waterers and worms and weather

-20° last night.

On to more pleasant things.

Having just finished up modifications on a new heated chicken waterer, I figured last night would provide the perfect atmosphere for seeing what kind of chutzpa it really has.  If the water doesn’t freeze in this, it never will.

So I partially filled it up (a condition which I expect will frequently be the case), ran it out to the poop-coop and plugged it in.  This morning I was actually excited to go outside.

IMG_4301Iced condensation, but the water held!  Success and happiness.

The problem that I hadn’t foreseen was frozen nipples (not mine).  After I tapped them a bit they loosened up, but still no water.  I suspect this is a situation that any poultry nipple user encounters in frigid weather, not just me.  Any tips out there?  It only gets this cold once every few years, so if I can’t come up with anything else I’ll just take off the lid and let them drink directly from the bucket until the nipples defrost.

And yesterday I started a small batch of winter worm tea for the seedlings in the grow room.  It’s the first time I’ve used my new aerator.  Boy is it powerful and boy is it noisy.  I had to tuck the bucket away in an upstairs closet and could still hear it.  But come warm weather it’ll live out in the barn.

IMG_4302

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vermicompost tea research

There aren’t a lot of scientifically-conducted research results available that reference vermicompost tea. Plenty of anecdotal stuff. I know what I believe, what I’ve seen with my eyes, but still, study results make one feel a little more confident in his or her course of action.

I found this pdf, reprinted from BioCycle referencing Ohio State University studies:

“Greenhouse plant growth trials… established that the vermicompost teas had significant effects, not only on plant germination and growth, but also on the incidence of plant diseases, plant parasitic nematodes and arthropod pests.”

That feels better.

“…half of the treatments tested were aerated and half were not. Parameters studied were: pH, ni- trate-N, dehydrogenase enzyme activity and microbial biomass. All of these parameters were significantly lower in the nonaerated teas compared with those in the aerated ones, probably be- cause dissolved oxygen supports microbial activity.”

“Germination rates, heights and leaf areas of tomato plants were significantly greater in response to treatments with aerated vermicompost teas, than those of plants treated with nonaerated vermicompost teas”

“There were significant growth responses to aerated vermicompost teas, even at the lowest concentration tested. Similar responses occurred in germination, heights and leaf areas of cucumbers in response to aerated and nonaerated teas. No practical problems such as adverse growth effects in the use of vermicompost teas were found at any of the dilutions tested.”

And that makes a good case for aeration.

And this, from BioCycle Magazine

“Preliminary research has demonstrated clearly that teas produced with aeration are much more stable and effective than those produced without aeration”

“During the “brewing” process, soluble mineral nutrients, beneficial microorganisms, humic and fulvic acids, plant growth hormones and plant growth regulators – known to be available in solid vermicompost – are probably extracted into the tea.”

“In more recent experiments, we applied a range of dilutions of teas produced from cattle waste vermicompost, to tomato plants infected with Verticillium wilt and assessed the damage ratings after 14 days. All of the application rates of teas that were tested suppressed this plant disease significantly.”

That last bit, about plant disease suppression? It seemed to be the case for me last year. My tomatoes have never been healthier.

The only hesitation I have is that my experience using aerated worm tea only encompasses one year. Growing conditions, especially the weather, probably affect results as much or more than other factors. Last year for us in southeastern Michigan was one of the best weather years I can remember.

So as much as I hope and believe that aerated vermicompost tea really makes a difference, I should probably cool my jets for a year.

If you come across anything, I’d love to see it.

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):
BubbleSnake

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.

testing the waters

I would guess there’s a very small subset of gardeners who actually make and use worm tea.  Don’t be offended if you do…I’m just sayin’.  I’ve only used it for one season, but I’m ready to say that it might just be THE best plant grower that’s ever been concocted.

I sprayed everything once a week with worm tea last year, and I’ve never had a garden perform so uniformly well, with so little disease.  One year’s not a real test, I know.  But gut feeling says worm tea=good.

The process of making worm tea involves aerating the water.  Last year I used a small fish air pump.  This year, a little beefier.  And I got this for Christmas:

bubblesnake

The Bubblesnake!  Had to try it out, like men do.  You can see that it will provide some agitation…

churning water

That was my excitement for the day.  It doesn’t take much.