Recycling of environmentally problematic plant wastes generated from greenhouse tomato crops through vermicomposting

  • M. J. Fernández-Gómez
  • M. Díaz-Raviña
  • E. Romero
  • R. Nogales
Original Paper


The enormous quantity of plant waste produced from greenhouse tomato crops is an environmental problem that should be solved by recycling that waste into valuable organic products through low-cost technologies, such as vermicomposting. Feasibility of vermicomposting greenhouse tomato-plant waste (P) using paper-mill sludge (S) as complementary waste was investigated by this study. Earthworm development in P, S, and two mixtures of both wastes was monitored over 24 weeks and compared with that in cow dung (D), an optimum organic-waste to be vermicomposted. The effectiveness of vermicomposting to biostabilize those wastes was assessed by analysing phospholipid fatty acid composition, chemical features, plant-nutrient content, metal concentration, enzyme activities, and germination index (GI). A commercial vermicompost was also analyzed and taken as a reference of vermicompost quality. Earthworms did not survive in P alone, but a mixture of P with S at a ratio of 2:1 or 1:1 resulted in earthworm development similar to that observed in D. Phospholipid fatty acid analysis revealed that earthworm activity strongly transformed initial microbiota inhabiting the wastes, giving rise to vermicompost microbial communities which were similar to that of a commercial vermicompost. Both mixtures of P and S were properly biostabilized through vermicomposting, as indicated by decreases in their C:N ratio and enzyme activities together with increases in their degree of maturity (GI ~ 100 %) after the process. This study demonstrates that the vermicomposting of tomato-plant waste together with paper-mill sludge allows the recycling of both wastes, thereby improving the environmental sustainability of greenhouse crops.


Biostabilization Eisenia fetida earthworms Enzyme activity Microbial phospholipid fatty acids Paper-mill sludge 



This study was financed by “Junta de Andalucía” project P05-AGR-00408. M. J. Fernández-Gómez thanks the Science and Innovation Ministry for their FPU doctoral grant (AP2006-03452). The authors also thank C. Cifuentes, A. Martín and J. Benitez for technical support and D. Nesbitt for assisting in the translation of the manuscript into English.


  1. Aira M, Monroy F, Domínguez J (2006) Changes in microbial biomass and microbial activity of pig slurry after the transit through the gut of the earthworm Eudrilus eugeniae (Kinberg, 1867). Biol Fertil Soils 42(4):371–376CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alkoaik F, Ghaly AE (2005) Effect of inoculum size on the composting of greenhouse tomato plant trimmings. Compost Sci Util 13:262–273Google Scholar
  3. Alkoaik F, Ghaly AE (2006) Influence of dairy manure addition on the biological and thermal kinetics of composting of greenhouse tomato plant residues. Waste Manage 26(8):902–913CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Atiyeh RM, Domínguez J, Subler S, Edwards CA (2000) Changes in biochemical properties of cow manure during processing by earthworms (Eisenia andrei, Bouche) and the effects on seedling growth. Pedobiologia 44(6):709–724CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Benítez E, Nogales R, Elvira C, Masciandaro G, Ceccanti B (1999) Enzyme activities as indicators of the stabilization of sewage sludges composting with Eisenia foetida. Bioresour Technol 67(3):297–303CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bhattacharya SS, Chattopadhyay GN (2004) Transformation of nitrogen during vermicomposting of fly ash. Waste Manage Res 22(6):488–491CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bicheldey TK, Latushkina EN (2010) Biogas emission prognosis at the landfills. Int J Environ Sci Technol 7(4):623–628Google Scholar
  8. Bonmatí M, Ceccanti B, Nannipieri P (1998) Protease extraction from soil by sodium pyrophosphate and chemical characterization of the extracts. Soil Biol Biochem 30(14):2113–2125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Campitelli P, Ceppi S (2008) Chemical physical and biological compost and vermicompost characterization: a chemometric study. Chemometr Intell Lab 90(1):64–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Domínguez J, Aira M, Gómez-Brandón M (2010) Vermicomposting: earthworms enhance the work of microbes. In: Insam H, Franke-Whittle I, Goberna M (eds) Microbes at work. Springer, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  11. Edwards CA (1988) Breakdown of animal, vegetable and industrial organic wastes by earthworms. In: Edwards CA, Neuhauser EF (eds) Earthworms in waste and environmental management. SPB Academic Publishing BV, The HagueGoogle Scholar
  12. Elvira C, Goicoechea M, Sampedro L, Mato S, Nogales R (1996) Bioconversion of solid paper-pulp mill sludge by earthworms. Bioresour Technol 57(2):173–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Elvira C, Sampedro L, Domínguez J, Mato S (1997) Vermicomposting of wastewater sludge from paper-pulp industry with nitrogen rich materials. Soil Biol Biochem 29(3–4):759–762CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fernández-Gómez MJ, Romero E, Nogales R (2010) Feasibility of vermicomposting for vegetable greenhouse waste recycling. Bioresour Technol 101(24):9654–9660CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fostergård A, Bååth E, Tunlio A (1993) Shifts in the structure of soil microbial communities in limed forests as revealed by phospholipid fatty acid analysis. Soil Biol Biochem 25(6):723–730CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. García C, Hernández T, Costa F (1997) Potential use of dehydrogenase activity as an index of microbial activity in degraded soils. Commun Soil Sci Plan 28(1–2):123–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gobierno de España (2005) Real Decreto 824/2005 sobre productos fertilizantes. BOE, Gobierno de España, MadridGoogle Scholar
  18. Gómez-Brandón M, Lazcano C, Lores M, Domínguez J (2010) Detritivorous earthworms modify microbial community structure and accelerate plant residue decomposition. Appl Soil Ecol 44(3):237–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gupta R, Garg VK (2009) Vermiremediation and nutrient recovery of non-recyclable paper waste employing Eisenia fetida. J Hazard Mater 162(1):430–439CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kandeler E, Gerber H (1988) Short-term assay of soil urease activity using colorimetric determination of ammonium. Biol Fertil Soils 6(1):68–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kaur A, Singh J, Vig AP, Dhaliwal SS, Rup PJ (2010) Cocomposting with and without Eisenia fetida for conversion of toxic paper mill sludge to a soil conditioner. Bioresour Technol 101(21):8192–8198CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lasaridi K, Protopapa I, Kotsou M, Pilidis G, Manios T, Kyriacou A (2006) Quality assessment of composts in the Greek market: the need for standards and quality assurance. J Environ Manage 80(1):58–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Manzano-Agugliaro F (2007) Gasificación de residuos de invernadero para la obtención de energía eléctrica en el sur de España: ubicación mediante SIG. Interciencia 32(2):131–136Google Scholar
  24. Marschner P (2007) Soil microbial community structure and function assessed by FAME, PLFA and DGGE—Advantages and limitations. In: Varma A, Oelmüller R (eds) Advanced techniques in soil microbiology. Springer, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  25. Moore-Kucera J, Dick RP (2008) PLFA profiling of microbial community structure and seasonal shifts in soils of a Douglas-fir chronosequence. Microb Ecol 55(3):500–511CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Pardossi A, Tognoni F, Incrocci L (2004) Mediterranean greenhouse technology. Chron Hort 44:28–34Google Scholar
  27. Parra S, Aguilar FJ, Calatrava J (2008) Decision modelling for environmental protection: the contingent valuation method applied to greenhouse waste management. Biosyst Eng 99(4):469–477CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Schönholzer F, Hahn D, Zeyer J (1999) Origins and fate of fungi and bacteria in the gut of Lumbricus terrestris L. studied by image analysis. FEMS Microbiol Ecol 28(3):235–248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Senesi N (1989) Composted materials as organic fertilizers. Sci Total Environ 81–82(C):521–542CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Speir TW, Ross DJ (1978) Soil phosphatase and sulphatase. In: Burns RG (ed) Soil enzymes. Academic Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  31. Suthar S, Singh S (2008) Vermicomposting of domestic waste by using two epigeic earthworms (Perionyx excavatus and Perionyx sansibaricus). Int J Environ Sci Technol 5(1):99–106Google Scholar
  32. Tabatabai MA (1982) Soil enzymes. In: Page AL, Miller EM, Keeney DR (eds) Methods of Soil Analysis, Part 2, Chemical and Microbiological Properties. ASA and SSSA, MadisonGoogle Scholar
  33. Tabatabai MA, Bremner JM (1969) Use of p-nitrophenyl phosphate for assay of soil phosphatase activity. Soil Biol Biochem 1(4):301–307CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Williams S (1984) Official methods of analysis of the Association of Official Analytical Chemists 14th Ed. Association of Official Analytical Chemists, ArlingtonGoogle Scholar
  35. Zdruli P, Jones RJA, Montanarella L (2004) Organic matter in the soils of southern Europe, European Soil Bureau Research Report, EUR 21083 EN. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, LuxembourgGoogle Scholar
  36. Zucconi F, Forte M, Monaco A, De Bertoldi M (1981) Biological evaluation of compost maturity. BioCycle 22(4):27–29Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Islamic Azad University (IAU) 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. J. Fernández-Gómez
    • 1
  • M. Díaz-Raviña
    • 2
  • E. Romero
    • 1
  • R. Nogales
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental ProtectionEstación Experimental del Zaidín (EEZ-CSIC)GranadaSpain
  2. 2.Department of Soil BiochemistryInstituto de Investigaciones Agrobiológicas de GaliciaGaliciaSpain

Personalised recommendations