Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Angels In My Backyar

Monday, July 18, 2005

Welcome To Earthworm Sanctuary

This blog was created to share my experiences with raising African Nightcrawlerearthworms here in the Philippines. I will continually update this blog with articles and pictures I find interesting and with anecdotes from experiences as I raise these earthworms. I welcome any postings from those interested and would like to share their experience or just have any questions.

Tony De Castro
Earthworm Sanctuary
Contact: earthwormsanctuary@yahoo.com

Angels In My Backyar

Angels In Our Backyard

By: Tony De Castro

The usual reaction I get when I tell people that I raise earthworms and ask if they would they like to see them is one of revulsion whether feigned or real. “Yukks! Kadiri” as they shudder and recoil or mothers warn their kids “you can look but don’t touch” fearing they will contract disease or, even worse, the worms will enter and infest their bodies This is really unfortunate and reflects on how misunderstood and undervalued the earthworms are for our own good. They may even be the answer to our problems of solid waste management, environmental protection and food security, literally, in our backyards. Big claims, but I believe justifiable.

Aristotle called earthworms the 'intestines of the soil', while Cleopatra decreed them sacred. Charles Darwin stated that, "It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly, organized creatures." The Chinese character for earthworms translates as “Angels of the Earth” (Source: Australian Museum, 2003).

Organic Fertilizer

Angels of the Earth indeed. Without earthworms this would be a very different world. For millions of years they have been cultivating and aerating the soil in prodigious quantities, enriching it with their castings, increasing porosity for water absorption and retention to create a mini-ecology for a wide range of microbial life all necessary for healthy plant growth, all the while consuming decomposing “waste” material. I put waste in quotations because it is only from our perspective that we look at agriculture and biodegradable urban garbage as waste to be disposed of. From the earthworms perspective, and indeed nature’s, this is food and from this they produce what is ostensibly the best fertilizer unmatched by any chemical or man-made fertilizers. Clive Edwards of Ohio State University, one of the leading authorities on earthworms, says “Vermicompost outperforms any commercial fertilizer that I know of”. Compared to soil, earthworm castings contain five times more nitrogen, seven times more phosphorus, 11 times more potassium, three times more exchangeable magnesium, and one-and-one-half times more calcium. One explanation for this dramatic increase is that earthworms liberate nutrients from particles of both organic and mineral matter that would otherwise remain unavailable to plants. In soils populated by earthworms, accelerated decomposition of organic matter and an increase in available nitrogen results in greater numbers of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Phosphorus availability also increases, due to earthworms' ingestion of phosphate rock particles and the consequent movement down burrows of phosphorus-containing casts.

Palawan Organic Farm

I can personally attest to the superiority of vermicast as a fertilizer because at our organic farm in Palawan it is the only fertilizer we have used in the past four years. We have grown and continue to successfully grow lettuce, tomatoes, eggplant, cilantro, ampalaya, watermelon and many others without having bought or used any commercial, chemical fertilizer –using only the vermicast we produce using dayami, kakawati leaves, grass, ipa, banana leaves –whatever biodegradable “waste” we can get our hands on. And there is a very noticeable difference in the quality of our produce. Once you have tasted our organic tomatoes and cilantro you will know what I am talking about.

Earthworm Sanctuary

In Manila, our earthworm farm is located in the heart of urban Quezon City at 47 San Antonio St., San Francisco Del Monte. We call it the ‘Earthworm Sanctuary” because we are very protective of the earthworms and provide them an environment where they can do what they do best, and spend most of their time doing it, which is to eat and reproduce (Freud was right!). The earthworms in the Earthworm Sanctuary are African Nightcrawlers (Eudrilus eugeniae) having originated from West Africa. This particular species of earthworms is voracious, eating 1 to 2 times their weight every day. Maybe how much they eat depends on how hungry they are or if they like what you are feeding them whether its rotting leaves, kitchen wastes or animal dung, Yummy! They are also incredibly prolific. An adult breeding earthworm produces 3.6 cocoons per week. With an 81% hatching rate they produce 2.3 hatchlings per cocoon. This results in 6.7 baby earthworms every week per adult worm. These babies reach sexual maturity in one to three months then they start producing their own 6.7 babies per week. That’s almost an exponential rate of increase (kind of like the population growth of the Philippines). Pretty amazing but there is even more. Earthworms are hermaphrodites. That means that each worm possesses both male and female organs. Conceivably, when they mate, both can become fertilized. So it’s not only ½ (that’s the females) that produces 6.7 babies a week but all of the adult population.

Waste Management

According to a recent study by Rhea Abigail Navarro (2003) Metro Manila generates a total of 6,140.40 tons of refuse/day . . . For 2003, average per capita generation is 0.597 kg/day. Furthermore, the latest Waste Amount and Composition Survey (WACS) done forMetro Manila by JICA and MMDA in 1997 found that a large amount of the wastes are mostly biodegradable, owing to the large amount of kitchen wastes in the garbage." I read somewhere that about 60% to 70% of Metro Manila’s solid waste is biodegradable. Well, guess what eats almost any biodegradable wastes – Earthworms or the Angels of the Earth. I live in a family compound that produces volumes of waste, mostly leaves from the trees along with some kitchen wastes. We used to have to pay the garbage collectors a little extra to take the leaves because there was so much. Now, with the earthworms, none of our kitchen waste or leaves goes beyond our gate. They are all eaten by the earthworms producing about 500 kilos or ½ ton of vermicompost every month. We have now reached the stage where, because of the voracity and promiscuity of the earthworms, we have to ask our neighbors for their leaves and grass to feed our earthworms. And they continue to increase faster and faster and eat more and more.

Yes In My Back Yard (YIMBY)

To help spread the word about the benefits of the earthworms the Center for Renewable Resources and Energy Efficiency (CRREE, an NGO) and Palawan Organic Farm have partnered to spread the good news about earthworms to help address the solid waste management problem and for the production of safe and healthy food free from chemicals and poisons. In Manila, we have started the YIMBY Project. This stands for Yes In My Backyard. The goal is for every household to take responsibility for their own garbage towards no biodegradable waste going beyond the gate. WIMBY or Worms In My Backyard is a sub-project where we promote the use of earthworms in households and backyards of Manila to consume our biodegradable waste and at the same time produce organic fertilizer that can be used for urban or household gardening. Recently, we received support for this project from the Ford Motor Company Conservation and Environmental Grant. Admittedly, the widespread use of earthworms in most of the households in Manila is an ambitious goal but we think it can be done-even if it is done one step at a time or one household at a time. The earthworm is truly nature’s gift to us. They happily eat our garbage so there should be no cost to feed them. They require very little care and attention. As long as they are happy (which means moist, dark and plenty of food) they go on and on producing more and more earthworms eating more and more garbage producing more and more organic fertilizer. Just think what a much better place this would be with these Angels of the Earth in our backyards.

(Author’s note: In future articles I will cover more specific techniques on the culturing of earthworms for the urban and rural settings. Earthworm Sanctuary can be contacted at 373 0987, 0918 938 5726 or email at ).