1 September 2009

Tonight we talk with master composter and vermiculturist Ward Habriel. He’ll introduce us to the whys and hows of using worms to improve your soil. We also speak to Jenny Marr of the Chico State Friends of the Herbarium, which is co-sponsoring a workshop with Ward Habriel.

Global News on Worm Composting

From ORGANIC (Ltd), a non-profit organisation, promoting organic and sustainable agriculture in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland and the United Kingdom.  Michael Cheang has written “Wriggly Wonder – Culture of the Good Worm”:

Most people will squirm at the sight of worms, but one scientist thinks nothing about grabbing a handful of the wriggling creatures. She is on a crusade to clear the bad reputation of worms.  It is easy to locate Dr Hasnah Md Jais’ office in the vast campus of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in Penang. Just ask for the […] (worm) lady and most USM staffers will point you in the right direction.  Since 2000, the associate professor has researched into vermiculture, which is the process of using earthworms to convert organic waste into fertiliser.

Malaysians are projected to discard nine million tonnes of waste annually by 2010. Waste disposal and clean-ups will cost more too, in future. Some common disposal methods are landfills, incinerators and composting.  Since almost 65% of our waste is organic stuff, Hasnah believes vermiculture (which is a type of composting method) can be an option – one which produces a valuable product, organic fertiliser. She says vermiculture allows consumers to treat their organic waste at source, thus reducing their reliance on other waste disposal methods.

Only 2% of Malaysians compost their waste. So Hasnah [Md Jais]’s goal is to expand the use of vermiculture. ”I hope Malaysians will be more aware of their own waste and treat it at source, because all the materials they need can be obtained from the soil.” For the public’s convenience, she plans to sell a worm-composting bin, together with a supply of worms. With these, people will have the means to manage their own organic waste at home.

Read more at http://organic.com.au/

From the website “Sustainability Matters,” on Aug 20, 2008 is this report that “Vermiculture key to reducing greenhouse emissions”:

Researcher Dr Rajiv Sinha said vermiculture had potential to combat climate change by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases that plague current landfill waste management programs.  “Methane and nitrous oxides from landfills are several times worse than CO2 as greenhouse gases,” said Dr Sinha. Dr Sinha has spent the past 25 years in India and now in Australia studying vermiculture practices worldwide.  He is now working to encourage governments, policy makers and landowners in Australia to adopt vermiculture on a commercial scale following the success of his trials in India where it has also enhanced the life of farmers.

Two studies in vermiculture published this year in The Environmentalist found worms were also useful in sewage treatment, or ‘vermifiltration’.

Worms reduced the biological oxygen demand loads by over 90% and total solids by 90–95%.  [In] an innovative study made at Griffith University [in Australia] researchers learned]:  “There is no ‘sludge formation’ which is a biohazard, unlike conventional sewage treatment plants which need landfill disposal at high cost.”

A second study supported the efficiency of worms at removing heavy metals, pesticides and organic micropollutants from soil, a technique know as vermiremediation.

“This has significance in Australia as large tracts of arable land are being chemically contaminated due to mining activities, heavy use of agro-chemicals and landfill disposal of toxic substances,” Dr Sinha said. He is currently studying the potential of greenhouse gas emissions from various composting systems with Dr Andrew Chan in a project done by Honours student Richard Middleditch. He is also studying the growth promoting values of earthworms and their vermicompost over conventional compost and chemical fertilisers.

From “The Standard” in Hong Kong, Jennifer Lai’s July 2008 article has written about how vermiculture is valuable for dealing with horse manure.

A sustainable waste management company is awaiting permission from the Town Planning Board to conduct vermiculture in an agricultural area. Since last year, Sunburst Biotechnology has been carrying out earthworm vermicomposting – the process of breaking down horse manure or other stable waste to produce organic fertilizer.  Sunburst had worked with the Hong Kong Jockey Club to recycle stable waste during the Good Luck Beijing HKSAR 10th Anniversary Cup – a prelude to the Olympic equestrian events – last August.  Sunburst director Tse Chi-kai said they have been in touch with the government since April this year, with the government asking them to submit a proposal for land-use rights at their Yuen Long plant. Asked whether their operation was under fire over land usage, Tse said they wanted the government to clarify whether vermiculture is in line with agricultural land use.


Our Questions for Jenny Marr of the Chico State Friends of the Herbarium.

  • Tell us about the workshops you are co-sponosring with the new Gateway Science Museum.
  • We’ll be talking with one of your workshop presenters, master composter Ward Habriel in just a few minutes. Would you like to tell us anything about what to expect in his workshop.
  • And how can people learn more about the workshops or sign up for one?

Our Questions for Ward Habriel

  • So could you start by telling us just what vermiculture is?
  • What does vermiculture do for your soil? In what ways is vermiculture superior to other forms of composting?
  • Who can or should use vermiculture? How big a structure do you need for a small garden? For a small farm? (We’ll talk more specifically about how the bins are built and maintained a bit later in the show.)
  • What sorts of worms do you use and where do you get them?
  • How widespread is the use of vermiculture? Does it have a long history of use?
  • How did you get started as a composter and a vermiculturist?
  • How does this whole process work? What do you put into the worm bins? What do you take out?
  • How do you keep it thriving and healthy? How might things go wrong?
  • What advice do you have for someone who wants to get started in vermiculture?

Can you tell us a little more about the workshop you’re doing on September 19 for the Chico State Herbarium and the Gateway Science Museum?

Playlist for Squirmy Ecotopia #48

1. Waiting for the Worms    3:58    Pink Floyd     The Wall

2. Worms       1:03    The Pogues     If I Should Fall from Grace With God

3. Worms       2:05    Stanley Schwartz    Looking for the Perfect Bagel

4. Worms 7:23          Dino O’Dell & the Veloci-Rappers Dino O’Dell & the Veloci-Rappers

5. Worms       4:07    Yeasayer      All Hour Cymbals

6. Garden Song        5:34    MaMuse         All The Way

7. Weave Me the Sunshine           4:28    Peter, Paul And Mary      The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

8. Nature’s Way        2:40    Spirit           Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus