leaks.
- Consider placing the upper tank somewhere where it can collect rainwater to lessen the need to fill the tank.
- This system can also be built without the upper tank and simply have a pump on a timer to move water from the lower tank to sprinkle the middle tanks. The use of the upper tank allows for constant slow pumping, simplifying the system (maybe).
- Different plants will want different growing mediums. While lettuce will do well in gravel washed in water, other plants such as vine crops might need some soil to grow in.
- Make sure that the middle tanks have excellent drainage on the bottom. Usually, washed stone covered by a geosynthetic cloth will do.
- Understand that with any water flow system, composting, and plants, it will take some time to get the correct water flow and media for the system to work correctly.
- Pipe sizing, perforation sizing, siphon construction, media type, tank size, and plant type will all vary depending on your individual needs and wants.
- The material added to the compost tank will determine the nutrients in the worm tea, so be sure to add a wide variety of compostable materials and make sure that they are all organic.
- It is always beneficial to aerate water, so adding a small aerating diffuser to the bottom tank will help to keep the water healthy.
- Adding goldfish to the bottom tank can help keep the water healthy and alleviate any concerns about mosquitoes.
Building a Vermiponic System
1: Material required for Vermiponic garden establishment:
- Tanks – These can be any sort of tank, barrel, IBC(intermediate bulk) containers, storage bins, or any other kind of vessel that you can get your hands on. You are the designer and the builder, so feel free to use whatever you think will suit your needs the best.
- Growing medium – This can be plain compost or any smooth gravel, husks, clay balls, perlite, coco coir, etc.
- Pump – The pump should be small and submersible. The size of this pump will depend significantly on the size of your system. More water flow will require a bigger pump. It can be 110 volts, but running it on solar might be more earth-friendly.
- Fittings – These are usually either plastic or PVC. Choose fittings that match the rest of your materials. Mixing different plastics, etc., will often result in leaks.
- Piping – pick what is easiest to work with for you. Many people choose PVC for its rigidity and ease of coupling, while others select poly for the ability to curve and flex.
- Fabric – This must allow water to pass readily and should not decompose. It will be used above the drainage stone to keep the soil separate. Geosynthetics are typically chosen for their economy and longevity.
- Drainage stone – You will need this on the bottom of the middle tanks to make sure that water flows freely out of the bottom of the tank. Typically a few inches of 1″ washed stone will work. Without the stone, the perforations on the bottom of the middle tanks will get plugged with soil, and the tanks will stop draining.
I will not give you specific building instructions but rather some basic diagrams to illustrate the concepts. The exact layout and design will be dictated by your abilities, the availability of materials, and your project’s scale. I would recommend getting the system working before planting to ensure the health of the plants.
The five-tank stacked vermiponics system – This system will work well once the proper water flow is established.
The four-tank stacked vermiponics system – This one is just a bit more simple, removing the lower plant tank; otherwise, all of the same concepts apply. You can simplify it further by planting directly into the worm and compost tank, turning it into a three-tank system.
The four-tank horizontal vermiponics system – This is the same concept, just spread out horizontally to make it easier to work with each tank. This will simply take more structure and plumbing.
The three tank and trough vermiponics system – This system works just like traditional hydroponics where the worm tea is run through planting troughs. These work well for leafy plants like lettuce.
Benefits of Vermiponics
- Enhanced Plant Growth and Development – Earthworms partially digest the organic matter and excrete that partially digested food without absorbing its nutrients. That is the secret behind the nutrient status of worm castings. Vermiwash or worm tea is composed of micronutrients (Ndegwa and Thompson, 2000), Cellulose and Amylase, Vitamins, Phosphate (Das et al., 2014; Tripathi et al., 2005), and decomposer bacteria involved in growth, solubilization of minerals, soil buffering, and pathogen control respectively. That should about cover it!
- Easy to Maintain and Grow – Worms are easy to keep alive compared to fish. They can withstand wide changes in alkalinity and acidity, reproduce rapidly, and have a longer life span than fish. Earthworms, specifically red wigglers, tolerate extreme summer and winter temperatures, while fish cannot withstand such large temperature fluctuations. Earthworms have an average life span of 7-10 years, so one investment in worms can mean a whole lot of worm poop. This system will take care of itself for years to come.
- Sustainable Gardening Practice – Growing vegetables sustainably can benefit people of all lifestyles and help our earth at the same time. Imagine all of the additional plants and healthy people we would have if this idea caught on and became popular. Aquaponics is an expensive investment and more challenging to manage, while hydroponics usually relies on the purchase of synthetic fertilizers, which are much less earth-friendly than worm poop. Neither of these can hold a candle to vermiponics.
- Organic Food Supply – From preparation to harvest, everything is natural. Vermiponics is a sustainable source of food production that utilizes earthworms to convert waste into nutrient-rich fertilizer. People usually confuse Vermiponics with vermicomposting. Vermicomposting is a natural organic compost prepared by feeding the earthworms upon organic waste, whereas, Vermiponics is the production of plants by utilizing the worm tea as a source of nutrients.
- Waste/Pollution Control – According to the EPA statistics, an average American produces almost 4.40 pounds of solid waste per day, and that is a lot! If every 4 out of 10 persons started utilizing at least some of their waste in a Vermiponics system, we could sure grow a lot of yummy vegetables.
- Vermiponics is Economical – You have to make an initial investment and get food at home for the next ten years with minimal to no effort. Singh, R. P., Singh, P., Araujo, A. S., Ibrahim, M. H., & Sulaiman, O. (2011)
- Suppression of Soil Diseases – Earthworm castings are antibiotic containing several phenolic compounds that are very useful against soil pathogens and insect pests. They establish a symbiotic relationship with the soil microbes, producing plant growth hormones and suppressing plant rot diseases. For example, Fusarium fungi are damage-causing pathogens of all winter vegetables, cereals, etc. and earthworms are suitable in controlling Fusarium infection (Hendrix, P. F., & Bohlen, P. J. (2002)
- No Watering or Weeding – Compared to your conventional vegetable garden that takes hours of weeding and many gallons of water to maintain, this system practically takes care of itself. Even if you have a vast tract of land, you may still be interested in vermiponics for these two reasons alone.
Creating a vermiponics system that suits your lifestyle isn’t necessarily an easy or straightforward endeavor, but it certainly has the potential to pay big dividends over time. Keep in mind that we are trying to get the best that nature has to offer in a small space. We need to take care to ensure the plants and worms in our system stay healthy. Circulating too much or too little water through your system can undoubtedly influence the health of both. It is up to you to take the time to experiment with different variations until you find the proper balance. Start small and grow the system as your comfort and knowledge grow.
Question: what is the difference between Aquaponics and Vermiponics?
Answer: Aquaponics is the production of plants by utilizing the farmed fish or other aquatic animal waste (nutrient-rich) as a nutrient source for the plants. While in Vermiponics, worm castings or worm tea (and not fish waste) is utilized by the plants as a source of nutrients for their growth and development.
Question: Why prefer Vermiponics over Aquaponics?
Answer: Vermiponics has many advantages over aquaponics. For example, earthworms are tolerant to wide temperature fluctuations; hence, they are easy to keep alive. They have a life span of more than eight years, while fish are challenging to raise and maintain. Worm castings are wholesome food for the plants, while fish waste is not a complete plant food.
Question: Which species of earthworms are suitable for Vermiponics?
Answer: The following 4 are the most commonly used earthworm species by gardeners and Vermiculturists:
- Red Wiggler (Eisenia fetida)
- European Night-Crawler (Eisenia hortensis)
- African Night-Crawler (Eudrilus eugeniae)
- Blue-worms (Perionyx excavates)
Question: How do you practice Vermiponics?
Answer: Vermiponics is not difficult to establish and maintain, and it just needs a few types of equipment, e.g., containers, soil, compost, and most importantly, “earthworms.” You can seek help from the above article to establish and maintain your very own vermiponics system.
Gudeta, K., Julka, J. M., Kumar, A., Bhagat, A., & Kumari, A. (2021). Vermiwash: An agent of disease and pest control in soil, a review. Heliyon, 7(3), e06434.
Roy, R., Singh, S. K., Chauhan, L. K. S., Das, M., Tripathi, A., & Dwivedi, P. D. (2014). Zinc oxide nanoparticles induce apoptosis by enhancement of autophagy via PI3K/Akt/mTOR inhibition. Toxicology letters, 227(1), 29-40.
Singh, R. P., Singh, P., Araujo, A. S., Ibrahim, M. H., & Sulaiman, O. (2011). Management of urban solid waste: Vermicomposting a sustainable option. Resources, conservation and recycling, 55(7), 719-729.
Hendrix, P. F., & Bohlen, P. J. (2002). Exotic earthworm invasions in North America: ecological and policy implications: expanding global commerce may be increasing the likelihood of exotic earthworm invasions, which could have negative implications for soil processes, other animal and plant species, and importation of certain pathogens. Bioscience, 52(9), 801-811.