tea for two

First a disclaimer:  I’m a novice worm herder.  I’m a novice worm tea maker and user. What I did in the past season worked really well for the worms and the garden.  But it could have been a coincidence.  So read with that in mind.

6 week old seedlings started in potting mix using worm castings

6 week old seedlings started in potting mix using worm castings

You really do owe it to yourself to try composting with worms and making worm tea. Worm tea might just be the most effective supplement that I’ve ever seen for improving the health of garden plants (and soil). Anecdotal evidence is out there if you don’t trust my shifty little eyes. There are also lots of sites that walk you through the process of tea-making, most wanting to help you and take your money. Fair enough.

I won’t take your money, but I would like to describe the process that I use.

My worm bin has never smelled and the worms don’t escape.  The bin sits on the floor of a grow-closet (where I start seedlings).  Of course you could just throw your garbage on the compost pile, but that’s not as much fun, and you can still do some of that if you want.  Red wigglers should consume about half their weight in scraps per day.  So if you start with a pound of worms, you can figure on converting 3.5 pounds of your waste into black worm gold every week.

Most information readily available on the internet about the stuff is hearsay or personal anecdotes. Not that personal anecdotes are invalid or less compelling. Maybe the opposite.  But it’s hard to find scientific information about vermicompost tea.  One study says good things I think, but it hurt my brain.  Too many strange words, initials and sentences. Science. Pfft.

From my limited experience, vermicompost is awesome stuff to add to planting holes or for using in homemade potting mix.  And especially for making worm tea.  I just need a handful of worm dirt to make enough tea to spray all the foliage in my 1000 square foot garden, and have lots left over to pour beneath special plants.  It’s safe, it won’t burn, and it’s full of microbes, bacteria and fungi that help plants thrive. And it can be sprayed or poured with abandon.  I used it weekly until late in the summer.

cabbage loves worm tea

cabbage loves worm tea

So for starters you’ll need a worm home.  I use two 10-gallon totes, modified for the purpose.  For details on constructing the bin, Google “homemade worm bin” or click on this video link.

If you aren’t DIY-inclined, or you want some class for your worms, you could shell out for a worm hotel.

You’ll need to get some of the little charmers themselves of course.  Again, lots of places to buy them, and they come delivered in some bedding, and usually with instructions for what they’ll need as they settle in.

After 3 months or so, you should be able to harvest some vermicompost (the rich, black mixture of worm poo and organic matter in your bin).  And then it’s time for brewing tea.  The worms go happily back to work on the next round of garbage and shredded paper.

Now for the tea part.  You’ll need a few more pieces of equipment, and if you’ve ever made regular compost tea this should be pretty familiar.

You probably already have one of these hanging around: 5 Gallon bucket.

Also an old aquarium pump, which is what I did last year.  It worked fine. But I’m geeked because I recently graduated to this: Ecoplus Commercial Air 1.

From what I’ve read, the microorganisms and good bacteria in worm tea multiply better when the water surface is continually broken, and more aeration is more effective at growing the little beasties that make plants thrive.

Next you’ll want an aquarium air stone or one of these (for the bigger pump):

This one works on the same principle:
Worm tea aerator

Connect the pump to the air stone or aeration device with appropriately-sized vinyl tubing.

You also might want a strainer bag for suspending the worm castings in the bucket.  This keeps debris from clogging your sprayer.  You could dump castings into the bucket and strain after the fact also. Or if you’re just watering plants, there’s no need for filtering.

Fill the bucket with unchlorinated water, add about a quarter cup of unsulfured molasses, which keeps the little guys in your brew pot happy, and then maybe some liquid kelp, or not, depending on your mood.   Turn on the pump and let er rip for 24 hours in a room-temperature environment.  The tea should smell sweet and earthy, like dirt-molasses when you’re finished.

Squirt it on your garden plants or pour it around their bases.

And that’s it.  Was that easy? Well, maybe not so much.  But awful fun.


10 thoughts on “tea for two

  1. Pingback: tea for two part two | vegetablurb

  2. I would like to find a way to aerate the worm bin using solar. Let me know if you have any ideas. – an aerating pump that will work off of a small solar collector.


  3. Hi Dan, Really like your site. I’ll be following. I updated my vermiculture posting on my Facebook page which is public with this info on 02/04/16: “Graphic photo for my vermiculture friends: Since my red wigglers have experienced little rest during this mild winter, they are hungry and in need of fat, protein, and real earth organisms. I’m supplying them with the fat off my bone broths, they seem to be doing well digesting their own decaying worm carcasses for the extra protein, and I am able to throw in some garden debris, roots with dirt attached, dead calendula plants and geraniums that I’ve pulled up. They immediately consume brown paper bags, brown coffee filters and coffee grounds.The worms go through kitchen compostables at a voracious rate thus providing enrichment for container gardening this summer.” Then I posted a photo of a fork of my red wigglers. I’ll be back to check progress on your worms and your veggies, for sure! Happy Imbolc! Patricia


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