BAGUIO CITY -- When talks about solid waste management crop up, the monstrous trashslide in Baguio City in 2011 cannot be underrated. Like any disaster it fanned a lot of issues at the same time tickled the imagination of those who took to the challenge of really looking into doable solutions right at the household level.
Long before the trash-slide disaster, however, the solid waste management of not only Baguio City but also many urban centers have already been taking much of time in legislative discourses as well as a big chunk in the local government budget.
Confronting the challenges, a group of residents prodded by some training on vermiculture responded by advocating the use of earthworms to turn household wastes into usable fertilizers. They say that earthworms help purify the earth eating rotting materials on the surface of the earth and turning these into pure organic fertilizers that help us grow our own vegetables right in our own yards.
In the Cordillera a score of locals has been into vermiculture since its introduction among Baguio-based non-government organizations and urban poor groups about four years ago.
For Baguio City, where garbage disposal remains a challenge for both residents and political leaders, the Baguio Vermi Growers find the African nightcrawlers (eudrillus euginiae) a viable solution to the intensifying problems on waste management.
A group of environmentalists gathered residents and barangay officials of Kabuyao, in Tuba town for a lecture on Vermiculture by the Department of Agriculture. It was among several earth-day activities the Causa Nostra initiated for Baguio City on April 15.
On April 21, the Philippine Traditional Knowledge Network, which spearheads the advocacy for vermi-composting at the household level and the Tebtebba Foundation, Indigenous Peoples' International Center for Policy Research and Education, launched the book by Baguio Vermi Growers “Stories of Eugene, the Earthworm.” Baguio vermiculturists adopted "Eugene" for eudrillus euginiae.
These are among local initiatives to advocate the caring of the earth by managing wastes properly through vermiculture.
The book on Eugene includes stories that Baguio residents wrote about their experiences with the African nightcrawlers. It fattens the heart to know that earth-worm tenders refer to the earthworms as if it was among their kin, a member of the household, and a friend. Calling a worm with an endearing name like "Eugene" makes people love it, thus they care for it like it was really their child, brother/sister, parent, sweetheart, or granny. It was not a pet to any of the worm tenders.
Vermiculture is the use of earthworms to make useful compost out of rotting materials, traditionally used as fertilizers. Available literature point out that in the Philippines around 400 types of earthworms exist but there are two types used in vermicomposting and these are the Indian red worms and African night-crawler worms.
Compared with traditional composting where materials have to be mixed and aerated manually or with the use of machines, vermicomposting uses earthworms to do most of the work. Sister Alice Sobrevinas,OSB of the Sta. Scholastica Convent refer to Eugenie as her night-shift workers because they work at nighttime, without over-time or night differential pay. One vermi grower even relies on her earthworms to do the segregation, because the African night-crawler earthworms do not eat non-biodegradable things. Instead they leave the plastic handles of cotton swabs, sanitary napkins and waxed paper plates, while consuming the rotting portions of the garbage.
With African nightcrawlers the garbage pit does not stink. These are so prolific that they could consume rotting garbage as much as their weight in one night.
The worms also leave seeds and all living things alone, so that after several months the garbage pit with earthworms can turn into a garden of robust tomatoes, ampalaya, squash, papaya and many more. It could be a nursery for tree seedlings like mango, narra, citrus or anything that the family throws into the worm box.
Starting the vermi bin
A vermi-culture training in 2009 included a starter kit with a handful or African night-crawler eathworms on a bedding made from banana sheaths and a little loam soil. TK Network invited trainer Michael Cagas who brought the earthworms from Laguna, which required a lot of care because the earthworms could be sensitive to the movement.
Initially called the sack technology in a training with urban poor organizations, the worm bin, which uses used rice sacks becomes the perpetual biodegrable garbage collector. It can be set up in the yard or inside the kitchen cupboard. In the experience of Christy Ngolab of Quirino Hill, each worm sack received half a kilo of worms, with banana stalks and kitchen wastes as main source of food. Later she allowed the wastes to rot in another sack before feeding it to the worms, until feeding became a daily habit for each member of the Ngolab household.
Sta, Scholastica's Seven Healing gardens produces its own fertilizers from more sophisticated vermi beds in a shed that used to house pigs. Sr. Alice also maintains a garbage bin under the office kitchen sink. It is also a sack placed in a plastic bucket to receive the liquid from vermi composting, called the vermi tea, which is an important organic pesticide.
"Anything biodegradable can be placed in the bin," Sr. Alice said in an earlier interview.
A kilo of the flat-bellied worms tend to multiply into 10 kilos in a period of six months because an egg matures into an adult called breeders in a very short six-week time. Each mature worm lays more than eight eggs that hatch into orange wrigglers or juveniles in two to five weeks.
If one overlooks the worm bin, there is a tendency to overpopulate that may lead to underfeeding. This may force the worms to leave their beds and find food elsewhere. If there are no birds or chickens that feed on them, the worms will find a better place to feed on. Usually, they find rotting trunk of trees a better place. In the garden, they hide under flower pots or under a water tank, where it is moist and a supply of rotting leaves abound.
Caring for the worms
African night-crawler worms need a good bedding, enough rotting material for food and a lot of air. Thus, a good worm bin will have either cow or horse manure lined with banana leaves or sheath as bedding, although a roll of damp newspaper or carton box will do. Garbage that has been left to rot for seven to ten days may serve as food. Sweepings under bushes make perfect food. The jute sack can be used as "housing" but if the worms do not have anything to eat, they also eat it including their bed. Most household bins are the rice sack but the fruit bale is best with its openings that promote good air circulation.
During dry months the bin needs some sprinkling. On rainy days, it has to be protected because flooding will kill the worms or cause them to look for a better home. An experiment on this showed that an African nightcrawler cannot survive a ten-minute under-water stay.
Once in every six weeks, the worm bin has to be cleared of breeders, transferring these into another bed, leaving the juveniles in the bin so as not to disturb their growth.
Harvesting the fertilizers
Depending on how much worms and feeds one has, vermicast from the worm bin may be harvested in six weeks, and every four weeks after the first harvest.
Transferring the breeders can be done simultaneously with harvesting the castings or excreta from the worms. This is a first-class fertilizer according to an environmentalist in Antipolo. As the breeders leave the original bin, and the juveniles eventually growing into breeders, they still leave behind unhatched eggs. The harvesting, and transferring process goes on and on until what is left is pure vermicast.
Sifting the vermicast will yield more eggs, juveniles and compost that should be returned to the worm bin, for the juveniles to mature and continue purifying the wastes in the bin.
Harvesting the worm castings can also be done with picking the non-biodegrables mistakenly cast into the worm bin. This way, the bin becomes a segregating venue for household wastes, with the worms doing the first and final process of segregating the rotting from residual wastes, especially those that we are not sure of its classification.
Replanting the seedlings from the worm bin may also take place during the harvesting.
A kilo of worms is said to excrete half a kilo in a week.
Benefits in agriculture
According to the DA, kitchen waste is the best source of earth-worm food because it is usually made up of a variety of materials. In its related study, it found out that vermicast and vermi compost from alumit leaves is richer in the nutrients nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium and magnesium than its compost. It is also found to have lesser metallic content as zinc, copper, manganese and iron. It is damper by 16 %, although it contains less salts.
Traditional farmers plant beans and other legumes, or seeds that grow on pods, to check the nitrogen content of the soil after each cropping season. With vermicompost and vermicast as fertilizers, the soil readily gets the needed nutrient for a more robust produce.
Potassium induces the flowering of crops. Using vermicast on one pot of chives and plain soil on the other pot, a vermi grower saw flowers on the pot with vermicast and none on the other pot after two weeks.
Phosphorous is essential for seed production; promotes increased root growth; promotes early plant maturity (less time for grain ripening); promotes stalk strength; promotes resistance to root rot diseases; and promotes resistance to winter kill.
Magnesium is a very important nutrient in plant food production.
Trainer Cagas did not elaborate on the income his Laguna group derives from engaging in large-scale vermiculture but gleaning from the breadth by which the venture has been reaching out, it must be a handsome piggy bank that benefits from it.
He said that in 2009 the worms costed P1,000 per kilo for NGO and people's organizations. When asked how much it would cost if sold not to NGO's, he said it was much, much higher for government offices because of the SOP procurement procedures.
DA noted that the price of worms could be as low as P500 or as high as P1800 per kilo in 2010.
Local worm tenders sell their worms at P500 per kilo. Some even disperse it free to neighbors who are willing to take care of the worms at an instance and the environment in the long run.
Worm castings and vermi compost cost P10 per kilo or P500 per sack.
Caring for Morther Earth
While the price of worms can get very high depending on who sells and who buys, with a wide range of discrepancy in pricing, there is a common notion that in order to care for Mother Earth, one should start with managing wastes. With a little creativity at getting the worms into the whole work, a caring heart actually starts it all.
Vermiculturists choose the African night-crawler worms because these are the most voracious of the composting worms available. These are sub-surface dwellers, unlike the burrowers, which the native worms are, and feed on rotting materials.
Baguio Vermi Growers now conduct formal trainings on vermiculture, demonstration and consultancy services. Starter kits, vermicast, compost, vermi tea and liquid fertilizers are also avilable at the BVG, which now boasts of having conducted trainings not only among its members in the city but also with more groups in Benguet.
The Organic Farmers Multi-purpose Cooperative in nearby La Trinidad, Benguet also received trainings from BVG and is now conducting its own with its network. Michael Bengwayan's Cordillera Ecological Center, also in La Tirinidad, also does such advocacy for the earthworms.
Organisasyon Daguiti Nakurapay nga Umili iti Syudad (Ornus) and Innabuyog-Gabriela are jointly doing similar activities with their respective member-organizations.
The City Environment and Parks Management Office (CEPMO) is also among the BVG beneficiaries which has been replicating the trainings in the various barangays .
Outside of the BVG initiative, several groups in the region and in the Ilocos Region, including Pangasinan, have been doing vermiculture way ahead of the BVG and TK Network initiative in 2009, according to Judy Cari ñ o of the Tebtebba. She and her family maintain a vermifarm and happily share the technology with other people.
As she puts it, “One great benefit from vermicomposting is knowing that you are doing something concrete to lessen the garbage that needs to be brought to the dumpsite, in a small way, contributing to the reduction of green-house gas emissions, and mitigation of climate change.”
“All these come from caring for Eugene,” Cari ñ o stresses. #