Vermiponics? Adding Worms to Hydroponic Gardens

When you combine worm composting with a hydroponic garden you create a special ecosystem. wk1003mike/Shutterstock

You’ve probably heard of hydroponic gardening and vermicomposting, but have you ever heard of the two combined in one ultra-efficient garden? It turns out, wriggly red worms don’t flourish only in soil and food scraps — they can give a boost to plants growing in water, as well.

Gardener Jim Joyner developed an “aqua-vermiculture” system in which plants and worms thrive together in a gravel bed that’s routinely flooded with water and drained, creating a mini ecosystem and fertilizer factory.

As explained on the Red Worm Composting website, Joyner’s 4′x8′x6′′ beds are filled with red worms — the kind normally used for vermicomposting — and fed a combination of rabbit food and defatted soy meal, turning it into a rich, potent fertilizer for the plants.

The idea evolved from aquaponics, a method of hydroponic gardening in which aquatic animals and cultivated plants mutually benefit from each other. Plants oxygenate the water, and fish waste fertilizes them in turn. However, there are some drawbacks to this system. It requires more water and careful attention to keep the fish alive and healthy. Worms, on the other hand, take care of themselves — as long as they’re fed regularly.

Joyner plans to modify the system slightly, separating the worm and plant beds while still providing a link between the two so they can continue mutually benefiting each other. He will also set up a system so that water flows constantly and is automatically pumped out to flush the extra fertilizer from the beds, which can be used in other gardens.

Bentley Christie of Red Worm Composting built his own mini vermiponics system based on Joyner’s setup, adding some soft materials like egg carton cardboard and dryer lint to give the worms a more plush environment as well as some organic compost. Christie plans to provide updates on his own system and Joyner’s at the Red Worm Composting site linked above.