The Power of Earthworms

 
We wasted 261,000 tons of food in Hawai‘i in 2010.  Earthworms have the power to turn food and other organic waste into rich compost.  Dr. Norman Arancon, professor (and singer extraordinaire) at the UH-Hilo, is considered a national expert in vermicomposting.  Born in the Philippines with his Ph.D. from Ohio State University, he was a recipient of a Rotary International ambassadorial scholarship.  Vermicomposts are “stabilized organic matter that are produced by the interaction of earthworms and microorganisms under controlled conditions.”  Dr. Arancon provided insights on the superior qualities of vermicompost, its uses, and its potential for municipal waste processing and even toilets.
 
   Vermicomposting may not be as familiar to farmers or gardeners as traditional “hot” composting methods, but it produces comparable or better quality compost.  Traditional composting requires combining an optimum proportion of green and brown organic matter, mixed together with optimum moisture, and turning the pile to maintain optimum aeration that heats up to 140 degrees or higher when conditions are optimum.   Vermicomposting requires the right kind of earthworms (the red wigglers at the soil surface not the fat earthworms deeper down), food or manure, and shredded paper or other carbon source.  You can just combine everything and leave it while the worms and microorganisms have a party. 
   The end result, vermicompost, is a fine particulate granulated structure, with high water holding capacity, high nutrient holding capacity, plant-available nutrients, plant growth hormones, diverse microbial population, and humic acids.  It can be mixed with other planting media or steeped to make compost tea.  The nutrients and plant hormones in the vermicompost or tea may contribute to healthier, more pest- or disease-resistant plants. 
   The potential of vermicomposting is just being discovered.  It has been scaled to process municipal sewage in India; manure and other agricultural waste on farms in the U.S., Philippines, and other areas; and even toilets that can replace septic systems. 
   It’s simple enough for backyard gardeners.  If you are interested to learn more, Dr. Arancon is willing to hold classes if we can organize a minimum of 10 people.  Any small fee he may charge is donated to the UH Foundation.  There is also a book co-authored by Dr. Arancon, entitled Vermiculture Technology, available on Amazon.