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Sunday, 25 February 2007

Earthworms Working with the Wine Production Industry


By Esperanza Romero, Celia Cifuentes, Emilio Benítez & Rogelio Nogales

Estación Experimental del Zaidín. CSIC, c/ Profesor Albareda, 1 18008-Granada,  Spain

Wine production is a major food industry in the world, especially in countries with a Mediterranean climate. Viticuture and the winery industry generate huge amounts of wastes and by-products and their disposal is regarded as a serious environmental issue in the main grape-growing regions in the word. The main wastes from the winery industries are vine shoots (VS), spent grape marc (SG), lees cake (L), vinasse (V), and after depuration of vinasse, biosolids vinasse (BV). In general, these wastes have a recalcitrant lignocellulosic nature and high content of toxic compounds, reason why its direct application to soils would have to be prohibited.

In this study we present the results of vermicomposting with Eisenia andrei of these winery wastes (SG, SG+L, BV+SG) in order to obtain suitable organic amendments to soils. The effectiveness of these substrates for vermicomposting was assessed by monitoring, monthly,  earthworms growth and reproduction, as well as four enzyme activities (dehydrogenase,
β-glucosidase, phosphatase and urease) over the course of a six-month semipilot-scale experiment. The chemical composition of initial substrates and obtained vermicomposts were also determined.

No mortality of earthworms was observed in any substrate. Total earthworm biomass increased in all substrates, reaching the maximum weight in BV+SG (68 g kg-1 in the third month), SG + L (50 g kg-1 in the second month) and SG (13 g kg-1 in the second month). Maximal number of clitellated earthworms was reached between the second and third month in all substrates. After six months of vermicomposting, a low biomass was recorded in all winery substrates assayed. Changes in dehydrogenase activity and hydrolytic enzymes during the vermicomposting process led the biodegradation of the winery substrates and resulted in the disappearance of the initial toxicity of them. Vermicomposting caused a decrease in total organic carbon, available organic carbon, salinity and K2O. In contrast, increases of nitrogen, P2O5, humic substances and micronutrients were observed at the end of the vermicomposting process. As consequence of these changes, the vermicomposts had lower C/N ratio and high humification rate, which would imply a higher degree of stability, humification, and polimerization of the organic matter contained in these final products. These characteristics, together with the appreciable amounts of plant nutrients, make these vermicomposts as soil organic amendments for being used in conventional, integrated and biological agriculture.

Acknowledgments: This study was financed by the Comisión Interministerial de Ciencia y Tecnología (CICYT) through project REN2003-04693

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