Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Short History of Vermiculture

Vermiculture derives from two Latin words, "Vermes" meaning worm and "cultura" meaning knowledge. The term has scatter and acquired toleration in varied circles to refer to the earthworm industry. Although the red worm and its virtues have been famous for years, the industry is still very new in Europe, Canada, and America. In Asia, people are simply getting conscious of the earthworm ability and the large potentiality of the worm industry.
The aim of this chapter is to trace the common paths and pits of the industry in the U.S. and certain parts of Asia. It also targets to distinguish the red worm species in culture and to discuss the profitableness of this business speculation.


The virtues of the red worm as bait has far been distinguished by eager fishers. In the book of Isaac Walton, Fishing With Ye Anglye, published in the 18th century sang laurels to the lowly earthworm as bait. At that time, fishermen in America had always moved to the field to dig out their own worms. It was merely at the turn of the twentieth century when reliable persons started to dream of providing worms to fishers. So in 1901, the Shur-Bite Bait Company opened in Southern California. This company is the earliest well-known provider of worms in the U.S. It is not noted, however whether this company cultured red worm for bait.

At about the same time that Walton was praising the worm hooked to his line, a certain Rev. Gilbert White (1775) commented on the industry of the red worm tilling the soil and fertilizing his plants. This intrigued the known naturalist, Darwin and for more than forty years, he dedicated a lot time to discovering the red worm both in the field and in his experimental boxes. He publicised his determinations in a paper, The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms with Observations on their Habits (1881). This paper was neglected in large part by agriculturists of his time. At around this time the grandfather of Dr. George Sheffield Oliver Manoeuvered a one hundred sixty acre farm in Ohio. In 1906, Dr. Oliver was a practicing physician in Fort Worth, Texas. By accident he read Darwin's treatise on the earthworm. Memories of his grandfather's 160 acre farm in Ohio swamped back to his mind. He decided to raise earthworms and to present these to farm fields. After that his place comprised millions of red worm and his small plantation was the envy of his neighbors.

He traded his medical practice and involved in landscaping with the Red worm as a business partner. By 1920, his popularity as "a landscape wizard" has scatter as far as California where he ultimately settled down. Dr. Oliver became the first earthworm culturist in California. In 1927, he went into a five year experiment to cross L. terretris with E. foetida. Ten years afterward, he released his book.

Our Friend the Earthworm, among the first literature after Darwin. He believed that he succeeded in bulging out with a hybrid worm. His work, however, wasn't properly attested and scientists are still skeptical to arrogates on a red worm hybrid. A contemporary of Oliver was Thomas J. Barrett. Later, he dedicated more of his time to acquiring a small farm with the aid of earthworms. He called his farm, Earthmaster Farms, located near El Monte, California. He cultured earthworms in pits and boxes for the purpose of organic horticulture. He released his work, Harnessing the Earthworm (1947), the outcome of his experimentations and observations. In 1940, Hughes Worm Farm began processes to resolve the need of the increasing bait market. In 1947, Ozark Worm Farm opened in Tennessee and the 1,000 Island Bait Store opened in New York in 1950. Then, the worms for bait and the worms for agriculture mixed into one — the Vermiculture Industry. The "hybrid" of Oliver and the "earthmaster" of Barrett turned concurrently fantabulous baits. Big time operators began to trade and deal across the nation and beyond the national boundaries to Canada. California Worm Enterprises opened in 1952, Southern Fish Culturists of Florida in 1953, and the Charmer Worm Farms in 1954.

Researchers, growers, and vermiculturists, intensified scientific research and publishings about earthworm culture. Most known among earthworm researchers was Dr. Henry Hopp The U.S. Department of Agriculture sponsored his researches and from 1946-1949, more publications came out in scientific and popular journals. His articles addressed the aid of other scientists to the importance of earthworm research. On his time, Dr. Hopp was acknowledged as the world's leading authority on earthworms. In the early portion of 1950, earthworm publishings mushroomed. Earl Shields, writer of Raising Earthworm for Profit (1959) began supplying write-up guides to vermiculturists. It was as well in the 1950's that the breeder stock market became functional. Towards the closing of the decade, big time operators were dealing worms for bait, worm castings to gardeners, and breeder stock to growers. Among them was Hugh Carter, cousin of the U.S. president.

Throughout 1950 and 1960 the earthworm market has enormously increased attracting more masses into the industry. One of them was Ronald Gaddie who agreeing to Frank Carmody, entered the business "literally by accident." In fact, He discovered that he was earning profit on earthworms.

The industry was so developed.The latest marketing organization set up is the California Vermiculture Exchange (CAVEX) which began operations in 1978 as a national commodity exchange devoted to buying and selling earthworms. All throughout the history of vermiculture in the last three decades, the worms which were the concern of vermiculturists in the U.S. were the two species - Lumbricus rubellus and Eisenia foetida. These species are still cultured in commercial quantity because of their high rate of reproduction and great adaptability to culture environment (Frank Carmody, 1978).

While the vermiculture industry was starting to gain national attention in the U.S., some Asian entrepreneurs, wanting to enter the American market started to dig their native soil in the hope of unearthing an earthworm species which could compete with the American species in reproduction and adaptability. In 1964, a Chinese general finally found one. Hoping to export worms to the U.S. for baits, he cultured one species which looked promising. The worm belongs to the genus Pheretima of the species asiatica. For ten years, the earthworm was cultured in manure bedding and feeds, the natural habitat of Pheretima asiatica. Because of government restrictions banning government employees from entering private; business, the wormery was sold to the private sector in 1974. A year after the original intention of culturing the Pheretima for baits was changed to animal feed and human food. Thus, experiments were conducted in cooperation with university professors. In 1977, the experiments resulted in a suitable bedding mixture of sawdust, rice hulls, and rice bran as a substitute for manure bedding. The public believed that feeding earthworms with manure builds an almost insurmountable psychological barrier for people to eat worms.
In 1978, production increased and the earthworms were exported to other Asian countries notably Japan. Now, the major markets of the earthworm enterprise are the new growers who increase every year, the food industry and the animal feed industry. The worms are treated and cooked into 9 different dishes and 6 different cakes. They are also mixed with bread and biscuits as protein supplement. There is even a restaurant in Japan serving earthworm dishes as specialty of the house. The worms are also fed to tropical aquarium fishes, eels, and shrimps.
The fame of the earthworm has spread to other Asian countries. In 1978, a Philippine leading scientist and dean of the College of Inland Fisheries at the Central Luzon State University received from Asia Foundation a grant to research for a two year period the much acclaimed virtues of the earthworm. Dr. Rafael Guerrero, a leading earthworm researcher in the Philippines, surveyed and identified local earthworm species from 39 strategical locations in the country covering 21 provinces. He identified 12 different species and subjected them to culture conditions.
In the meantime, a group of Filipino entrepreneurs saw the business potential of vermiculture during their travels in Europe, in the U.S. and Asia. Amid secrecy and high expectation, this group brought into the country a sample of different species of earthworms: Lumbricus rubellus, Eisenia foetida, Pheretina asiatica. These worms were grown in experimental boxes and tubs to determine their rate of multiplication. Experiments were also conducted which resulted in discovering a suitable bedding mixture of sawdust, rice hulls and rice bran with a pH 7 or neutral. This group of entrepreneurs organized a corporation. Engr. Wenceslao Vinzons Tan was elected President and Mr. Emmanuel Catalan, as Vice President and General Manager. Thus was born Wormery World Inc., the first to introduce the vermiculture industry in the Philippines. Wormery World distributes its worms through the Philippine Earthworm Center which disperses certified red earthworms breeders to growers throughout the country.

At this time, Dr. Guerrero knowing the existence of the Wormery World contacted Mr. Emmanuel Catalan and the latter visited the Vermiculture Research Project in the compound of Central Luzon State University. Finally, the business and the scientific circles met, hopefully to join hands in nurturing the emerging industry.

Government reaction to the emergence of the earthworm industry in the Philippines is definitely encouraging. Minister Arturo Tanco, Jr. of the Ministry of Agriculture through a spokesman of the Ministry is willing to help the industry to prosper in all aspects, from production to utilization of the earthworm. As a sign of this encouragement, the government has recently allocated a sizeable amount of money to develop old and to tap new sources of protein in the country.


Various animals have been domesticated throughout history for various reasons. Foremost among them is the animal's ability to provide food, labor, and companionship. The earthworm in general does not have this ability. Most earthworm species do not have any direct bearing with food production and labor saving though a few species are significant factors in food production. These are the species which are of value to man. These are the species under culture.

There are three criteria for the choice of earthworm species raised for commercial production. First is the species' ability to survive and adapt under controlled conditions. Second is the ability to produce at a high rate. And third is the ability to grow fast.. Of the 1,800 earthworms species, only six species are raise for commercial production. These species are: E. eugeniae, L. rubellus and E. foetida which make up 80 to 9(f7 of commercially produced_ earthworms in Europe, U.S. and Canada and Pheretirna asiatica which is the only Asiatic worm raised for commercial production in Asia. The other species as L. terrestris and A. caliginosa, are raised on a smaller scale. P. excavatus is still under study in the Philippines.

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