Organic farming: Learn more about earthworms

Two experts – Carmen Nottingham and earthworm farmer Ingo Vennemann – answer questions about earthworms.

What kind of farming is suitable for keeping earthworms?
Nottingham: Fruit, vegetable, maize, herb and flower farming. Even livestock farmers could start composting; they have a great deal of manure at their disposal and this could be used as a resource to fertilise fields or paddocks.

How soon could I expect to see improvement in the soil after adding vermi-compost, -tea or -leachate to the soil?
Nottingham: It is difficult to go back to natural farming if you don’t have living soil. If you’re using chemicals, chances are that the soil will be depleted. Nature and earthworm farming don’t offer instant solutions to this problem.

It is initially more important to start healing the soil by making your own compost. Worm bins – first on a small scale – can provide the liquid ‘tea’. Even if you still rely on chemical inputs, start by applying compost and use earthworm castings as a fertiliser.

Is this approach more cost-effective than conventional inputs?
Nottingham: Cost all the inputs used in producing a crop – herbicide, pesticide, fungicide and fertiliser.

Compare these costs with the cost of buying vermi-castings. You may need a repeat application, depending on the soil condition.

You can first buy vermi-compost and apply homemade compost and mulch to the soil. Use funds made available for chemical inputs to buy worm castings and start regenerating the soil.

Many farmers have good results. A nut farmer who tried one of our products now buys it every year. His nut trees are performing well and have darker leaves.

Earthworm castings will make plants stronger and less susceptible to disease –insects are attracted mainly to weakened plants.

Can you feed earthworms to fish such as Koi?
Nottingham: Earthworms are a good nutritious food for many fish species and there are people who breed earthworms for fish food.

Vennemann: Earthworms cannot be fed to koi, which are actually mutated carp and predominantly herbivores. They don’t have the correct digestive capacity for metabolising earthworms as a sole or even a major content of their diet. Trout are predators and earthworms can be used for feeding them.

Also read:
How to test soil life and health
Earthworm tea gives soil life a kickstart
Learn about earthworms

  • This article was written by Wilma den Hartigh and first appeared in Farming SA.

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