This tea isn’t the kind you sip with your pinky in the air. But it sure is pretty special if you ask me! This unique tea is micro-brewed from fresh natural fertilizer made of red wiggler worm casts.
Worm compost tea, which is also known as vermicompost tea, is a vitamin and mineral-rich, micro-organism packed solution used to fertilize and protect gardens from a wide range of environmental stressors.
You can find this murky mixture for sale in select locations around town and very easily online. But I’m here to tell you that it’s very much worth the effort to make your own.
I’ll explain the finer details in a bit, but it basically requires fresh worm compost, dechlorinated water, and oxygen. Toss them all together, wait a handful of hours or days, depending on your brew, and boom, it’s ready!
Worm Compost Tea, What is it Good For?
Freshly brewed worm compost tea gives a vigorous boost to all kinds of plant life! Gardeners around the world employ its use to sustain all kinds of living landscapes.
Have you tried it yet?
It makes me feel rich! It is the absolute best liquid fertilizer a gardener could use, and it’s FREE!! Here are some ways it’s helped in my garden:
- Used on the stems and leaves, beneficial bacteria ward off or destroy harmful organisms that may otherwise disease the plant. I spray the leaves of fruit trees and roses early in the season to dissuade insects or disease from taking up residence.
- When poured into the soil to feed a plant’s roots, the tea delivers a nutrient-rich drink of vitamins, minerals, bacteria, and nematodes right to where the plant can immediately absorb it. My droopy potted plants spring back into full expression after a good soak in worm tea.
- Soaking seeds in worm compost tea before planting them gives a superior head start by both moistening the seed coat, as well as inoculating the seed from damaging bacteria or pests that may interfere with a young seed’s growth. I definitely see a difference in the vigor of seeds and seedlings on tea!
- I like to prepare the earth ahead of planting by turning the soil and watering it with worm compost tea to encourage whole areas of the garden to accept young fragile plants without causing shock. The tea creates a living environment that is more hospitable to plants than depleted soil.
- When I cause bald spots in the lawn from, maybe leaving a pot in place too long, I attack it with tea to encourage rapid new growth. Areas of lawn closest to garden areas treated with worm tea stay green longer and resist more weeds. A denser root mass and thicker blades, lower the chances of random seeds finding either soilsun.
- Old worm tea stinks. I get rid of it by “top-dressing” my hot compost pile or tumbler with nutrient-rich tea. Any remaining bacteria in the tea encourages faster decomposition.
There’s even more that worm compost tea has been touted as handling. Though I’ve never used my tea in this way, I find it fascinating and encouraging to know that where toxins have polluted the soil, worm tea organisms neutralize heavy metals and metabolize both carbon-based and non-carbon based chemicals.
Leachate’s Mistaken Identity
Worm compost tea is not to be confused with leachate, the liquid that seeps through your worm farm and drains from the bottom of your bin. Leachate is more like toxic sludge compared to the invigorating elixir we make from worm casts.
Leachate contains raw matter that hasn’t been filtered through the worms’ systems and made into casts. It’s the amazing digestive process of red wigglers, in particular, that eliminates harmful organisms and concentrates what’s left into valuable “black gold.”
Non-processed leachate may contain pathogens and rot fungi, a dangerous combination when fed to tender roots and shoots.
Straight leachate should never be used in the place of tea. However, leachate can still be used as a tea starter. Just be wary, if it smells bad it’s going nowhere good. When in doubt, toss it out – to the hot compost pile, where it can become new again.
Brew Worm Tea vs. Buy Commercial Fertilizer
So, why go through the trouble of steeping worm compost instead of just buying liquid fertilizer? Most of my reasons are pretty crunchy, tree hugger, yet every bit as legit.
- Using worm tea is an environmentally responsible choice. Eliminating the use of chemical fertilizers could bring life back to many poisoned bodies of water and the surrounding habitats.
- By raising worms to create the worm casts for tea, nearly a thousand pounds of your household waste could be diverted from landfills each year. Liquid fertilizer just leaves you with one more plastic bottle to add to the heap.
- Homemade worm tea requires almost zero energy output of any sort. In comparison, the fuel, pollution, cost, waste, time, and hazards of creating and attaining commercial liquid fertilizer cause damage before a drop even hits earth.
- Chemical fertilizers are known to be harmful to plants when used in too strong a concentration. That leaves a lot of room for human error and damaged crops or ornamentals. In contrast, worm tea will never “burn” even the most tender roots.
What makes up worm tea?
So by now, you may be thinking about what’s actually in the tea that makes it so great. The thing is, there’s no definition or standard when it comes to making a tea. There are only microbes, nutrients, minerals, and water.
Each batch varies according to the makeup of the worm compost (or leachate) and the conditions it was brewed under. As variable as a bin of compost is, is how variable the quality, strength, or physical makeup of your tea will be.
Here’s an example of what you’d find on a commercial bottle of worm compost tea.
- Organic Carbon 20-30%
- Nitrogen 1.8-2%
- Phosphorus 1.2-1.9%
- Potassium 1.2-1.5%
- Nitrogen Carbon 14-15%
- Calcium 3-4.5%
- Magnesium 0.4-0.7%
- Sodium .02-.03
- Sulfur 0.40%
- Iron 0.3%
- Zinc 0.025%
- Copper 0.0032%
- Boron 0.0032%
- Aluminum Traces 0.070%
More Bacteria Bang for Your Buck
Notice, this list doesn’t state anything about the quantity or type of beneficial aerobic bacteria, enzymes, and protozoa that populate their concentrate. Interesting, since these are what we particularly want in the highly oxygenated gardens we fertilize!
It may be that commercial bottles can’t quantify such things since a closed bottle doesn’t allow for aerobic activity to continue and the levels are altered as it sits on the shelf. Or, maybe they are more concerned with selling the nutritional benefits alone. Not sure.
We know that some bacteria can hibernate in unfavorable conditions then spring into action when conditions are right. We also know that in the absence of oxygen harmful anaerobic microbes multiply. Uh oh.
Is this the case with these bottled teas? I can neither confirm nor deny that one without more research, but I do know that I can use up a 5-gallon bucket of worm compost tea in no time. Which is good, because not only do the aerobic bacteria from worm compost die without oxygen, they don’t live very long, period.
For what it’s worth, you should never store homemade tea. It should be used up within a day or two of being steeped, more quickly than that if you can. Harmful anaerobic microbes quickly take over the solution once the population of beneficial peaks and rapidly falls.
Why worm compost tea rather than worm compost alone?
It comes right down to bio-availability. In liquid form, roots can suck the nutrients right up and the soil can benefit instantly. The tea is also able to be sprayed to achieve results on leaves, and over a much wider area than an equal amount of compost could be spread.
Worm compost, on the other hand, is a great, long-lasting, slow-release fertilizer. It essentially creates a “run-off tea” each time it rains or is watered over.
Tea stands out because it is made in an oxygen-rich environment. The oxygen is what promotes such great bacterial growth in such a short amount of time.
The densely populated tea delivers similar nutrition as the compost itself, but much greater quantities of live bacteria. It’s the bacteria which bring new life into the soil fortifying the root system and healthy biome in and around the base of your plants.
Homebrewing a solution of worm compost tea requires a process of encouraging beneficial bacterial growth in clean aerated water. It can be done in as little as a day and as long as a couple weeks.
There are two very easy ways to make worm compost tea. Both involve creating a solution from worm compost and water. One includes aerating the tea as it steeps. The other is let to sit still a bit longer. As the tea steeps, the beneficial microbes inside multiply rapidly. It’s this life that when applied creates the protection within the soil or on the leaves of plants.
How to Make Worm Compost Tea
Worm compost + non-chlorinated water + oxygen + time = worm compost tea
I was never very good at math, but this kind of equation is simple enough for anyone! The best thing about it is, each part of this recipe can be made to work in a variety of ways.
For example, I know I have some time to play outside today, so I’ll go find a bucket, take a few scoops of worm compost from my most complete batch, add some water from my rain barrel, and I’ll let it sit open in the shade all day. Whenever I happen to walk by I’ll stir it up a bit and just let it steep until it’s time to water new plantings in.
At the end of the day, I’ll add more dechlorinated water and let it sit overnight. By tomorrow I’ll have more nutritious tea to feed my garden with. After that, I’ll add that used up compost to a potted plant and use up the tea so that the bacteria don’t die and start to make a stinky mess of putrid slime. It’s easy enough to start again another day.
Now, how about some tea?
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