Encapsulated Earthworm Cocoons

Acknowledgement: Advanced Prairie, Inc


425_logo.jpgWilliam R. Kreitzer, CTO of Advanced Prairie, Inc., formally Advanced Biotechnology, Inc., has patented a way to Encapsulate Earthworm Cocoons (eggs) called VermiPods. This patented product (US 6,834,614) allows earthworm cocoon (eggs) to be planted into the fields at the same time crops are being planted. Now for the very first time, earthworms can be re-introduction back into agricultural fields on a mass scale at a very reasonable cost to the end user.


VermiPods are a specially selected mixture of earthworm cocoons (eggs). Different species of earthworms do different things to the soil. Some burrow horizontally, while others burrow vertically. Earthworms are much more effective and more economical than store bought soil fertilizers or soil conditioners. Not only do earthworms provide valuable fertility to the soil they also improve the soils tilth (structure).


Current species of Earthworm cocoons that are now being encapsulated are:


  • Aporrectodea caliginosa, Common Name: The common pasture earthworm.
  • Dendrobaena veneta, Common Name: European night crawler. This worm is also known as Eisenia hortensis. This species performs best in excessively wet environments.
  • Eisenia andrei, Common Name: Red Tiger worm. This worm is often mistaken for the Eisenia fetida. Its growth and reproduction rates are higher then the Eisenia fetida so it is best used when vermicomposting.
  • Eisenia fetida, Common Name: Manure worm, Red Wiggler and Tiger worm used where animal waste is dominate.
  • Lumbricus rubellus, Common Name: Red marsh worm. Commonly found in places rich in organic matter and moisture such as gardens and pastures 
  • Lumbricus terrestris, Common Name: Nightcrawler or Dew-worm.


gco216.jpgVermiPods contain some earthworm cocoons that are in a state of diapause, i.e. suspended animation. Some cocoons will have more than one egg in them. We guarantee that each VP contains one earthworm cocoon. Each cocoon will have anywhere from one to eight eggs in them. Some have been known to have as many as 12.

Keep your VermiPods under refrigeration until you are ready to plant them. Place them in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator where there is adequate humidity. They may be kept up to two to three months under these conditions. Research has shown that the viability of VermiPods can be as high as a 70 percent when planted within 30 to 90 days after encapsulation. The viability will diminish over time, so it is advisable to plant them as soon as possible.


VermiPods hatching times will very. They have been known to hatch within days, but also could be many weeks or even months before they all hatch. They have been known to hatch even after one year. It is natures way to ensure their survival. Minimum planting recommendations are one VermiPod per square foot. The more you plant, the quicker the results. Garden soils can easily support 15 to 20 worms per square foot.


Benefits of Inoculating Fields with Encapsulated Earthworm Cocoons
According to Earthworm Ecology from Darwin to Vermiculture, There is not sufficient awareness of the importance of earthworms in promoting the formation of soil aggregates, although reviews by Satchell (1967) especially and by Edwards and Lofty (1972) have summarized clearly evidence which indicates that soil structure is invariably good when there is an adequate earthworm population present.


Since earthworm populations have been decimated through chemicals and conventional farming methods, the problem facing farmers switching to organic and no-till methods involves how to restore earthworms to cropland. Simply switching to no-till methods and perhaps adding compost to the soil may attract earthworms back to the area over a long period of time, but certainly not quickly enough. One of the authors has been no-tilling a 60 acre field for over 15 years and there are still few earthworms in the soil. The only way to recover the earthworm population within a meaningful timeframe is through purposefully reintroducing earthworms to the soil. To date, there has been no economical method for reintroducing earthworms into a field on a massive scale. Encapsulating earthworm cocoons is a solution with significant potential, but it must first be determined whether the cocoons have a reasonable shelf life and can survive the planting process.


The L. rubellus earthworm was chosen because it is a species which survives equally well in bin culture and in soils rich in organic matter. The latter is important for farmers switching to no-till and needing the earthworms help in disposing of the previous years crop residue. The L. rubellus also is capable of burrowing below the frost line in winter. Other species have been encapsulated successfully as well.


The condition of the test soil is similar to that of the average farmer switching to no-till. No extra nutrients will be added unless the soil pH is too acidic for earthworms to tolerate. In that case, limestone will be added to increase the pH. Eventually (but not within this scope of this grant) the research will be extended to re-introducing earthworms into reclaimed strip mining and other dormant, unproductive soils.


Earthworms have the ability to diapause and hatch at the appropriate time, so the encapsulated cocoons can be introduced into the soil during any season except winter. Distribution during the seeding process has been chosen for convenience, to plant the cocoons with the different type of soybean seed. There is no correct rate of planting the cocoons; the seed planting rate has been chosen for convenience. 


We propose that earthworm cocoons (eggs) be encapsulated and planted into the fields at the same time crops are planted.


ABI with Dr. Timothy Smith (Indiana School of Medicine) and Dr. Thomas Bicki (Department of Agronomy, University of Illinois) performed extensive literature searches and preliminary laboratory and field tests in the early 1990s that concluded that cocoon encapsulation is the best method for achieving rapid earthworm field repopulation. During the past thirteen years, ABI has perfected the earthworm breeding and cocoon collection techniques.


ABI holds 2 patents one issued in July, 1992 on one type of encapsulation method (USP 5,127,186). This particular method of encapsulation was not economically viable based on the cost to encapsulate each earthworm cocoon. In July 2001, ABI, developed an economically viable encapsulation method. On December 28, 2004 Bill Kreitzer was issured patent 6,834,614 on this latest encapsulation method.


ABI completed research in 2004 to confirm that:


  • Earthworm cocoons have a high natural viability rate.
  • Encapsulated earthworm cocoons maintain a high viability rate after going through the encapsulation process. (The encapsulation process does not harm the cocoons.)
  • Encapsulated earthworm cocoons have acceptable shelf-life viability rates (important for commercialization).
  • Encapsulated earthworm cocoons have acceptable viability (or more appropriately in this case, germination rates after being planted in actual field conditions.
  • Our viability tests confirmed our assumptions and we will now be able to explore how earthworm cocoons can be produced on a large-scale basis and sold to farmers across the country.