I grew up in an area where there was severe drought, I vividly remember when I was a teenager the water situation was so dire each household, irrespective of size was allowed 5 buckets of water a day to do everything with, and I mean everything! The fines if you went over your allocated water allowance were massive, and I watched heartbroken as our garden slowly withered away to a dust bowl. My father fortunately at the time worked for a company that had a ground well and he would bring home 4 barrels of water every day to keep my greenhouse going, as well as his beloved vegetable garden. My father was also a avid fisherman and had these big elevated drums in which he kept his worms for fishing and it was at the height of the drought that I noticed something truly remarkable about his vegetables, they were bigger and tastier than they had ever been! I at first thought it was the well water, until I looked at my plants in the greenhouse, they were not as happy as before, the water from the well was not a good quality at all.
Water was so precious we could not waste a drop, and one day I saw my father taking buckets and placing them under the worm drums to catch water as he hosed down his precious worm farm. The water that poured out from those barrels was the color of tea, and my father threw every drop of water that drained out those barrels onto his nearby vegetable garden, and thats when everything started to come together and a bigger picture formed for me. I asked my father if he had always done that and he had not, he simply stated hard times called for hard labor. I started to take a few cups of that water and selected a few plants in the greenhouse to test my theory on, it was 5 anthurium plants and within 6 months of doing this, I knew there was just something magical about that water run off from the worms. The plants were thriving with bigger leaves, bigger blooms and the plants just looked happier overall, certainly better than anything else in the greenhouse thats for sure!
The water that was being applied to the plants was loaded with worm poop, what today is marketed as a natural fertilizer called worm castings. These worm castings can be added directly to the soil as an amendment or brewed into a tea and watered into the plant directly. There is much more to worm castings than just nutrition, their application gives a massive boost to the microbiological activity in the soil by adding beneficial bacteria and protozoa.
Worm tea is absorbed faster by the plants than just adding the castings to the surface of the soil or mixing it into your compost. The extra microbes which are added to your plant can essentially outnumber all the bad microbes and pathogenic organisms already existing on your plant, boosting your plants version of an immune system. This boost can greatly assist your plants in dealing with pests and warding of diseases, and believe me with the super pests that are out there, one should try everything to give your plants a fighting chance. So, should you apply worm casting tea to your plants as a root drench or as a foliar application, well I say both! There is nothing better than giving the soil and roots of a plants a boost, but if you also spray the leaves with the tea, the cuticle layer of the leaf surface will thicken making the plants more resilient to disease and a lot less tasty to bugs!
Now what my father unknowingly was giving his vegetables was in essence a very diluted version of worm casting tea. Not all of us have the capacity to have their own free draining worm farm as my father did, but we can certainly take advantage of the benefits of worm castings by brewing our own tea. I wish I could say this process was a snap, but like all the best things in life, its going to take some effort and some supplies. I have seen people selling worm tea, and if that is available, I would strongly recommend it, but it has to be freshly brewed or you are just wasting your time and money.
You will need the following:
- A 5 Gallon Bucket.
- An Aquarium Pump (I like to use an aeration stone with it, but thats just my preference).
- 4 gallons of water (Rainwater is best, but if you have to use tap water, let it sit for 24 hours, I aerate mine while waiting) There must be a gap between the water line and the lip of the bucket.
- 4-5 Cups worm castings or vermicompost (Try buying it in small quantities direct from a worm farm).
- 2 Tablespoons of un-sulfured molasses (This will be your catalyst to get all the good stuff growing in your water).
Fill the bucket up with the water and connect the aquarium pump so you can oxygenate the water. Add the molasses to the water and mix till completely dissolved. Take your worm castings and add it to the water and let it sit for at least 24 hours in the bubbling water. A thick layer of bubbly sludge is going to form on the surface, do not be alarmed by this, this is a very good sign. The fresher your castings, the thicker that layer of sludge is going to be. If you are using vermicompost, you might not have a bubbly sludge at all, this is fine. Some people will let this tea ‘brew’ for up to 72 hours, I prefer 24 hours myself only because I am impatient! Once your tea is ready, apply it as a root soak or as a foliar feed. If you are going to spray your plants, be sure to strain the castings out first or you will clog your sprayer for sure. This is a much more concentrated version of what my father applied, and I would recommend you apply this tea approximately once a month. Yes I know it sounds like a lot of hard work, but the results are well worth the extra effort.
To wrap up, not all worm castings are created equal, and the old saying of “you are what you eat” could never be more true when it comes to worm castings. Worm castings have become very popular over the recent years and farms have sprung up producing huge quantities to meet demand. These worms are fed a corn slurry with very little of anything else and the results from multiple trials we have run have been mediocre at best. Try and find a supplier who feeds their worms vegetable scraps along with a wide variety of other items to ensure the castings you get are loaded with a variety of beneficial goodies, and not just those that thrive in corn slurry.