WHY GROW WITH VERMIPONICS?
Like aquaponics, vermiponics is a novel and sustainable way of growing plants.
However, instead of growing with fish - vermiponics uses worm tea made from worm castings as the nutrient solution.
Because vermiponics and aquaponics are soil-less, they can be very water-efficient. It is also a way of speeding up (or closing) the nutrient cycle, by composting kitchen waste and then using that compost to grow plants at home.
To see why we're so interested in vermiponics, you really need to look at your average ways of growing plants, such as growing in soil, using hydroponics or with aquaponics.
Growing in soil
Growing in soil is clearly the most well understood method of growing plants for most people.
People have done it for thousands of years and a lot of the time it seems effortless – but growing in soil does have its disadvantages.
First of all, traditional agriculture is very land intensive. Over time this can lead to land clearing (or deforestation) and it can also have other impacts such as excess fertilizers damaging our waterways. Traditional agriculture has also been known to degrade top-soil over time especially when fertilizer and pesticides are used constantly.
Although organic farming and permaculture is more environmentally-friendly this can still be water intensive – and as agriculture as an industry accounts for 70% of the world’s freshwater use, more water-efficient growing techniques (like hydroponics, aquaponics and vermiponics – which can use around 90% less water than traditional growing) will be necessary in the future.
Hydroponics is an established industry and many commercial growers currently use hydroponics to grow their plants and vegetables. In hydroponics, a plant’s root system is placed into a growing medium (or floats) and then soaks up the nutrients it needs directly from a mixture of fertilizers called a nutrient solution.
A major advantage of hydroponics is the ability to grow food indoors, vertically and in a much more water-efficient and space-efficient way as compared to traditional soil-based farming.
Many hydroponic growing operations use artificial lighting, temperature and humidity control, as well as controlled amounts of nutrients and CO2 to optimise growing conditions, this allows for year-round food production, even in cold climates.
Although hydroponics has several major advantages, it is still relatively expensive and can require growers to make a significant investment, it also generally uses inorganic/mined fertilizer that needs to be mined, processed and then transported, which makes it less sustainable than aquaponics or vermiponics.
Aquaponics uses fish waste as a source of nutrients – the waste is then broken down by naturally occurring bacteria and the water is circulated to growbeds where the nutrient solution feeds the plants. The plants then absorb the water and nutrients and any remaining water is re-circulated back into the fish tank.
Although aquaponics is more sustainable than hydroponics, it is still not the most sustainable option as most aquaponics growers still have to buy commercial fish food which is typically made from sea-caught fish.
Vermiponics is a more recent off-shoot of aquaponics. Several aquaponic growers realised that redworms could happily live in the growbeds of an aquaponics system, processing solids and releasing nutrients for plant roots to uptake. This led several enthusiasts trialling worm-only systems, which is now known as vermiponics.
Vermiponics does not require a sterile or high-tech growing setup like hydroponics, nor does it require high cost nutrient solutions or expensive fish feed.
We think that vermiponics is simpler than aquaponics as worms are easier to keep alive than fish – so they can withstand larger changes in temperature and pH.
So what are the down-sides to vermiponics?
Although vermiponics has a huge potential, at the moment, aquaponics and hydroponics are far more advanced in terms of grower experience and the amount of scientific knowledge available about best-practice, particularly in terms of getting a consistent all-round nutrient solution.
We’re currently getting our vermiponic solution analysed by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Fastchem team and will be updating you on our results.
Vermiponics is currently a promising but experimental food production method. More trial and error, collaboration between growers and scientific research will be required before its adopted on a commercial scale but the sustainability and economic advantages are there and we look forward to figuring out best-practices for getting an all round nutrient solution.
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