Improving urban farming methods: Worm excretions create fertilizer

Robert Huskey / Daily Titan

Robert Huskey / Daily Titan

A Cal State Fullerton student began a 10-week long research project at the Arboretum on Wednesday to study how worm excretions can improve urban farming.

Calvin Lung, 22, a biology major, will be studying how two different diets affect the population and health of the worms as well as the quality and quantity of the worm’s excretions, called castings.

Worm castings can be used to create an organic, natural fertilizer called vermicompost.

They have shown promise as an organic fertilizer that provides plants with beneficial microbes and nutrients according to CalRecycle, a government organization.

“It is a need that we produce this because a lot of farms use it especially with the organic movement now. It means less pesticides and less genetically modified foods,” said Lung. “This is something that we do need to lessen our dependence on synthetically created fertilizers.”

Lung will be conducting his experiment at a plot of land on the east side of the Arboretum.

During the course of his experiment, he will divide worms into two groups of seven and place them in 14 bins.

The worms will be fed food scraps obtained from the Gastronome.

Eleven pounds of Eisenia fetida, commonly known as red wigglers, will be distributed equally into the bins. The amount of bins assures statistical reliability and is a safeguard against contamination by weather or wildlife.

Paper, soil and coconut fiber will be placed into the bins with the worms and they will receive 150 grams of food per day, as appropriate.

The two groups, the control group and the experimental group, will receive differing diets.

The control group will receive a “random diet,” a meal of anything not eaten by Gastronome patrons: pasta, oranges, fish, meat, bread and anything else thrown out that day.

The ideal diet is still from the Gastronome, but everything the worms do not like will be picked out. Citrus products, meats and pasta will be avoided in this diet.

Lung is working with a research group started last semester called the Urban-Agriculture Community-based Research Experience (U-ACRE) led by CSUF professors Joel Abraham, Ph.D., and Sara Johnson, Ph.D.

U-ACRE is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It works with local schools and other bodies to promote and undertake research into urban agriculture.

The group is working on various research projects to embark on projects in various areas of agriculture such as student food intake, farm pollution and child health.

Lung believes expansion of urban farming can have widespread benefits in terms of health, obesity and even in terms of gas emissions by reducing the amount of miles food needs to travel.

Companies around the country have undertaken large-scale production of vermicompost. New York-based company Worm Power produced 2.5 million pounds of vermicompost from the manure of a single herd of cattle, according to the New York Times.

California Soils, a worm castings production company, uses worms to process cardboard waste.

Very small scale production of castings is also common, according to Lung.

“Basically all you need is land and leftover food waste. This is something anybody can do at home,” Lung said. “You have larger, brighter plants or fruits and vegetables, and it doesn’t cost you anything except a few seconds of time to put the trash into the worm cast bin.”

Lung expects his experiment to take 10 weeks and will have a research poster and paper completed by the end of the year.

About Samuel Mountjoy

Sam is a senior journalism major who has been working in student publications since high school. He was previously the editor-in-chief of a community college newspaper in the Palm Springs area. His first Titan byline came less than two months after he transferred to CSUF. Sam has been known to chase after sirens in hopes of a story, and hopes to soon become a professional news reporter.