Table of Content
Compost is the ultimate organic fertilizer that any gardener can ask for. It’s not just a chemical-free plant food for that can be used to nourish your plants, but also an excellent way to enrich and amend poor soil.
Many gardeners prefer to have their own compost piles at home, simply letting their organic waste to degrade and break down. However, another new method of composting is rapidly gaining popularity over the world. This method is known as ‘vermicomposting’ and is quite different from traditional composting methods.
In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at these two composting methods and the differences between them to help you decide which is the better choice for you.
What’s the Difference between Vermicomposting and Composting?
Vermicomposting is the biodegrading process of producing compost by using earthworms. While many consider this to be quite similar to thermocomposting, they differ in process and the final product.
Here’s a quick look at the differences between these two composting methods.
Regular composting can be done without any cost at all, but there can be some optional expenses depending on how you choose to do it. All you have to do is choose a suitable place in your garden and start piling up your organic waste.
While vermicomposting also doesn’t cost you a lot, there are some initial expenses that you just can’t avoid. You’ll have to buy the worms and you might also need to spend money on the containers and a drill unless you already have one or can borrow one from someone.
Thermocompost piles have no limitation to their depth. Regardless of how deep your compost pile is, it will decay by itself with time. However, a vermicomposting pile can’t be deeper than 6-12 inches as the worms will only bury themselves in the top layer of the bedding of the composting bin. If the containers are deeper than that, the lower layers of your vermicomposting pile will be untouched by worms and remain useless.
Normal compost piles are hot due to the carbon dioxide that’s released in the composting process. This heat is essential in thermocomposting as it’s what keep the decaying process going on. The ideal heat level for a compost pile is between 150-160 Fahrenheit (65-71 Celsius) but sometimes itcan increase up to even 200 Fahrenheit (93 Celsius).
In contrast, vermicomposting needs to be done in a much cooler environment as high temperatures above 95 Fahrenheit (35 Celsius) can kill the earthworms. To avoid this, place your vermicomposting bin somewhere that’s about 50-90 Fahrenheit (10-32 Celsius).
Ordinary composting always requires extra help in aeration due to the larger volume and the depth. To make sure that all the scraps get processed and cooked well, you need to turn the pile at least once a week using a fitting tool. Not just this will help in better aeration but will also reduce the smell of your compost pile.
Worm farms are made from shallow containers and the worms create small aeration holes naturally while consuming their food. Therefore, vermicomposting doesn’t need any additional help in the aeration process.
The Speed of Productivity
The thermocomposting process takes at least 6-9 months but vermicomposting takes only from 8 to 12 weeks. This is because earthworms directly generate usable compost in their digestion process which quickens the decaying pace 2 to 5 times more than thermo composting.
The thermocomposting process relies on heat and the thermophilic microbes and bacteria that love the heated environment. In the degrading process, they produce heat, carbon dioxide, gas, water, and humus which speeds up the process.
Vermicomposting is quite different, however. The worms first consume the organic waste that’s put into the bins and then cast excretions at the end of the degrading process which is called “worm compost”.
Conventional compost products can be bought from your gardening store or online for a very good price. Thermocompost products are available for $6 – $30 per cubic yard. Vermicompost, on the other hand, is sold for a really high price on the market from about $300 – $2200+ per cubic yard.
Hot compost piles are full of thermophilic microbes while vermicompost piles are dominated by mesophilic microbes that prefer to live in a cooler and moderate environment. Thermophilic microbes can thrive in temperatures that are over 104 Fahrenheit (40 Celsius) degrees whereas mesophilic microbes can only survive in temperatures from 6 to 7 Fahrenheit (20-45 Celsius) degrees.
Thermocomposting can’t be done without the use of ground and the unpleasant odor is a given, so it has to be done outdoors. This makes it impossible to do it in urban residential areas. On the contrary, vermicomposting can be done both outdoors and indoors which makes it a convenient choice for anyone.
Ordinary compost piles don’t have any limitations regarding the capacity or volume of the waste they can hold. As long as you have enough space and the ability to handle it, you can add as much organic waste to your compost pile for decomposition.
However, vermicomposting is quite the opposite since worms can consume only a certain amount of waste per day. The ideal amount of food for the worms is half of the weight of the worms per day. If you add more than this to your farm, your worms will be overfed and could die.
The extreme heat in thermo composting helps in killing pathogens that come with some organic waste such as animal manure, plants, seeds, and leftovers of dairy products.
Therefore, any kind of organic matter can be added into traditional composting piles unlike with vermicomposting. As they’re built in a much cooler environment, worm farms have a higher risk of breeding harmful microorganisms. There are some restricted organic waste materials that can’t be used in worm compost piles.
Ordinary composting requires a much bigger land space, due to its large capacity. On the other hand, vermicomposting needs very little space. In fact, a small container that can be placed on your balcony or a countertop will work perfectly.
Worm compost has a much finer texture than conventional compost. The size and structure of the particles are more crumbly and light in comparison to regular compost products. This helps worm compost to deteriorate easily and get absorbed into the soil faster.
Instead, you could say: Though regular compost is a great fertilizer, vermicompost has a much higher nutrient content. It consists of many micronutrients such as potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus in higher levels than normal compost. These nutrients help the plants to grow and flourish faster.
Unlike vermicompost, the thermocomposting process produces ammonia which is the main reason for its bad odor. Worm farms do not turn the excess nitrogen into ammonia so they always have high levels of nitrates whereas ordinary compost piles are rich in ammonium.
Plant Growth Regulators
Worm compost has various plant growth regulators like gibberellins, auxins, and cytokinins. These work as chemical communicators between plant cells in encouraging and stimulating the growth and yield. Thermocompost products, however, do not have any growth stimulators.
Maintaining Your Compost Piles
Traditional composting needs a lot of work in comparison to vermicomposting. The pile has to be turned manually with a tool such as a pitchfork or a shovel at least once a week. Since the worms do the job, there’s no extra work required for vermicomposting.
Although vermicomposting doesn’t require hard work, it does need much more attention and care than thermocomposting. You have to separate the types of scraps that go into the bin and remove those that aren’t suitable for worm farming. You’ll need to check the state of the worms regularly and have to note down the food your worms eat and won’t eat.
Ordinary composting is much easier since you can put in almost all the organic matter from your household waste bin. However, there are some things you shouldn’t add.
As you can see, thermocomposting and vermicomposting both have their benefits and downsides. Now that you know these, you can decide on the most convenient method for you. Both methods, if done correctly, produce good quality compost as long as you’re ready to put a little extra time and effort into it.