Effective Microorganisms in Helping The Growth of Earthworms.

“I am newly converted to earthworm breeding. I’m from Malaysia. It is always interesting to read your WFS Newsletter and I am sure, many other readers are like me, grateful to you for benefiting from your excellent contributions. I have not however, come across any mention on the use of EM (effective microorganisms) in helping the growth of the earthworms.

I understand that these wonderful microbes, among other good work, help to speed up aging of animal manure and at the same time, break down the hard, granular goat manure which otherwise would be too difficult for the worms to feed on. Some people I understand, spread thinly a layer of the decomposed manure (pure) over the bedding, as food supplement. I haven’t tried this yet. Could you comment on this, please? I’d be most obliged.” ~ Bahar

Hi Bahar,

This is an interesting question.

For those of our readers unfamiliar with the term ‘Effective Microorganisms’ (EM), it is actually a trademarked brand name for various microbial inoculants used in a wide variety of applications, including waste management.

The term was first coined by a Japanese scientist, Dr. Teruo Higa in the early 80’s, and the EM phenomenon has spread far and wide ever since.

There is some controversy regarding the actual ‘effectiveness’ of EM, especially given the fact that scientific validation is in short supply. Dr Higa himself has admitted that there are limitations based on the fact that it is still unknown exactly which microbes are responsible for the beneficial effects. (see Wikipedia link in the REFERENCES section).

I have actually dabbled in the use of EM for ‘composting’ myself, by testing out a method known as ‘bokashi’. The reason I use quotation marks when referring to it as a composting method, is due to the fact that it is not really a composting process at all. While composting requires oxygen in order to proceed effectively, bokashi is an anaerobic method which takes place in a sealed system (such as a bucket with a tightly fitting lid).

What I liked about this method was the fact that it was very easy, and surprisingly there were no foul odors to speak of (even with things like shrimp waste being added) – it actually has a somewhat sweet smell. This is pretty impressive for anaerobic decomposition, which is generally responsible for any nasty odors that can occur during ‘regular’ composting (and rotting in general).

The limitation of this method is the fact that the end product is not a stabilized material – you can’t just put it in your flower pots as a fertilizer or soil conditioner.

Generally, a bokashi practitioner will dig the material into the garden, or add it to a compost heap in order to complete the decomposition process. I have actually added some materials from one of my bokashi buckets into some worm bins to see what would happen. In my big outdoor bin, the material remained untouched for awhile and then was quickly processed by the worms. In my smaller indoor system however, the anaerobic material had a negative impact on the system – causing the bin to go ‘sour’ on me.

It is important to remember that anaerobic processes can produce organic acids and alcohols (among other things) which probably aren’t all that great for the worms. In a larger system, the worms can simply go elsewhere until these undesirable compounds are broken down by aerobic microbes – but in the smaller system this was obviously a little more difficult.

Anyway, this has become a little more long-winded than I had intended.

Getting back to your question, Bahar – when it comes down to it, the use of EM is really not necessary in order to speed up or improve the vermicomposting process. Allowing wastes to decompose aerobically (what I refer to as “aging”) for a period of time is a great way to render waste materials more worm-friendly.

EM can certainly be used to start the break down process – and the EM mixture itself would likely be consumed readily by composting worms – but if you are using methods like bokashi, just keep in mind the fact that the end product might not be consumed by the worms until it has been exposed to aerobic microbes for a period of time.

Hope this helps!

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