In the face of climate change, more people are looking for ways to conserve the environment. Many people are now using food scraps as fertiliser through a process called vermicomposting.
Vermicomposting or vermiculture, also known as worm composting, is the process of having earthworms eat organic material, such as vegetable and fruit peels, and then break it down through digestion to produce high-quality fertiliser.
They consume biomass and excrete it in a digested form called worm castings or worm poop, which is rich in nutrients. The castings promote growth, are beneficial to soil micro flora, and have properties that inhibit pathogenic microbes that could contribute to plant disease.
South African entrepreneur Himkaar Singh saw an opportunity where others saw waste by turning organic waste into rich compost by using an army of worms. In a bid to help South Africa deal with its impending organic waste crisis, his company, the Compost Kitchen, collects organic kitchen waste to create vermicompost. Using this process keeps waste from polluting the environment or contaminating valuable water sources by avoiding landfills.
In 2017, South Africa experienced major water scarcity issues, so Singh left the country to study for a Master’s in Water Management in Germany, Vietnam, and Jordan for five months each – to get different perspectives on what the solution could be.
He found that the country needed to repair damaged soil’s ability to hold water by returning organic matter back to the soil. The best way to do that was through a business model, so he returned to South Africa to start a food waste recycling enterprise with a broader vision for regenerative agriculture that will contribute to the country’s water security.
The environmentally-friendly company has been running since 2019. Singh describes vermicomposting as the best system to do this. His process puts food waste through bokashi – a Japanese technique that ferments the organic waste and makes it easier for the worms to digest.
Singh’s operation uses Eisenia Fetida earthworms – more commonly known as red wrigglers – which are kept outside but are well shaded from the sun and are kept moist. In order to have healthy plants, we need to have healthy soil. And healthy soil starts with organic matter which is the base food for all other life in the soil.
By using vermicompost which has that organic matter, plus an ancient bacteria from its gut that stimulates the food web in the soil, we can build up healthy soil. Vermicompost is about building soil health whereas fertilisers are about macronutrients, he added.
In their work, they collect food waste from households on an e-bike every week, for a monthly fee. They give the compost to the customers at the end of the month to use in their vegetable gardens to grow food again.
Singh explains some challenges he faces with vermicomposting.”Two common problems that can occur is that they get too dry (they prefer too wet rather than a little dry) or their boxes receive too much waste at a time which heats up the box and harms the worms.”
In 2021, Singh’s company developed a food waste composting appliance for household use, known as the compost which instantly turns food waste into compost at the touch of a button.