Vermicompost is a great way to repurpose animal waste and create your high-mineral fertilizer. Let’s look at how to turn your cow waste into nutrient-dense fertilizer. It’s easier than you think!
Here is how to make vermicompost from cow dung:
- Prepare your bin for cow dung vermicompost.
- Select the bedding for your vermicompost.
- Obtain worms to recycle organic materials in the bin.
- Allow the cow dung to dry before adding it to your bin.
- Add worms to the vermicompost bin.
- Add cow dung to the bin.
- Wait 30-45 days for the vermicompost to mature.
- Harvest your cow dung vermicompost to use as fertilizer.
Within these steps are several tips to ensure your vermicomposting is successful. Each step in the process is essential for success, so let’s go through them together.
1. Prepare Your Bin for Cow Dung Vermicompost
Most vermicomposting bins are tiered, allowing the worms to travel to the top bin to retrieve the waste and move back down to process it. The resulting worm castings fall into the bottom container for accessible collection.
You can buy vermicomposting bins online or make one yourself. If you want to make your bins, the US Environmental Protection Agency has a great guide to creating an indoor bin, but the same principles apply to a larger outdoor bin.
You need two bins, a taller one and a shorter bin without a lid in which the taller bin can fit. Then the process goes as follows:
- Use a drill to make a 2.5 cm (1-inch hole) a short distance from the top of the taller bin on one side.
- Create another hole on the other side and then drill four 0.3 cm (⅛ inch) holes near the bottom edges of the bin.
- Cover each hole with suitable screening and secure it with waterproof glue.
- Place the taller bin inside the short container.
When selecting a bin, ensure it is large enough to accommodate your cow dung without piling it to the top. It’s important to leave space to allow good air circulation in the bin.
Find the Right Location for Your Bin
Vermicompost bins with animal waste should not be within 20 ft (6 m) of food plants or other vermicompost bins that you will be using as fertilizer for food plants. Your containers will not get hot enough to kill the harmful bacteria in the waste.
It would be best if you did not place your bin in an area with an excess lot of direct sunlight. The worms are quite sensitive to light and may die of dehydration if exposed to too much. Additionally, you will need to keep the bin slightly damp, and sunlight will dry the material out faster and require more frequent watering and maintenance.
If you use an indoor bin, a garage or shed are the best choices because they are far away from any food products.
2. Select the Bedding for Your Vermicompost
Your vermicomposting bin cannot be pure waste. The worms need a strong carbon source to produce the high concentration of microbes you need for rich fertilizer. They also need an additional food source to help simulate their natural environment.
The pH of cow dung can vary, so having neutral material (pH 7) will help maintain the bin at a comfortable level for the worms.
Beeding will provide airflow that the cow dung does not. You should break it into small pieces to make it easier for the worms to work through. Keeping the bedding damp will also make it softer to accommodate the toothless worms.
Shredded paper is a popular choice for worm bedding because it is readily available and has a high carbon content. Newspaper, cardboard, and unbleached paper are perfect but avoid bleached printer paper.
Other bedding options include:
- Peat moss
- Wood chips.
There should be at least three inches of bedding at the bottom of the bin before you add your waste, and you will need to add more as time goes by. Ensure that the bedding is damp when you add it to the bin.
3. Obtain Worms To Recycle Organic Materials in the Bin
You cannot vermicompost with just any worms. The most common worms used for vermicomposting are redworm and red wigglers.
You can buy these worms online or get some from a fellow vermicomposter in your area.
To start a new bin, experts recommend 1 lb (.45) kg of worms, which works out to be about 1,000 worms. The more worms you have, the faster your vermicomposting process will be, and the more bedding they need.
It is best to buy young worms, so they can grow up and produce more worms, keeping your worm population high. In a healthy bin, you will eventually have more worms than you can accommodate in a single bin, and you will be able to start a new bin or give some of your worms away to another vermicomposter.
4. Allow Cow Dung To Dry Before Adding It to Your Bin
You will need to dry the cow dung before adding it to your vermicomposting bin. This process can take anywhere from 8 to 12 days, although the weather conditions can significantly impact drying time.
To dry the waste quickly, spread it out into a thin layer in a spot that gets direct sunlight. If you get a lot of rain in your area, you may need to cover it with a tarp and wait longer for it to dry.
Once the dung is dry, you need to cut it into small pieces; the smaller, the better.
5. Add Worms to the Vermicompost Bin
You should introduce the worms to your vermicomposting bin towards the end of the dung’s drying process. You should do this at least a day before adding the cow dung to allow them time to acclimate. Once they have settled in their new environment, they will be ready to start recycling the cow dung.
6. Add Cow Dung to the Bin
You must create a slurry by only adding water to the cow dung until you achieve a thick, milkshake-like consistency.
Add the slurry to the vermicompost bin, leaving at least two inches of space at the top of your bin to preserve air circulation. If you have too much cow dung to leave much space, it is better to start a new bin than shove it all into one or save some of the waste to add later on. You should not compact the waste either.
At this stage, you can also combine other animal waste with the cow dung, such as cat litter.
7. Wait 30–45 Days for the Vermicompost To Mature
A study published by the Bioresource Technology Journal found that you can harvest the fertilizer in 30 days, but the multiplication of microbes peaks around 45 days.
Your fertilizer can wait longer if you need to. However, worms need food to stay alive, and you do not want them to work through the cow dung you initially added. You can continue to add cow dung regularly and collect the fertilizer over time.
Remember that you still need to be adding more bedding periodically to ensure your worms have enough carbon available. You may occasionally add water to the bin to keep the material slightly damp.
Other than that, the worms can run the bins themselves. Unlike traditional compost, you do not need to stir or turn over the pile.
8. Harvest the Vermicompost To Use As Fertilizer
Harvesting fertilizer is generally a straightforward process. Most bins will separate the worm castings for you into the bottom bin or container. The worms should not be able to get into the bottom container, so the soil is ready to go.
Suitable Uses for Vermicompost Fertilizer
One crucial safety measure is safely dealing with vermicompost made from animal waste. You cannot use vermicompost made from animal waste as fertilizer for any plants you intend to consume. Decorative shrubs, non-fruit-bearing trees, and flowers are perfect for fertilizing with vermicompost.
When stored properly, vermicompost can last more than three years. For information on the proper storage for vermicompost, take a look at this article: How Long Does Vermicompost Last?
Health Considerations When Using Dung-Based Compost
You must take proper precautions when working with animal waste. These considerations include but are not limited to wearing gloves when handling waste, wearing long-sleeve shirts and long pants and washing your hands immediately after working with the waste. Also, you must never touch your face with dirty hands.
People who are immunocompromised are discouraged from handling any products containing animal waste.
Vermicomposting cow dung is not hard to learn; once you start, you will get the hang of it quickly.
Remember to employ safety measures around animal waste and keep the cow dung and resulting fertilizer away from any plants you intend to eat.
For the benefits of vermicompost cow dung compared to manure, read this article: Vermicompost vs. Manure.