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Heading towards zero waste by vermicomposting

Students work on a project at the campus greenhouse to fertilize the soil with worms

A woman looking at plants.
Photo by Yui Leung

Alfred Kapeli, a senior from Tonga majoring in biology, said, “It's very important that we take care and know that worms are unique, they have essential roles in the soil, and we can help people avoid taking worms out from the soil.”

Throughout the Spring 2022 Semester, Kapeli said the botany class held twice a week, dedicated one of those days to vermicomposting, or using worms to fertilize the soil. He explained the students worked on this project at the campus greenhouse building a plot for the colony of worms they got from the Waikiki worm lady. Working with the worms during a short semester was difficult because of time management and care, he said.

Dr. Esprit Saucier, assistant professor in the Faculty of Sciences and teacher of the botany class, said she was intrigued by this project, especially after finding the website of the Waikiki worm lady. On the website, live records of the food fed to the worms are recorded since the organization started, she said. Saucier expressed how good it would be if BYU–Hawaii could also produce zero waste by feeding the waste to the worms.

A handful of soil with worms.
Photo by Yui Leung

How to start composting with worms

For the vermicomposting project, the worms used were the Indian blues and Red wigglers, not just any worms, explained Saucier. She said, “There are different species of worms and some of them like to live together and some of them don't. For vermicomposting, you're going to use the kinds of worms that want to stay together. That way there is no competition between them, and they will do the work.”

Bats Phillips, a junior from Pennsylvania majoring in biology, added, “It's usually good to have different types of worms because they like different types of foods, and that way they won’t be wasting any food given to them.” Phillips is the botany class teaching assistant and the manager of the greenhouse.

In a normal setting, cardboard is used to put at the bottom of a bin, but coconut fiber is good too, explained Saucier. After putting down the base, she continued, the worms are put in and covered with leftover paper shreds. Then everything is covered with a mat to help keep the moisture in and the chickens away. The pile is then watered and the worms fed once a week, said Saucier.

“To feed the worms, it will depend on the colony. The ones we have need between 15 and 20 pounds of food that I get from the salad bar at the cafeteria, and this is just from the fruits and the lettuce chopped,” she said.

Fruits and vegetables in a bin.
Photo by Yui Leung

The benefits of vermicompost

Bats explained, in terms of waste, “A lot of landfill space is usually used unnecessarily because it's being mixed with things that aren't compostable. So we can't even use it. But if we do it right, we could make it to our benefit.”

She added, “The product of vermicomposting can be used as a fertilizer mostly called liquid gold. You can feed and water the plants in your garden and give flavor to the food.”

Kapeli expressed his enthusiasm for working on that project as a learning experience. “Worms are not just worms,” he said. “Worms play an important role in the health of the soil. We need to be more sensible about their nature and avoid taking them out of the soil.”

Kapeli said it was hard to get the Waikiki worm lady to give away some of her worms. He said, “If a lady could get attached to the worms and worry about who she sells it to, it really means that they are important.”