Vermiculture systems

Hi Everyone!

Stacy here from ECHO’s Global Publications and Research department. I’m interested in learning more from you all about effective vermiculture systems. If you have a vermiculture system, would you mind sharing a bit about how your vermiculture system works and the pros and cons of it? Please consider sharing details such as:

  • worm housing structure
  • what do you primarily feed the worms?
  • common troubleshooting (too wet, not wet enough, alternative insects getting in)
  • do you catch and use leachate? If yes, how do you use it?

ECHO staff have seen many different innovative designs from farmers and from NGOs but we rarely receive feedback about how effective these designs are. We would like to have a better idea of what to share with folks who are looking for a design that fits their context.


I apologize for throwing a wet blanket on your question and it is a legitimate question. But when it comes to the human flourishing issue I am compelled to respond in a way that discourages the practice. I have traveled to a lot of places and seen a number of vermicomposting systems and I am still trying to figure out why people use vermiculture systems. I have never yet seen a system that increases the income of farmers relative to other activities that are of higher profit margin. I try to discourage the practice not because it is bad but just because there is always something better to do with your time since it brings a very low return on time invested. So this is a challenge to others to present a vermicomposting system that is the highest income opportunity (relative to other activities) and I will correct my opinion and change what I advise and that might help Stacy also when people accept that challenge. There are a number of low margin of return activities such as making biochar or setting up aquaponics and vermicomposting is one of them. My opinion is that there are other ways to maximize the blessing to the world that are more worthy of time investment. Occasionally there may be someone who can make a market of worm sales so I am not discounting that objective if you can do it competitively.

Hi Stacy, I am happy to share our experience with vermiculture here at our indigenous boarding high school on Occidental Mindoro, Philippines. Our school is located on very rough terrain which was badly abused by illegal logging, frequent burning and resultant erosion. The soil had a PH of 3 to 4.2. We have two distinct seasons, very dry and very wet. The soil was hard like cement in dry season and muddy in wet season. In addition, due to erosion and frequent indiscriminate burnings, the soil where we have our garden was very rocky. In addition to manually removing the rocks, we carbonized rice hulls and incorporated them into the garden. We built a simple 4m X 3m “house” out of hollow blocks with half walls and a metal roof. We did not cement the floor, but divided the floor space into two sections, with a narrow walk way between.We did line the bottom with black plastic. We purchased 5kg of worms from another organic farmer for about $25. We placed our organic waste from our garden in one half of the space, added dry cow and water buffalo dung and kept it moist. During this time, we added organic material, including banana stalk to the other half of the floor space. When the worms have consumed the organic material, we remove and separate the beautiful planting soil quality material by hand and
transfer the worms into the the other “pit”.
Please note we do not look at our vermiculture as a profit making venture, but rather a teaching tool for our students how they can help their undernourished people on very poor soil.
In addition, we also use. our organic material in a digester to make and cook on methane gas. for the past year we have not had to purchase LPG, saving our school $1,500. In addition, both our vermiculture and our digester demonstrate how with our minds and muscles we can improve our lives, lower our living expenses and improve our gardens.
Please note, I am not an agriculture specialist, but a retired person teaching indigenous people how to help themselves practically while educating students from illiterate, marginalized native families.
Hopefully, this has helped you. God bless. JimWebb
P.S. We did one time have to contend with destructive ants, who would eat the worms.

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Hi Stacy,

We model a couple different styles in Southern Mindanao. We have demo-ed bamboo box structures resting on the ground, small raised wooden boxes with a welded wire and net screen system, and extensive cement block systems under our goat houses.

The primacy of bamboo as an appropriate method makes village demonstration valuable, and approachable. These are filled once and then harvested on a set schedule. These produce vermicompost, but we loose nutrition during rain, worms can migrate, and rebuilding boxes takes away from other work events. Moving where vermicompost is created with on-ground bamboo boxes perhaps/likely would benefit an orchard over time.

However, for our production purposes, as vermi-compost is our farm fertilizer and part of some program supplies, our block systems are the most viable. These are raised, with a welded wire and screen layer, then filled with goat manure, chopped banana stalk, worm stock, and occasional stick/leaf/peelings. We do fill a series of boxes primarily with water hyacinth, as that is a current plant in our fish ponds we remove intermittently.

To harvest vermicompost, we remove and reserve the worm stock, and sift the product much like sand is sifted for making cement. The fine finished product is stored in a covered barn, and what lumpy material remains is returned to another vermi-box along with the removed worm stock. We have three boxes, 1 meter by 20 meters long each. These are harvested on a rotating basis to maintain constant production.These boxes form a downhill border under our goat barns. The block structure of these boxes doesn’t rot, so is advantageous to our staff from a work perspective. What we teach in community village extension is bamboo, rice sack, or banana trunk sides with a sack bottom layer. The demo of block boxes helps expand thinking if a village chairman or religious leader wanted to catalyze a village level project.

The elevated screen layer does allow some finished product to fall, but we do not actively harvest this in a continual basis the way some continued input/harvest systems work. This could be augmented with a shaking or prodding mechanism.

We do capture leached liquid with a buried drum in the runoff channel, but this does not compromise a significant resource on our farm. We have used it as a foliar fertilizer in the past, but the impact was not observable enough for our staff to continue. Us revisiting this and conducting a trial with control over a year would be beneficial.

We loosely cover the worm boxes with a raised roof, and manually water depending on current weather conditions. We do not deal with overwhelming ant interference.

We remove any grubs during the worm stock removal.

We find a lot of value in our vermiboxes. It is our sole fertility source outside of mulch/cover cropping, and turns waste product of banana stalk and goat manure into a valuable resource. The finished product is “clean” culturally, so has more value than both banana stalk and goat manure individually. These resources on their own have lowered frequency of usage. Our worms have added value in other ways; starter stock for other farmers/programs we run, additional feed for our chickens, and fish bait if needed pre-harvest. Our current boxes have been in constant production for 10 years, and is seen as a community resource. What we do sell, currently, is often for nursery purposes, either for their own seedling production or larger commercial scale.

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Hi Jim,

Thank you for sharing about your system and the benefits and tradeoffs you have seen from it. Do you have a semi-permeable wall to contain the worms but keep flies out? Or are the half-walls just half the height of the enclosure and the upper half is open to air?

Hi Joel,

Thank you so much for sharing! It seems like you have fine-tuned the system to fit what works for the larger farm needs and inputs. How far off the ground do you raise the production block systems under the goat barn? Do you find that you have to either add water or dry out the bedding material over time? I could see worm castings as a great nursery potting mix option! That makes a lot of sense.
Interesting to note your foliar fertilizer experience - I haven’t ever applied it personally as a foliar spray in the past.

Hi Stacy,

The latter. The upper half of the walls is open air, but there is a roof above. We have not had a fly problem. We use dry dung and our garden organic material to feed the worms. We do notice that if we do not feed dry dung occasionally, the worm population decreases and also the physical size of the worms. The vermicast is especially helpful for our starter plants and trees in our nursery, but we also incorporate it into our garden. Hope this helps.

God bless, Jim

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Hi Stacy,

I can probably save myself a thousand words by adding some pictures? I’ll revisit this by Friday.

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That would be fantastic, Joel if you don’t mind!

The above is a link to several photos in a google album.

Re how far off the ground, it’s two courses of block, but it’s more for airflow and convenience. If people were taller it could be three courses, etc.

Re irrigate, we water manually IFF it hasn’t been very rainy (no blowing rain) and depending on the state of the material. At initial adding of banana trunk, no extra water is needed, etc. we use these hoses with nail pinpricks in them, but a watering can or sprayer would work fine. We want moist, but not soggy. Moist, but not crumbly. We stop irrigating preharvest so the product sifts better.

Hope that helps!

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Two links which might be useful:

  • Worminar - Nicole Masters - lots of useful info in here, especially the question of leachate. Essentially she describes it as vegetable juices from more bacterial-dominant foods, not a particularly amazing liquid, better to prioritise the solid vermicasts. If fed a more fibrous/woody diet e.g. adding cardboard, you won’t get the leachate, and it will have a different microbial profile, more fungal.

The other link is Francisco Niembro who does really large scale systems in Mexico (100+ tonnes of organic matter processed daily for industrial systems!!). His method uses a biodigester to heat and break up the organic matter prior to feeding it to the worms.

Other thoughts:

  • the home backyard ‘bath’ idea is not ideal in terms of harvesting. A stacked bin system makes harvesting easier, otherwise a windrow or commercial raised ‘flow-through’ system. Depends on your scale.
  • In terms of kitchen scraps, feed them only enough that they can digest it all in 3 days otherwise you get issues with mold and maggots etc. Aged manure, cardboards etc are more forgiving in this regard, so it only really applies to kitchen scraps.
  • They don’t like being exposed to the light, so a lid is essential, but make sure there’s some airflow.
  • Most vegetable wastes are ok to feed them, barring excessive onions and citrus, which irritate their skin.
  • don’t worry about other small insects too much. If in doubt keep it on the wetter side, they don’t like to dry out, and dry systems lead to termites etc moving in.
  • there are many types of earthworms, try to get ones which are surface-dwellers, rather than deep soil-mixers etc. Worms from your lawn won’t do as well as worms that arrive by themselves into your system. Maybe ask for a handful from others who are doing vermicompost.
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