Monday, October 31, 2011

Worm Factory: Not a dirty business

Here's an article I wrote for the Blue Collar. 

Let’s admit it. Worms stir up a yucky feeling in almost all of us. I remember that when I was a small boy, I thought of putting a wiggling worm inside a shirt of a clueless playmate. He did not pay attention to it at first, but when he felt the jerky movement of the unsettled worm rubbing against his skin, he became hysterical.

But we cannot blame them. Who loves to play with wiggly, slimy and creepy creatures of the soil anyway, or let alone invest their time and energy to care for them?

But then again, I know of a woman who does not just touch worms with all her might, she also makes sure that they are well fed and cared for, giving them with not just food to devour on, but also her time and energy in ensuring that they live in a veritable environment suited for them.  

Mrs. Maria R. de Leon, or Tita Inday to close friends, may enjoy some distinctions such as she is the only lady councilor of the Municipal of Bay, Laguna and a past president of the Rotary Club of that municipality, but on top of these, she is also a vermiculturist.

A vermiculturist (‘vermis’ is a Latin word for ‘worms’) is a person who is into raising and reproducing earthworms and their by-products. By by-products, we mean worms and vermicompost (or worm poopoos which are used as soil fertilizer).

My interest in developing our little farm and gardens in the seminary brought me face-to-face with her.  Somebody told me that worms speed up the process of decomposition and provide a nutrient-rich end product which is used as a soil conditioner.

I came to know her through her son Lester who is helping her in selling the worms. I was desperate in looking for worms for the compost I was planning to put up and their ‘worm-for-sale’ advertisement in one of the internet sites I saw caught my fancy because their price was the lowest. They sell it for only P 250.00 per kilo compared from other sellers who offer their worms for a steep price of P1,250 a kilo!

When I visited her worm farm for the first time, I felt the warm welcome. I was not treated like a plain customer but a family member. She showed me their greenery and proudly talked about some of the plants in their backyard. That was the first time I saw a cactus-looking plant which we have at home bearing an oddly looking fruit. She told me that it’s a dragon fruit.

Tita Inday shared with me that she started her worm farm late last year upon the prodding of one of her neighbors who is very much into vermiculture. She bought four kilos of worms which she planned to use for breeding. Her first beds of compost were made of chopped banana trunk and hog manure plus some kitchen wastes which included fruit peelings and vegetable trimmings.

At first, one of her concerns was the ants which posed as predator to her worms. They cannot be avoided since they are also attracted to the food of the worm. But she just shrugged it off when she realized that “they are around, but they have not causing us much harm.”

The four kilos of worms she bought she divided into two composts. She was pleasantly surprised upon knowing that the two kilos of worms in one of the compost beds grew to six kilos in just two weeks. “Not only they are voracious eaters, they are also fast in reproducing” she quipped.

She is taking care of African night crawlers (Eudrilus eugeniae). This is called as such since these worms have the strange habit to crawl during the night.

The main feeds she gives them are hog manure. Mrs. De Leon notes how the worms feast on them. The supply is not a concern since she is maintaining a piggery within her premises.

“Vegetable trimmings and other kitchen wastes could also be given to them,” she added. They will not give you any problem if the feeds are stable.  

She finished BS Medical Technology in Philippine Women’s University in 1976. But she was not able to practice it. Instead, she worked as a research assistant at the Entology Department of the University of the Philippines in Los Baños.

Eventually, when she saw the need to raise her children who were all very young back then, she had to resign from the post. She worked for five years as the municipal administrator and is on her first term as a member of Bay municipal council.

She told me that for her, there is no fuss to hold the worms individually. But when the worms are collected and gathered, forming a humongous ball, she does not have the courage to touch them.

Taking care of the worms allowed her to look at nature up close; she said that when there is a ring formed in the anterior portion of the worm, they are already mature enough to produce worms.

She observed that an adult worm may produce 21 egg capsules. In just one week, they are all ready to be hatched. Attesting to the efficacy of the wormcast (another name for vermicompost), she observed that her durian tree had only four fruits last year.  When she used the worm compost to fertilize the soil, the yield grew to 30 fruits!

Mrs. De Leon admitted that she has not gotten much money from the selling of the worms since she started less than a year ago.  But the worms give her consolation because they make her garden glow with life and that she is able to reduce the household waste which contribute to the volume of garbage collected by the trash collectors.

The National Solid Waste Management Commission reports that in Metro Manila alone, food and kitchen wastes account for about 45 percent of the total solid waste. This is about 6,700 metric tons daily generated in the area (http://ecogovproject.denr.gov.ph).

We could reduce the volume of biodegradable wastes and at the same time make our soil alive by taking care of worms.

She is able to combine her love for the worms and her being a public servant. As a past president of the Rotary Club of Bay, she is busy with livelihood projects. Currently, they have started to put up worm farms in neighboring schools. The revenue of which is given to indigent students. The students themselves maintain the worm farms, and the member of the Rotary take care of the marketing of the worms and even of the vermicompost.  Each sack of vermicompost is sold at P 150.00.

She encourages household members to start vermicomposting as it is really is good for their gardens and for the environment as well.