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All Things Organic Blog

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Worm Tea: A part of your garden

March 1st, 2016 | by Mel-Lynda Andersen | in |    0   

Just by looking at the title, some people are thinking... uhh... I think you meant to type "warm tea" not worm tea! The truth is, worm tea is real, but I would keep it away from your mouth if I were you. :)

O.K. so... Worm tea??

There's a few different names for the kind of tea that I'm talking about. There's worm tea, compost tea, activated tea, worm compost tea, worm castings tea... you get the gist. Most of the time, people know worm tea as compost tea. Compost tea is a technique used to deliver nutrients and microbial life to the soil and to plants' roots and leaves. As growers become more and more informed, they are seeing the soil as a world with as complex a food web as that above ground, a web that must remain intact if there is to be healthy agriculture.

There is a special method to making compost tea, and it can actually be pretty dangerous if you attempt to seal the container that is holding the compost tea during its creation! In order to make compost tea, you soak good compost in highly aerated and warmed water and add nutrients for rapid microbial growth. This process of rapid growth over the course of several days can create a significant amount of pressure when contained, and can actually be explosive! In order to avoid a very messy situation, and potential injury during the pressure alleviation, just let what appears to look like a bucket of bubbling bog water be whatever it wants! 

The benefits of using compost tea on your plants clearly outweigh the disadvantages of not using it, but for those of you who aren't convinced, lets find out the real meal deal.

It is applied by being sprayed onto leaves (both sides) and drenched into the root zone frequently during the periods that diseases occur.

The microbes delivered in compost tea help plants by out-competing anaerobic and other pathogenic organisms and by occupying infection sites on plants' root and leaf surfaces. Early tests are showing that well-made compost tea has properties that help give plants resistance to many diseases.

Making an organic compost tea involves several important steps:

1) Choosing the right compost

2) Choosing the right nutrients

3) Brewing and applying tea correctly

Let's look at each of these in turn. (Note that if you purchase any of the tea brewers listed below, the unit will come with instructions on correct tea brewing). Our instructions here are only meant to give you some background to tea making.

The compost used in making tea is like the starter you use in making yoghurt, or bread. The compost inoculates the tea with organisms. Thus, you want the compost to have a good diversity of beneficial organisms!

Plants differ in their soil preferences, personally I call them picky.

Some need a bacterial-dominated soil, others want a fungal-dominated soil, and still others like a soil that's somewhere in between. A plant that prefers a fungal-dominated soil will benefit from a fungal-dominated tea, which you'd brew using a more fungal-dominated organic compost.

Here's where things get technical...

To make an organic compost with more fungi, mix in larger amounts of cardboard, paper, sawdust, wood shavings and heavy stalk plant material as you prepare the compost. For bacterial dominance, use food waste, green plant waste and livestock manure. (Most worm composts are highly bacterially-dominated because they are made using food scraps.) Whatever compost you use, be sure it is finished, well-stabilized compost, and that it's fairly fresh.

You'll brew all teas using only dechlorinated water, so remember to leave the water out to sit for at least 24 hours prior to brewing.

Brewing nutrients also influence the finished tea. To encourage the development of fungi in the tea, for example, mix two parts humic acids, two parts yucca, saponin or aloe vera and one part fish hydrolyzate or other proteins into the water. 

Some recipes may seem excessive and confusing, but you really only need to start with the basic recipe for a simple bacterially dominant compost tea. For bacterial dominance, you'll feed one liquid ounce black strap molasses per gallon of tea and and an equal amount of cold-water kelp. For the molasses, you can also substitute brown sugar, honey or maple syrup if you like.

Organic Compost Tea vs. Leachate

Some bin manufacturers suggest that the liquid that drains out of a worm bin is compost tea. Bin instructions sometimes encourage worm bin users to pour water into their bins to get more "worm tea", as it's called.

Unfortunately, this is leachate, not tea.

Don't worry! It's a common misunderstanding. This leachate contains only a very small percentage of the nutrients and microorganisms of tea, as well as a significant amount of undecomposed organic matter, that will quickly cause the liquid to turn anaerobic. Be careful, and only give this liquid to your plants if it is still aerobic (your nose will tell you), and don't pour water through worm bins. Use only finished stable vermicompost and follow specific tea-making instructions.

If you want to try out tea without investing in a brewer, contact us! If you live near our Langley location, we can prepare a batch of compost tea for you for your plants and gardens. 

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