If you’re familiar with compost tea, our Worm Tea is similar, except instead of using traditional hot compost (or thermophilic compost), we use our own Living Worm Compost. Our Worm Tea is sold by the gallon to backyard gardeners for flowers, fruits, veggies, shrubbery and as a compost pile activator. It’s also used by farmers on their crops as a microbial drench and anti-fungal agent. Finally, we use it on lawns.
Before we get into how we make our Worm Tea, let’s look at different types of microbial tea and the different methods of making it. Then we can get into how we do it, and why we do it that way.
The basic recipe of compost tea consists of compost (the source of the beneficial microbes), a food source for the microbes (typically molasses) and water (distilled, rain or well water; using municipal water straight from the tap can kill the microbes because of added chemicals like chlorine). Other things can be added to give the finished product a more complex microbial population or nutrients. But those are the basics.
For a simple recipe, just throw a pound or two of compost into the bottom of a five-gallon bucket, add a half cup of black strap molasses and fill the bucket with distilled water. Let it sit in the sun for a few days, and you’ll begin seeing some film, froth and bubbles. This is evidence of your microbial population growing. You could simply add this to your plants and soil.
The problem with this method is it’s a little haphazard. First, it’s anaerobic, meaning there’s no added oxygen, so you can often end up with dangerous microbes. Second, traditional hot compost isn’t very uniform. It might not be completely “finished” (meaning it might contain pathogens or materials that aren’t necessarily beneficial), it could be too “finished” (meaning it lacks any sort of nutrients), and since different materials break down differently, every batch of hot compost is completely different from the next.
To create a safer compost tea, you could consider adding oxygen by way of an aquarium or pond aerator. Simply use the ingredients from above, but then plunk some aeration stones attached to an aerator and let it bubble for a couple days. This will give you an aerobic (active in the presence of oxygen) tea.
The problem you might face now is a product that doesn’t come out of a spray bottle cleanly. With your compost simply tossed into the bucket, you’re going to have chunks and slurry in the finished product. To fix this, use an old pair of panty hose. Or a burlap sack.
So now comes the question: What’s the difference between tea made with traditional hot compost and tea made with vermicompost (like our Living Worm Compost)? Difference #1: Vermicompost is completely “finished.” You never have to worry about semi-composted chunks of matter (sometimes containing pathogens) getting into your tea. When a worm eats the organic material and poops it out, it’s done. It gives you a more uniform result because vermicompost itself is more uniform than hot compost. Difference #2: Unlike traditional hot compost, which often has all the nutrients leach out or get destroyed by the high temperatures, vermicompost still contains trace amounts of nutrients. That’s good for your plants.
At the end of the day, tea—whether it’s made from hot compost or vermicompost—is meant to give your soil and plants a boost of microbes. Those microbes, both fungi and bacteria, help break down organic matter in your soil and serve as an anti-fungal agent. Without life in your soil, your plants will suffer.
So now on to how we make our Good Sweet Earth Worm Tea:
We use specially-made compost tea bags that we fill with our Living Worm Compost. We also add a special blend of alfalfa meal and kelp for added growth hormones and iron, respectively. To that we will add black-strap molasses. We add the water from our underground aquafer (fancy way of saying “our well”) and turn on the large pond bubbler. The whole thing is done inside our 100-gallon tank, which we can use to apply it directly to lawns, transfer into a farmer’s irrigation tank, or put into jugs and buckets for individual use.
We let the tea brew for between 24 and 72 hours (earlier in the season, when temps are still cool, it takes longer to get the microbe population up to where it needs to be; in mid- to late-summer, the microbes multiply faster in the heat).
Now when it comes to brewing our Worm Tea for use on lawns, we’ll at times add other ingredients based on the needs of a customer’s turf at any given time. Sometimes we’ll add more kelp extract, sometimes we’ll add another bit of alfalfa. If we want more a more fungal tea (not typical for lawns), we can add oats or spent distillers grains. If we want a more bacterial tea (good for lawns), fish emulsion or additional sugars (maple syrup, cane sugar, etc) can be added.
For the tea that we sell at farmers markets and on our website, our recipe is pretty standard: Living Worm Compost, aquafer/rain water, kelp, molasses, alfalfa meal. This is the recipe that we’ve found gives the best results, and it keeps things consistent for everyone that uses it.
And there it is. It sounds relatively simple, and at its core, it is. However, what we’ve been working on over the past several years is ingredient ratios, brew time and oxygen levels. And that’s where we feel like we’ve hit the sweet spot. If you’re interested in purchasing our tea (available only in West Michigan), check out our product page. Be aware: Since it does contain living organisms, you will need to use it within 8 hours of getting it.
At Good Sweet Earth, we believe healthy soil is the key to a healthier—well, everything. It’s the key to producing healthier food, keeping our watersheds clean, giving us more breathable air, and even reducing the greenhouse gasses responsible for climate change. Reducing the amount of chemicals in the soil around our homes exposes us to less carcinogens, which is healthier for our families. Healthy soil provides a home to billions and billions of lifeforms, which are threatened when soil is tainted with chemical fertilizers and herbicides. And when soil is healthy, it helps prevent erosion. Soil is life.
But what exactly does soil do?
According to the Soil Science of America, they describe the basics of soil like this:
Soil is an amazing substance. A complex mix of minerals, air, water, and countless microorganisms, soil forms at the surface of land and comes in many types. Put another way, soil is the thin, outermost layer of Earth’s crust, and like our own skin, we can’t live without soil.
In West Michigan this time of year, especially in the Holland area, it's hard to avoid the hype around the tulip-- and for good reason. These bulbous members of the lily family are an annual reminder that spring has sprung; they thrive in areas with dry summers and cold winters, so West Michigan is a great place to enjoy them.
If you're interested in growing tulips, or even if you've had them in your yard for years, we've got some tips for getting the most from these beautiful perennials.
Tulips don't last long, but they are a welcome flash of color after a cold gray winter. Follow these tips and yours will be the envy of the neighborhood for years to come.
Source: Farmer's Almanac. Read more on raising tulips here.
Vermicompost-- or compost made by worms-- is not only a great alternative to chemical fertilizers, it's also a better alternative to traditional compost. We've been using it in our yard and garden, and selling it to our customers, for years with amazing results.
But what are the actual benefits of vermicompost-- what's the science behind it? We've laid it out for you below:
What is vermicompost? Vermicompost-- or worm compost or worm casting or worm poop-- is what you get after worms consume organic matter and excrete it. As food passes through their digestive tract, worms secrete chemicals that break down organic matter into sustainable nutrition. These chemicals, excreted with their castings, comprise vermicompost, which improves soil texture, structure and aeration. From the Latin “vermi,” which means worm, vermicompost offers nutrients that are immediately available to plants. It can be applied as mulch, incorporated as a component in potting mixes or brewed in water as a compost tea liquid fertilizer.
Soil enrichment. University studies have shown vermicompost to actually add nutrients to the soil, which are immediately available for plants. This makes it superior to traditional "hot" composted material, and it makes it a nice organic alternative to chemical fertilizers. Purdue University reports that earthworms leave soil 5 to 11 percent richer in the essential plant nutrients of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium than when they first ingest it. As an organic fertilizer, vermicompost is a substitute for synthetic fertilizer in soil-enriched vegetable transplant potting mixes. As a soil conditioner, vermicompost is superior to traditional compost for its ability to improve soil structure and increase its water-holding capacity, according to the University of California’s Project Compost.
It increases crop yields and plant growth. Gardeners and organic farmers like using non-synthetic amendments and fertilizers for the benefits it provides to the environment. But when these fertilizers also produce faster plant growth and higher crop yields, it’s an added bonus, says Clive Edwards of the Ohio State University Extension. Edwards’ collaborative field crop experiments on tomatoes, peppers and strawberries showed that plants fertilized with organic vermicompost significantly outperformed the same crops fertilized with inorganic, synthetic chemicals. Edwards’ research revealed vermicompost tea fertilizer yielded dramatic plant growth rates and crop yields of up to 50 percent.
(Source: SFGate Home Guides) Read more about the benefits of vermicompost here.
If you'd like to try vermicompost for yourself and see the amazing results in your yard and garden, check out the Good Sweet Earth product page.
How do you know when it’s time to start planting? Our weather has been more spring-like here in Michigan than wintery and if you are anything like me you have your seeds ready to go.
Is it too early though? A major deciding factor is what you want to plant. It is by far too early for summer crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, which shouldn’t hit the ground until mid- to late-May. But for the spring crops*...it depends.
For those marvelous spring crops that we all love to plant as soon as the ground thaws and the sun kisses the air? The deciding factor is the soil-- the soil's moisture and the soil's temperature.
First, grab a handful of soil and squeeze it into a ball. If the soil becomes tight and holds its shape too well, then it's too wet to plant. Rototilling soil this wet or even walking on your crop rows at this point will compact things unnecessarily. However, if your handful of soil becomes a light ball that breaks apart easily, your soil's passed the first test of spring.
The next consideration is your soil temperature. Cool weather vegetables need the soil to be at least 35 degrees for your seeds to germinate. An inexpensive addition to your gardening toolbox is a soil thermometer. A good strategy when you are unsure if the temperatures will remain warm enough is to plant only a section of your crops, then wait a week and plant more. This way, if temps drop too far, your entire crop won't be lost. Staggering your sowing also spreads out your harvest a bit-- an added bonus.
Now before you put your seeds in the ground don’t forget to prepare your soil. Ready to purchase your Living Worm Compost? Click here. It's never too early or too cold to stock up on compost. Not sure how much you need? Email me at Corey@goodsweetearth.com and I'd be happy to help.
(*For the record, these are really the only things you should be putting in the ground in the early spring: spring cabbage, garlic-cloves, kale, onions, peas, radishes, shallots, spinach and turnips. Those are your spring crops that are able to handle a little extra cold.)
Corey Veldheer is the owner of Good Sweet Earth and has been Master Gardener Certified through Michigan State University.
Steve & Corey Veldheer are organic yard & garden specialists in west Michigan.