If you have horse poop, then you have a great opportunity to make a LOT of worm compost or vermicast. Vermicast is the poop of worms, usually a particular type of worm that lends itself well to composting. With worms, the end material is greater than the sum of the parts that were put into it! Through their digestion, the worms convert the horse poop into an excellent, all natural, complete fertilizer that improves the structure of the soil and makes it hold more water.
I was sort of forced to simplify my technique when the wood barrels I was using failed. During the summer, I did not realize that the gaps in the barrels had sealed up and my worms got overheated. It got steamy inside the barrels. Sad to say, some of the worms melted! I moved the worms to a raised bed for vegetables that wasn’t being used. They’ve stayed there since summer because they’re doing better than ever on the ground! All the things I thought I knew about worm care previously has been turned on its head!
What I learned from the worms
I didn’t think they would do well on the ground, but it now makes sense! I think their current environment is more natural. I kept them in containers before because I was worried about them either crawling away or being eaten by ants. I think some of the birds are able to get into the worm bin, but on the whole the worms seem to be doing much better than in the barrels. I don’t think any of them have run away!
My current on the ground set up has better drainage and ventilation than the old set up. Before when I would harvest the vermicast, I would classify it as Grade A, B, or C. Now all of my harvest is Grade A!
I also found just the right gadget for sifting the vermicast. It’s a big and flexible Tubtrug colander. I carefully sift the compost to make sure the worms don’t get mixed into the harvest and also to remove all the uncomposted bits. When I’m sifting, it feels like I’m returning a lot of it back into the worm bed. But when I’m done, my yield is much more than before! I’m now getting a lot more vermicast for the same amount of horse poop compost. I am able to harvest so much vermicast that I was able to give out big bags of it to close friends and relatives during the holidays!
I water the worms with water that has been left out to sit for at least 24 hours. This is to make sure that the chlorine in the water evaporates.
This is what it looks like when the horse poop compost is freshly applied.
Worm poop or vermicast is called black gold by gardeners and farmers. Simply by eating and pooping, worms are able to convert a wide variety of things into an excellent, all natural, complete fertilizer that improves the structure of the soil and makes it hold more water. Unlike chemical fertilizers, vermicast is safe both for plants and people. It is a living product that contains beneficial microorganisms that help the plants absorb the nutrients in the soil.
If you like to garden, then vermicast is an great product to have! We set up big vermicompost bins in the farm in 2013. They eventually failed. I like to think of my current set up as the easy way to do vermicomposting.
The Basics of Easy Vermicomposting:
Choose the right worms
Choose the right bin
Use compost for food and bedding
Keep it nearby for easy maintenance and harvesting
You need to start with the right type of worms. The local earthworms in the Philippines are not suitable for vermicomposting because they burrow deep in the soil. In the Philippines we use African Night Crawlers Eudrilus eugeniae.
They are ideal for worm farming because they
don’t burrow deeply
go to the surface to deposit their poop
live in colonies
like to live in aged manure
tolerate heat well
The main disadvantage of African Night Crawlers are that they can’t tolerate cold weather. Some say they also have a tendency to escape or roam, especially after harvesting.
My first worm bin was very big and had no flooring. It just had cement block walls. This made it easy for the worms to move out and for ants and other insects to move in! It’s much easier to control the living environment of the worms if you choose your bin carefully. Things to look for in a worm bin:
doesn’t let light in, not transparent
has drainage holes
can control temperature, not too hot or cold
has a floor
can control moisture, not too wet or dry
There are many things that can be made into a worm bin!
The Basic Bin
A big drum that was cut in half with drainage holes drilled into the bottom. You can buy these used, make sure it was used to store food not chemicals! There is a sack lining the bottom and another sack to cover the top. It is under a roof so it gets shade from the sun and rain.
The Higher Capacity, Stackable Bin
Same handy blue drum, this time cut lengthwise, with drainage holes drilled at the bottom. It also has the sack liner and sack cover. It’s not as stable as the Basic Bin. It needs a shelf to keep it from rolling around!
The Super Deluxe Barrel Bin
An old wood barrel that was converted into a worm bin! These barrels were used to store rum. They look so much better than the blue barrels and sacks! It’s also nice and dark inside. The main disadvantage of these barrels is that they are expensive! But they are so much cuter! They are also more insulated than the plastic drums.
I used the sacks to line the blue bins to prevent the worms from escaping and so I could lift out the contents easily. They are probably not necessary.
Compost for Food and Bedding
Worms need air, food, and moisture. Worms breathe through their skin. They can suffocate if their bedding gets to compacted, if you give them oily food, if you put in too much food in their bin and the food goes bad, and if their bedding is too wet. The ideal moisture level is 60-80%.
Here is the easy way to avoid these problems:
Use fresh compost as both their bedding and food. Nothing will go bad!
Don’t make your bedding more than 6 inches deep.
Use a watering can when you water the bins to keep the soil from getting compacted.
Use rainwater if your water is chlorinated. If rainwater is not available, you can put tap water in an open container and leave it out for 24 hours to remove the chlorine.
I use freshly composted horse manure. It works out well for me since we have a lot of horse poop and grass at the farm. Instead of waiting for several months for the horse manure compost to cure, I can give it to the worms and have ready to use vermicast in a short while. Manure from pigs and cows also works well for vermicomposting. I haven’t tried using other types of compost as bedding, so I’m not sure how that will work.
Maintenance and Harvesting
These compost bins are in the city house, not at the farm so I can check on them regularly. A healthy bin should feel moist and have no smell.
Then it’s the fun part — harvesting! There are many methods of harvesting.
Top harvesting – The easiest way to harvest is to wait for the worms to produce a thick and even layer of vermicast at the top of the bin. Then use your hand to sweep the castings into a pile and then scoop it out. It’s also gentle, you don’t have to handle the worms too much, or crush them by accident.
Dry and sift – let the bin dry out to 30-40% moisture and then sift the entire thing.
Migration method – put the bottom layer on top of a screen that’s on top of a new layer of horse poop compost. Put everything under the sun. Wait a few hours until the worms move down to the new layer of compost. Sift the now worm-free compost that’s on top of the screen. If most of the old layer looks like compost, you can just skip the sifting part and harvest everything.
Combination – you can do top harvesting until most (80-90%) of the horse poop compost has been consumed and harvested. Then you can sift the bottom layer or just put the bottom layer, worms and all at the top of a new pile of fresh horse poop compost.
But, is it vegan?
It is not vegan since vermicast is a by-product of an animal. It’s not at the level of bees and honey though. With bees, you harvest food that they produced for themselves. With worms you harvest their poop, which they do not need or use. Ideally, you would keep the worms in the ground in your garden instead of contained in a box. However, that would add another issue of introducing non-native worm species to the soil.
I am trying to take care of my worms as well as I possibly can. I do my best not to kill any worms when I harvest the castings. I also think their living conditions are quite good and their food is what they would naturally like to eat.