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BYU Hawaii Students Feed Waste To Worms In Vermicomposting Project

19th Feb, 2022

In their latest effort towards a zero-waste future, Brigham Young University (BYU) Hawaii students use worms from a Waikiki company to conduct a vermicomposting project. The botany class project has been in effect since 2022 and continues to be a success well into February.

The students take one of their botany classes every week for vermicomposting, using worms to transform organic waste material into nutritious compost for the soil. The campus greenhouse hosts a plot of land for these worms, locally sourced from the affably referred to “Waikiki worm lady.”

“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.”

Alfred Kapeli, senior biology student

The university has had a long history of sustainability efforts. Over a decade ago, the EcoEffect radio show in Hawaii hosted various BYU students discussing the benefits of different forms of composting. Now, the current batch of students is continuing their environmental work, feeding waste to worms and giving nutrients back to the soil.

Worm management

Vermicomposting significantly improves soil fertility and quality over time. This process can take around two to three months, but it provides many benefits to the earth and is relatively inexpensive to maintain compared to large-scale composting solutions.

However, this composting method depends heavily on earthworms, creatures that pose their fair share of challenges. For the BYU students, they’ve used Red wigglers and Indian blue worms, two species determined to be more compatible in the composting process.

The Faculty of Science’s assistant professor Dr. Esprit Saucier noted that different worms may compete to find food and nutrients in the compost. While some species can coexist, any competition may lead to delays or issues in the composting process.

Despite fears of sparking rivalries among the worm colonies, many vermicomposting facilities encourage different types of worms. Different worms provide different benefits to the soil, and managing their behavior and culture allows for the best product at the end of the composting process.

“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.”

Bats Phillips, greenhouse manager and biology student

Saucier also notes that different worm colonies need various forms of nutrition. The BYU greenhouse moisturizes and feeds its worms every week, using a cardboard or coconut fiber base to maintain a safe worm environment.

“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,” Saucier said about the worms’ diets.

Locally-sourced worms

While the BYU students source their worms locally, there are few vermicomposting services in the area. One of the more passionate vermicomposting enterprises comes from Mindy Jaffe, who founded the Waikiki Worm Company and hosts the Windward Zero Waste School Hui.

Jaffe’s website, Worm Ohana, showcases a live number of the worms the organization holds, how much food has been fed, how much vermicast has been harvested per gallon, and much more.

“We make a small difference as individuals, but together, we pack a powerful punch for environmental restoration,” the website reads.

As a Waikiki worm lady, Jaffe emphasizes the importance of maintaining worm health in composting. She and the BYU students aim to further educate the country on vermicomposting practices, and how to appreciate the creatures keeping the natural environment alive.

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