The microbial ecology of cow slurry in vermiculture beds

  • Paul Hand

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The suitability of cow slurry as a substrate for vermicomposting by Eisenia fetida was investigated. Particular attention was given to the effects of the earthworm on the decomposition and stabilisation of the slurry; and to the interactions between E. fetida and the microflora of the substrate.
Assessment of the chemical and microbiological changes in cow slurry stored under forced aeration, and subsequently in shallow trays, showed that neither method was suitable for the treatment of slurry.
A comparison of two methods of vermicomposting showed that top-feeding of slurry was more efficient in promoting earthworm growth and cocoon production than the mixing of slurry with solid materials. Management practices were found to have an important influence on the efficiency of the process.
An investigation o:f the effect of E. fetida. on the decomposition of slurry indicated that the presence of this earthworm enhanced the stabilisation of the substrate and increased the plant-available nitrogen content.
Specific nutritional interactions were observed between E. fetida and micro-organisms in sand/cellulose microcosms. The earthworms were found to be feeding directly upon the cells of certain micro-organisms. Other species were found to be toxic to E. fetida.. A technique was developed :for the production of axenic E. fetida., and the use of such earthworms in :feeding experiments confirmed the importance of some micro-organisms in earthworm nutrition. The seeding of vermiculture beds with one such micro-organism stimulated
earthworm growth and consumption of the substrate.
Vermicomposted mixtures of cow slurry and spent mushroom compost were shown to have potential application as casing materials in mushroom cultivation.
The findings of this study indicate the suitability of vermicomposting as a method for the stabilisation of intensively-produced cow slurry, and give some indication of the importance of micro-organisms in the nutrition of E. fetida.
Date of AwardJun 1984
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorW.A. Hayes (Supervisor) & Juliet Frankland (Supervisor)


  • Eisenia fetida
  • cow slurry
  • vermicomposting
  • earthworm/microbe interactions

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