The threadlike, red creatures wriggle inside a plastic container creating a beautiful, unending pattern that interests the eyes.
James Wafula looks at the red worms keenly before blurting out, “They are now feeding and they will then excrete making a good natural fertiliser.”
The 53-year-old keeps the worms which he uses to make organic fertiliser that he sells to other farmers and uses on his farm. He also sells the worms.
It all started as part of his doctorate research on climate change and adaptation under the African Climate Leadership Programme sponsored by the International Development Research Centre at the University of Nairobi.
Along the way, he developed interest in farming the worms as the returns were encouraging.
“My research is based on the production and use of vermi-compost, the organic fertiliser made from the worms. I was interested in the project because it has the potential of making farmers use locally available materials to produce quality organic fertiliser.”
To start, Wafula made vermi-bedding (worm bedding) from crushed maize cobs, chopped banana stems, composted cow dung and shredded paper in the ratios of 1:2:4:0.5. He then placed the bedding inside plastic containers that he had cut into half.
The vermi-bedding, according to him, should have aeration with good moisture content of about 90 per cent.
He then bought 10kg of earthworms early last year from a farmer in Nairobi at Sh2,500 per kilo and started to rear them.
“Earthworms can feed on any organic waste, including that from kitchen. They dislike meat, oily substances, fried foodstuff, and citrus fruits, among others. But anything else can be chopped and placed in the vermi-bedding to make the composting process faster,” he recounts.
It takes about a week for the red worms to consume the feeds and start to excrete worm castings, which makes the fertiliser.
The entire process takes about four months after which the earthworms would have excreted enough castings for harvest. One then replaces the vermi-bedding to start the process afresh.
“Once you start and you are enthusiastic about it, you will find that you keep on improving as the earthworms increase with time,” says the father of three.
MINIMISE USE OF CHEMICAL FERTILISERS
From each of his six vermi-beddings placed on metal racks, he harvests up to 8kg of fertiliser from the 3kg of worms.
He took a sample of the vermi-compost to the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) to test its nutrients and found that it has a pH of between 5-6, nitrates 2.5 per cent, phosphates 1.8-2.9 per cent and potassium 1.4-2 per cent. Other notable nutrients include iron, magnesium, manganese and calcium.
“Testing helps one know how beneficial the worms will be to particular crops,” says Wafula, a former Ministry of Energy employee.
Three farmers in the neighbourhood have embraced the farming known as vermiculture and bought some earthworms from him at Sh2,500 per kilo.
Worm compost, according to him, can minimise the use of chemical fertilisers, whose excessive use is harmful to the environment, wildlife and human beings.
“People are now getting concerned with what they are consuming and they are moving away from the use of chemical fertilisers to organic farming. Organic fertilisers are the way to go,” he offers, adding he uses the fertiliser on his spinach.
Dr Keziah Magiroi, a soil scientist at the Food Crops Research Institute of the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro), Kitale, says vermi-composting involves converting organic waste using specific species of earthworms.
“Red worms are the most preferred in making the compost since they have a high appetite, thus, are able to feed on large compost bins. They also breed very quickly and that means that they are able to multiply very first so that they can work on organic waste,” she offers.
She notes that the organic waste that can be used in vermi-composting is what families generate in kitchens and on the farms.
“If a farmer has good amount of compost, they can produce up to five to 10 tonnes of vermi-compost per year. The farmer can be able to use the vermi-compost for different purposes such as foliar feed for what is called vermity or vermi-compost tea. The resulting compost can also be used in the gardens like the normal compost farmyard manure and it can further be used as a soil conditioner,” she explains.
Once applied on the soil, the compost increases the number of micro-organisms present.
“The fertiliser increases the level of carbon in the soil. Most of the soils have little organic matter and the use of the technology is highly recommended to improve the amount of organic matter in the soils,” she says.
She notes that most of the time nutrients in vermi-compost is not enough to meet all the crop needs unless one is engaging in horticulture farming alone.
“So it is always good to integrate with other fertilisers, including chemical ones if growing crops like maize unless the farmer wants to go fully organic.”