Vermiculture is the raising of earthworms for the purpose of vermicomposting. Vermicompost, the excrement of the earthworm which is a soil humus, is beneficial to gardens and lawns as a soil additive. Composting using worms reduces kitchen and animal waste into gardening material and is cheap and simple to accomplish.
Worms regularly used for vermicomposting, says New Mexico State University, are brandling worms (Eisenia foetida) and redworms or wriggler worms (Lumbricus rubellus). Worms of this type are bought from garden supply centers or are found in manure piles. Brandling and redworms are identified by their red stripes. Garden earthworms are unsuitable for vermiculture and composting as they prefer regular soil to manure and kitchen waste.
Vermicomposting is accomplished by mixing manure or kitchen waste in a bin with a bedding material such as paper or cardboard. According to Oklahoma State University, bins are often made using plastic, wood, heavy foam, metal or crates. The container requires a lid that is secure, keeping out light (worms prefer a dark place to compost) and animal pests. The box will need enough room for kitchen waste, around 2 by 2 feet for a two-person household.
Inside the compost, the earthworm can turn in all directions due to its segmented body. As it moves, it ingests soil. Worms breath through their skin, and food goes in the mouth at the front of the worm, which passes through to the crop, or stomach. The soil is passed further through the body into the gizzard where it is processed by stones ingested by the worm. This material is passed through the back of the worm.
Earthworms, says New Mexico State University, are hermaphrodites, having both male and female sex organs, but do require another earthworm to mate. A band surrounds the worm after mating, called a clitellum, which secretes a fine mucus called albumin. Sperm from the other worm is stored in this mucus sac. The mucus slides over the worm, trapping the sperm and egg together. When the mucus falls off the worm it seals together into a cocoon. Two or more baby worms hatch from the cocoon in three weeks. This process will take place within the composting bin.
As the worm population grows and material is composted and ready to use, the worms will need to be removed. Pushing finished composting material over to one side of the compost bin and adding new material on the other side forces worms over to the fresh waste. Worms are also removed by placing the humus over a wire mesh, and gently separating the fine soil material from the worms.