Cuba's verimcomposting program started in 1986 with two small boxes of red worms, Eisenia foetida and Lumbricus rubellus. By 1992, 172 vermicompost centers were producing 93,000 tons of worm humus annually. Several different institutions and companies are involved in vermiculture, but research is primarily conducted by the Institute of Soils and Fertilizers and the National Institute of Agricultural Sciences.
First, manure is aerobically composted for approximately 30 days then transferred to open vermicompost beds. The beds are approximately 1.5m wide and vary in length. The compost is mixed with soil and "seeded" with earthworms. At certain sites, the beds are in the shade of large mango trees that benefit from nutrients leached from the piles.
Vermicompost beds are watered to maintain optimum moisture and temperature levels. The worms feed on the freshly applied compost at the top of the beds and deposit their castings in the lower levels. Compost is continually applied until the beds reach a height of approximately 0.9m, after about 90 days. The worms are concentrated in the top 10cm of the pile and are either scraped off or separated from the vermicompost in a screening process. The humus is sold in bulk or used on-site as a soil amendment and fertilizer.
Worms not used to seed new compost piles are dried and used as a supplemental protein for animals. Earthworms are high in protein and contain the amino acid methionine (4%), which is absent from feed grains. Cuba's future plans include production of earthworm excrement to be used as substrate for bacteria, which in turn will be used as biofertilizer.
The Soil Institute is presently spearheading efforts to market and sell worm humus in 40 kg, 1 kg and 1/2 kg bags under the trade name Midas. However, humus production in Cuba has not reached levels that permit significant export. Income generating schemes have focused on joint production ventures and the sale of technical assistance for start-up vermiculture programs outside Cuba. Altogether, Cuban vermiculture is proving to be a promising substitute for imported goods.
Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems
University of California
Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA