Newsletter, May 2006


Worm Tea Everything!


Although worm and compost teas have been around for some time, they are now beginning to get the recognition they deserve.  In this newsletter, I am going to start you with some testimonials to get your attention then get into why they work and how to use them.


Check out our website to read a testimonial from Don Wagoner, a former purveyor of all sorts of chemicals to grow and control things: Testimonial.htm .  Here are a few more shining examples:


“With the Microb-Brewer, the normally mundane task of keeping my soil ‘vibrant’ has become one of the few rewarding pleasures associated with soil management in organic farming.  A key advantage in using compost tea is the significantly reduced application time over conventional methods of applying bulk compost.  Even more important than the minimal labor requirements needed are the fact that this ‘aerobic teas’ is the most ‘alive’ solution you can apply to your crop.  Not only have we achieved healthier plants and higher yields, our fruit tastes as good as nature intended.”  Ed Leach, Umpqua Organic Farm, Roseburg, OR


“We have found that compost teas controls weeds, disease and with added fish fertilizer provides all the nutrients needed by fescue turf grasses.  We have approximately 3 acres of turf.  This past summer we were able to skip water cycles for up to 4 consecutive days.  That’s with temperatures in July in excess of 110F with no signs of stress and full sun!!!  Tom Jaszewski, Las Vegas, NV  [Tom is perhaps the leading horticulturist in Las Vegas whom all leading casino horticulturists look to for advice.]


“The compost tea used in my vineyard has worked particularly well.  The plants are really healthy and so is the soil …  With the tea, the mildew shows up, hovers, and goes away.  It never builds up enough steam to take over a tea sprayed area.  In the sulfur-sprayed areas, if there’s one to two percent mold one day, there will be 10 percent the next and 40 percent the day after that.”  Jeff Wilson, Owner, Territorial Vineyards & Wine Co., Veneta, OR


“We were looking for a way to suppress turf grass disease without using fungicides.  We’ve seen positive results from using the tea, and we haven’t used fungicides for a long time.”  Troy Russell, Resort Superintendent, Brandon Dunes Golf Resort, Brandon, OR


What is worm tea?


I am using the phrase “worm tea” as opposed to “compost tea” because we are a worm farm and we brew with our worm castings, although “compost tea” or CT is probably a more commonly used phrase than worm tea.  In both, microbiology is extracted with water so that this microbiology can be used in sprays – oftentimes a far more convenient application method than bulk soil amending or dispersion.  However, the nature of worm vs. compost tea can be radically different with worm teas having more species diversity and worm created substances than compost teas and therefore more effective results.


Additionally, worm teas have to be separated into two types:  extracted vs. aerobically brewed.  In the extraction method, water is run through the compost/castings and then the water solution is applied.  Many bottled teas you see on the shelf use this method - the largest brand name of which is Terracycle.  In the brewing method, compost/castings are placed into a container of circulated aerated water (via an air bubbler or similar system) typically with other nutrients.  The circulated water extracts the microbiology and the microbes feed on the nutrients.  In this method, colonies of microbes are brewed in exponential numbers, for a colony of bacteria for instance can double in population every 20 minutes.  Aerobic brewing takes longer than straight extraction with common brewing times of 12 to 24 hours.  Brewing time is very dependant on water temperature with warmer water creating faster brews.  Aerobically brewed teas have much higher microbe population densities than extracted teas and for this reason are the tea of choice.  The sign of a good aerobically brewed tea is a good head of foam and scum on top signifying healthy microbe action!


How do worm teas work?


Worm teas are all about microbiology and they are measured and evaluated under a microscope.  Compost, worm castings, EM, and other inoculants all work and are evaluated by this means also.  It is the wide diversity and numbers of microbiology that define a good tea.  Please refer to our April 2006 newsletter for a discussion of why this is important to healthy soil which, in turn, creates healthy and vibrant plant life.


Worm teas suppress disease on plant material and activate and add to the biology of the soil.  Perhaps the most widely used and known use of teas is to suppress/eliminate black spot and powdery mildew on roses.  By spraying a worm tea on the surface of leaves, you are doing two things.  First, you coat the leaf with millions if not billions of microbes all competing for a food source.  Some, for instance protozoa, eat bacteria which may be eating decaying plant material.  Others eat other microbes and their wastes.  In the end, there are not enough resources for the harmful molds and fungi to flourish.  In addition, you are also coating the leaf with a protective surface that protects the leaf cells from attack by foreign spores or airborne microbes.  Finally, by inoculating the soil, microbes break down nutrients for uptake into plants thereby increasing plant health and the plant’s own disease resistance/suppression.


Worm teas are superior to simple compost teas in the diversity of microbes, the additional substances that worms create, and the reduction or lack of harmful microorganisms.  Although a traditional compost pile is a great environmental aid, and its final compost is a great aid to your garden, it typically does not have the microbe species diversity and numbers of  worm casts – especially our Barefoot Soil Earthworm Castings – to be an exceptional aid.  (Remember, microbial species diversity and numbers are necessary for a more thorough breakdown of the organic matter in the compost.)  A tea can only have the species diversity of the starting medium.  The only way to circumvent low numbers in your starting compost when making a tea is to inoculate the tea itself during or at the end of the brew with catalysts, i.e. microbe packages!  Worms also create substances that act as growth hormones, cell length regulators, anti-aging compounds, and more goodies that just are not available in common compost.  Either the brewing or extracting method add these important aspects to teas, and this is the probable explanation of good results obtained by non-aerobic bottled tea that does not have high species diversity and numbers.  Finally, compost can also contain E.coli and other human pathogens if not composted properly.  In aerobic brewing and with adequate aeration maintenance, E.coli will not survive in the tea, because “there are many other organisms, which in aerobic conditions, grab food away from the E. coli, take up the space E. coli needs to grow, and consume E. coli.”  (2003, Dr. Elaine Ingram)   (An important note here:  “If you apply a source of questionable material anytime 120 days before you are going to eat those vegetables without washing them, there’s a possibility that E.coli could still be present, especially if your crop production system does not have adequate aerobic organisms to out-compete the coliforms.”  (2003, Dr. Elaine Ingram).)


How to use worm teas


Always apply teas out of direct sunlight.  Use them straight or dilute them (10:1 is a suggested maximum dilution rate).  A good time for application is before 10 AM and after 5 PM in the Pacific Northwest.  An ideal time is during light rains, mists, or fog.  Additionally, water it in after application if you can (non-chlorinated water only, please!)


If a tea stinks, do not use it on your vegetables as it is demonstrating anaerobic properties and may contain pathogens.  Dr. Ingram suggests you use it on an undesirable weed bed!


Spray them liberally on the leaves, stems and surrounding soil.  Use them on turf.  Use them on clay soil to begin its transformation to humus.  Use them on your flowers indoors and out and on your other house plants. Use them on your compost pile to spike the microbial activity and hasten the compost pile’s decomposition.  Inoculate the ground surrounding your fruit tress.  Use them on manure piles that stink and marvel at how fast the stink goes away!  Use them on the small bucket of kitchen scraps you may have outside of your house.  Worm tea everything!!


A properly brewed worm tea is child, pet, and wildlife friendly.


We brew worm tea here for sale with instructions to apply within 12 hours.  Use it straight or dilute it – you can not use too much!


When we brew, there is a window of optimal application time when microbe populations are at their highest.  To be notified of when our brews are available, click here to be added to a worm tea email list.


Our next newsletter will discuss how to make a good worm tea.


Yelm Earth Worm and Castings Farm

14741 Lawrence Lake Rd SE

Yelm, WA  98597


M-F 9-5

Sat-Sun 10-4


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