Demonstrate and Apply Knowledge of Vermiculture

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The following resources and activities will be useful for people who have an interest in worm farming.

This unit is used in the following course

  • The National Certificate In Horticulture(Level 4)This industry-standard qualification includes a mix of theory and hands-on practical training and makes use of the productive nursery facilities, permaculture garden, Living Campus and the beautiful, internationally-acclaimed Dunedin Botanic Garden which nestles in the hills close to the Polytechnic grounds.


  • This course provides an introduction to vermiculture.People credited with this unit standard are able to: demonstrate knowledge of vermiculture; apply the principles of vermiculture and describe the use of products of vermiculture.

What will we be covering in this course?

  • Production of vermicast or worm compost using worms as digesters is described and will include the following information:digestion, lifecycle, establishment of a worm farm and suitable types of worms.
  • The feeding habits of worms and feed materials are identified and will include the following information:vertical feeding, preferred feed materials and feed materials to avoid.
  • The conditions for optimal worm activity are described and will include the following information on optimum:temperature, moisture, pH, physical environment.
  • Certification issues related to worm composting are described.
  • A worm farm(s) is maintained so that worm activity is sustained and will include information on the following: appropriate feeding, pH management, proper functioning of worm farm is checked and maintained and removal of excess liquid.
  • Finished casts are harvested according to organic standards and workplace procedures and will include information on how to harvest vermiculture products without causing inappropriate disturbance of worm farm.
  • The use of vermicast in the production of organic horticultural products is described and will include information on the following products:seed raising mix, liquid preparation and soil amendments.
  • The use and application of liquid vermicast is diluted to appropriate strength for foliar and fertigation uses.

Course Schedule 2017

Introduction to vermiculture

Session 1

To do

  1. Introductions and welcome.
  2. Assessments,attendance and practical class activities will contribute to a successful outcome for each student.
  3. Discussion topics and questions will help us understand the concepts being introduced each week.The worksheets for each session will be part of your assessment.
  4. What is vermiculture? Vermiculture is a big word that simply means "worm farming and its related products." The word is derived from Vermi meaning worm and culture.
  5. What is vermicast?Vermicast: (worm composting) involves the use of compost worms. They consume the bacteria fungi, nematodes and microarthropods growing in and on the organic matter.
  6. Earthworm quiz
  7. Worm farms may be purchased or home made.Let's have a look at the many different types of worm farms.
  8. We will go on a tour of the worm farms at Vermagrow/L block permaculture garden and Kim will explain how the food waste stream from the School of Hospitality works.
  9. Today you will be setting up a small stacking worm farm which will become your responsibility to monitor and care for until the end of the semester.
  10. With the guidance of information resources,materials and your tutor you will be creating an appropriate environment for your worms and learning about the following:

Establishment of a worm farm and suitable types of worms

We will be working with Eisenia fetida (older spelling: foetida), known under various common names such as redworm, brandling worm, panfish worm, trout worm, tiger worm, red wiggler worm, red californian earth worm.It is species of earthworm adapted to decaying organic material. These worms thrive in rotting vegetation, compost, and manure which makes them well suited for our worm farms.Earthworms have been classified by a variety of schemes, the most useful being those based on their behaviour and habitat. The classification of M. Bouche describes a worm species as occupying a level in the soil and indicates its feeding behaviour.

  • EPIGEIC (ep-i-jee-ik) types that live at the surface in freshly decaying plant or animal residues.
  • ENDOGEIC (en-do-jee-ik)types live within the soil and ingest soil to extract nutrition from degraded organic matter.
  • ANECIC(an-ee-sik) types burrow deep in the soil but come to the surface at night to forage for freshly decaying residues.

The conditions for optimal worm activity include

  • Light: Worms don't have eyes and are sensitive to light and move away from bright light if they can. If exposed to bright light for an hour your worms may become paralyzed dry out and die.Make a square of cardboard and dampen it with rain water and sit this on top of the bedding layer.
  • Temperature: The optimal temperature range is 55–77 degrees Fahrenheit (13–25 degrees Celsius). You can stretch those limits to 50–84 degrees Fahrenheit (10–29 degrees Celsius), but they may not process as much organic matter or reproduce as vigorously.They are better at tolerating cold than excessive heat.
  • Moisture: Worms must remain in a moist, humid environment at all times, or they will die. Worm bedding should be 60 to 85 percent moisture.Food scraps will provide some moiosture.Add nature's wine if you think the bedding layer does not equate to the moisture level of a moist sponge.
  • Breathing:Tiger worms need oxygen to maintain their bedding layer as an aerobic (with air), sweet-smelling system. Be careful not to allow bedding to become too wet or to add too much food at once, which may deplete oxygen levels.Aerate the bedding by gently fluffing it up and adding torn up paper or cardboard. Wear gloves or use a suitable tool to gently lift and turn.
  • pH levels: In nature, worms survive in a range of pH levels but in your system try to keep pH in the range of 6.8 to 7.2.
  • Feeding habits:Your worms can be fed once a day, every two or three days,once a week or you can even go on vacation for a month!Healthy worms can eat half their weight in food every day.Food that is preferred apples, pears, banana peels, strawberries, peaches and all melons, beans, cabbage, celery, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, all greens, corn, corncobs and squash oatmeal, pasta, rice, non–sugared breakfast cereals, corn meal, pancakes ,eggshells, tea bags,coffee filter paper, dead flowers,hair,vacuum cleaner dust,lint from clothes drier,leaves,cow manure... Use caution when adding:Breads — can attract red mites.Potato skins, onions, garlic, ginger — get consumed slowly and can cause odors.Coffee grounds — too many will make the bin acidic. Avoid feeding: meat, poultry, fish, dairy, oils and excess feeding of citrus which has a chemical substance (limonene) that is toxic to worms.Definite No–No's: Non–biodegradable materials that do not belong in your bin include plastic, rubber bands, sponges, aluminum foil, glass, and dog or cat feces.


  1. What kind of worm farm would best suit your living arrangements.Try to find an example of one you might purchase or perhaps you might build your own?

Session 2

To do

  1. Introductions and welcome.
  2. Worksheets,attendance and practical class activities will contribute to a successful outcome for each student.
  3. Our practical activity today will carry on from last week when you you were allocated a worm farm and worms and asked to create a suitable bedding mix for your worms and feed them just enough food to enhance their settling into their new environment.For the next six weeks you will need to maintain one of the worm farms allocated to you so that worm activity is sustained and will include the following: appropriate feeding, pH management, proper functioning of worm farm is checked and maintained and removal of excess liquid.You will note down information relating to the care of the worm farms which may include the pH of the bedding layer, periodic temperature checks, the amount of food the worms could consume and any problems you may have encountered while maintaining the worm farms.
  4. If time allows we will stake tomatoes,remove lateral growth and give them some space with a view of applying a vermicast tea to them weekly to see how /if the tea enhances or has any affect on their growth.
  5. Your first worksheet will be handed out today and handed in before you leave class today.
  6. You will be able to answer the questions by reading notes from last week and handouts that accompany your worksheet or use your preferred method of investigation.
  • Eisenia fetida, known under various common names, including red worms, brandling worms, tiger worms and red wiggler worms, are a species of earthworm adapted to decaying organic material and is the worm we tend to use for our composting systems at Otago Polytechnic. What are two facts about this worm that you find interesting? (Please read hand out on interesting facts about worms or research using your preferred method of investigation).
  • What are the little white worms that have appeared in our larger stacking worm farms and what do they eat?
  • List five things that worms do not prefer to eat.
  • List five things that worms prefer to eat.
  • What are the optimum conditions for a stacking worm farm? Please include temperature, moisture levels, food requirements and pH of the bedding layer.
  • A minimum of 250 grams of worms is recommended to get your stacking worm farm operating. If one quarter of a kilo of worms = 1,000 worms then how many worms will you have if you have purchased 1 kilogram of worms?
  • Worms are far more tolerant of cold than heat. TRUE FALSE

Session 3 and 4

To do

  1. Welcome and attendance
  2. Today we will be making a compost tea using five hundred grams of vermicast as our base compost. The tea recipe was developed by Ray Annan from Biology at Work.Ray spent twenty years developing the recipe that we use on the edible and ornamental gardens in Otago Polytechnic's Living Campus. We also mix up brews that have a compost base that have a large wood chip component as one of the ingredients so this encourages a lot of fungi to be present in the compost as well as when it is used in a tea. This makes it ideal for applications to all of our trees on campus.
  3. We are going to set up three sets of aqua pots and compare the growth of tomatoes using Maxi Gro,Thrive and your compost tea.
  4. Between rain down pours we will then re vitalize some Nikau palms that are planted on the campus grounds. The palms are not well suited to the Dunedin climate or the spot they have been planted and are damaged by frost annually.We are going to use various applications of vermicast product to counter act the adverse conditions they survive in and watch them go from good to great.
  5. Finally you will be given some information about worm physiology and some questions to answer and hand in next week.
  6. Read this article Tea Time For Soil and answer the following questions after you have mixed up your brew.
  • Biology@Work is a small company run by Ray Annan based in Central Otago. The primary focus and mission statement of the company is to deliver biological options for horticulture and agriculture ventures. List 5 examples of the type of clients that Ray can service:
  • What were three issues that contributed to the decline of the plane trees in the Octagon?
  • “The use of fewer chemicals in our landscape is a win in anybody’s book”. List three examples from the ODT article where biological teas can reduce chemical/pesticide use:
  • What can you do in your home garden to improve soil biology and general fertility?
  • We are using a recipe for compost tea that took Ray more than 20 years to get right, what are the ingredients and what properties do they bring to the brew?
  • What do you find most interesting about the ODT article?

Session 5

To do

  1. Welcome and attendance
  2. This session is looking at the commercial potential for worm farming/vermiculture.
  3. Today we will start by listening to the RNZ programme called Country Life and specifically an interview with Robbie Dick from Central Wormworx.
  4. Central Wormworx is an example of a commercial worm farm which is a booming business for Robbie and Rosanna Dick.There’s never a shortage of food for the worms. As the seasons changes so does the menu for the worms. Wintering waste comes from dairy farms in Southland, while local growers supply hundreds of tonnes of apples, cherries, stone fruits, carrots and other surplus to requirement perishable goods that used to go into landfills.Twenty tonnes of tiger worms are housed in sixty metre rows that are covered in old carpets. They eat through 28 tonnes of food every ten days and every 30 days they double in number.“There’s about 2,000 varieties of worms but only seven are suitable for composting and the tiger worms seem to suit our conditions as they can take the warm and cold. But they won’t eat much if they are cold, so that’s why it pays to keep them as warm as possible over winter”.The waste is converted into castings manure, organic compost and a natural alternative to fertilisers. It is bagged onsite and sent all over the country. The worms themselves are sold to plumbers for composting toilets, people who are building their own worm farms and in much larger quantities to abattoirs for turning offal waste into compost.To show visitors the impact the castings manure has on the growth of everyday plants, Robbie has built a trial area the back of farm.“We’ve got ongoing trials with ryegrass with and without castings, swedes, the bulb of the swedes is three times bigger with the castings than without” he says with a big grin.
  5. Worms may be an environmentally-friendly solution to disposing of solid waste from dairy farms.Read this article- Worms may be answer to effluent that explains how this could be one of the ways we can help keep our waterways cleaner but still enjoy milk and the economic benefits that come with exporting dairy products.
  6. Please read your hand out -Running The Mob- and answer the questions attached.

Session 6

  1. Today we will start with a power point that will spark discussion about how much waste we produce and the damage we are doing to our soils.
  2. Our practical /hands on session will follow where we look at using vermicast and various concoctions using vermicast in order to compare them to commercial seed raising mixes.
  3. It is really important that you know the characteristics of a good seed raising mix because you are going to make your own recipe today.
  4. Please answer the following questions:
  • The human population did not reach 1 billion until the early nineteenth century, and it took more than 100 years to reach 2 billion. After that, the intervals between billions grew even shorter: we added the third billion in 33 years, the fourth in 14 years, the fifth in 13 years, and the sixth and seventh in 12 years each. Anyone alive today who was born by 1940 has seen our numbers triple. What is the projected population for 2099?
  • What are some of the environmental effects associated with meat production?
  • What is/was the green revolution?
  • How much phosphorus is lost to erosion and run off and what are some of the effects this run off?
  • What is a eutrophic body of water?
  • List three other areas of concern when it comes to using too much fertilizer?
  • List three advantages of using a seed raising mix that you have made from vermicast/ingredients you have harvested on site.
  • List three disadvantages of using a seed raising mix that you have made from vermicast/ingredients you have harvested on site.
  • List five characteristics of a good seed raising mix.
  • Create your own seed raising mix using media provided today and sow tomato seeds. Please record your recipe here and use some system to identify the recipe you have used when you label your seed containers.

Interesting Resources