Happy worms for healthy crops

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October 11, 2013. A worm to some is a creepy, destructive creature that deserves to stick to its rightful place, be it on trees in the darkest part of forests or buried safely beneath the soil.

What many of us do not know is that some worms especially ones that burrow the ground not only twirl the soil which facilitates better roots penetration in the soil but their excrete also acts as very good organic fertilizer. And as long as they are happy with what they eat and the environment in which they thrive, one is assured of unlimited benefits through what is now commonly known as vermi-fertilizer.

And to put this into practical terms, Real Impact, a charitable NGO which is also the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) wing of Real IPM Company, has been offering trainings to farmers on how to produce organic fertilizer using ‘worm poo’ and organic matter in a bid to improve nutrition.

Real Impact headed by Harry Day and Charlotte Jordan, uses the red wormLumbricus Rebellus, usually found in decaying organic matter to make vermi-fertilizers. The fertilizers come in two forms- solid vermi-fertilizer and liquid vermi-fertilizer-, which are said to contain high levels of nutrients required by crops to flourish.

The solid vermi-fertilizer is made from worm feaces and since it is not compost but fertilizer, the amounts applied to the soil has to be controlled to prevent crop damage from fertilizer scorch. These worms feed on the soil surface taking debris and eating it. However, unlike earthworms this type of worm does not burrow into the soil making them very efficient at turning waste materials into fertilizer.

To produce this fertilizer one needs to dig a trench of about one metre deep by one wide and line it polythene material to prevent walls from caving in. The length of the trench however, depends on the volume of fresh materials available to feed the worms.

The NGO advises that in order to have regular production of fertilizer, one needs to excavate 6 trenches known as Vermi Fertilizer Production Unit (VFPU). To set up a new trench one needs to lay beddings for the worms at the base of the trench before introducing the worms in the ratio of five kilos of worms per meter square of trench. Immediately after, apply a layer of fresh chopped green waste, three fingers deep on top of the worms to feed them. One is advices not to apply too much green materials to avoid dehydrating or suffocating the worms.

The food material for the worms should be replaced weekly and watered daily. The fertilizer should then be harvested fortnightly and filled up again in the same week for continuity.

The fertilizer should not be removed in bits ‘piece meal’ from existing trenches in the VFPU because by doing this results to delays in the timing of restarting the next trench in the production system, making the process difficult to supervise.

To produce liquid vermi-fertilizer, one needs a vermi-liquid tray or bin. The liquid fertilizer is made by allowing water to leach the nutrients out of the decomposing materials and the worm poo.

For the tray, it is inclined such that the liquid collected at the bottom of the tray is drained to a gutter and collected in a container placed lower than the tray. In the tray the worms are fed and watered the same way as for the solid vermi-fertilizer, albeit it’s the liquid collected not the solid matter.

Aside from the tray, which requires to be put in a shed, Real Impact has also fashioned plastic bins to serve in the place of trays. Inside the bin which comes complete with a tap to let out the liquid fertilizer is a basin positioned near the base with numerous holes at the base. The worms and feeding materials are placed in this basin so that the vermi-liquid can drain into the reservoir below.

It is advisable to dilute the fertilizer which is best used as foliar feed with water before spraying it on the crops as it is usually very concentrated. As a general rule, it should be diluted at about 1 part vermi-liquid to 9 parts of water.

Vermi-fertilizer worms and worm bins are available from Real Impact NGO. A kilo of worms cost Sh.500 while a worm bin goes for Sh. 3000. One can also purchase ready vermi-liquid at Sh. 500 for a 5 litre jelly-can while a kg of vermi-fertilizer goes for Sh.250. The worm bin displays a caricature of a smiling worm with the message ‘happy worms’ makes food for healthy vegetables’.

It should be noted that not all organic matters are fit to be fed on the worms. For instance the worms love bread, grain cereal, coffee grounds, filter fruits, tea bags and vegetables while on the other hand one is advised not to feed the worms on dairy products, fats, cooked food, meat, oils and cigarette butts.

Apart from vermi-fertilizers, the NGO also demonstrates how to make pile compost from organic materials which is decomposed above the ground and turned weekly into the pit next to it for about 10 weeks to facilitate proper and uniform decomposition.

This compost manure contributes more in the soil structure than mineral fertilization due to the size of the individual particles in the compost. However, larger amounts of pile compost need to be applied to the soil than the vermi-fertilizer.

Real Impact also supplies bag gardens commonly referred to as kitchen gardens which require only adequate space where they can stand. The bags come in three different types and sizes.

The vegetable bags are perforated on the sides and open at the top come in different sizes can be used to grow practically any vegetable required in the kitchen.

One big bag can accommodate up to 80 plant at a go and costs Sh1,100 to an individual farmer while the same is subsidized to Sh. 800 for schools and NGO’s. A smaller bag which is designed to accommodate 50 plants is sold at Sh. 800. And to add icing to the cake one can plant different vegetable in a single bag. For instance, one can inter-crop vegetables such as kales, spring onions, beetroots and spinach in a single bag.

The NGO has also designed a potato bag which unlike the vegetable bag is not perforated and not as big. This particular bag goes at a cost of Sh. 850 to an individual farmer and Sh. 600 to NGO’s and schools. They also have greenhouses bags which are specially tailored to grow crops in the greenhouses. These bags have two holes near the top in which a dip line is passed through. At the time Hortinewsvisited the farm they had planted tomatoes. Each bag had 2 tomato plants.

All Real Impact bags have a life span of up to five years in which time one is set to have recouped what was spent in buying while utilizing the available space especially for urban area settlers.

Apart from producing vermi-fertilizer, the NGO also offers various short courses to farmers’ on agro-nutrition, intensive agronomy, water harvesting, clean energy, planting programmes, bag gardens and Moringa management.

The courses offered at Real Impact premises at Kichozi Farm in Thika cost Sh. 2000 per person per day. For groups of 10 and 20 people, the NGO offers a discount of 15 percent and 25 percent respectively.

The NGO helps communities understand the principles of good nutrition, and trains institutions, extension workers, other NGOs, community leaders and small scale farmers from across the country on agronomy- how to design and manage nutrition gardens- and applied nutrition- how to design balanced menus and cook the food to maintain the vitamins and minerals. All this is done in the NGO’s 2.7 hectare demonstration farm and two training kitchens.

By Ann Ndung’u